The topic of diversity in literature first came to my full attention in a college course: Women’s Literature. From the beginning, my professor declared that we would be specifically reading titles that were written by and that represented women of color and women on the LGBTQ spectrum. When one of the students raised their hand and asked why, her response resonated with me. “The world is a diverse place, so what we read should be too.”
The We Need Diverse Books Campaign is working to make diverse books a priority in the publishing world. It all started in 2014 as a Twitter exchange between authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo. This wasn’t their first discussion about the lack of representation in children’s books; it just happened to be the one that sparked action. Pretty soon other authors and bloggers expressed their interest in spreading awareness. What started out as a three-day event morphed into a movement that is growing in support. Their official mission is to put more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.
In the start of 2016, We Need Diverse Books is doing more than ever before to get the message across. The website includes resources for writers and readers alike. Those who are looking to find diverse books can browse through several lists. We Need Divers Books also has a page of advice and leads for aspiring writers and offers grants and awards for diverse writers looking to find a career in publishing. I was able to speak with Hannah Gómez, the Program Manager for We Need Diverse Books, and ask her some questions about the campaign.
What are some notable programs and panels that you are currently working with/on at the moment?
We are about to announce the winners of the first annual Walter Dean Myers Award (“The Walter”). We were also proud to see the first alumni of our internship program succeed. One was even offered a job in publishing!
What do you hope this campaign accomplishes in the publishing community in the future?
We hope that the staffs of publishing companies become more diverse and more representative of the diversity of the United States in general. We think that this is an effective way to ensure that books being published also have diverse, authentic, and rich content representing the real world around us.
Can you tell me about the support the campaign has received?
We started as a hashtag, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and it has not disappeared from Twitter since our initial campaign. That tells us that it’s always in people’s minds, which is great for us and for the world of books and publishing in general! We had a successful first Indiegogo campaign last year, and it was boosted by the efforts of Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), who made a 6-figure donation and matched donations made by others. This has given us the funds to start more initiatives, like the publishing internship and Walter Grant, which funds aspiring writers and illustrators so they can finish their projects. And the fact that I, as Program Manager, spend so much time answering emails and requests, says to me that people value our knowledge and resources (which is thanks to the diversity and expertise of our many team members, liaisons, advisory board members, and friends). I know “support” usually refers to financial assistance and underwriting, but I consider successful outreach (in both directions) to be an incredible form of support as well. Feedback lets us know people are watching, listening, and responding to us. That’s great support as well.
Why do you personally think we need more diverse books represented?
Diversity is not an agenda. It’s not “hard” to do. It’s not only for certain people. It’s reality. The world is diverse. Anyone who looks around can see that. So to present it as homogenous, as so many books do, is, quite simply, a lie. It’s an erasure of a great many people, and that’s insulting and harmful.
What are some of your favorite diverse books?
I don’t have favorite diverse books. I have favorite books! It just happens that most of them could be deemed “diverse” because I like all of my books, fiction and non, to look like the beautiful world around me. WNDB has some amazing booklists on its website, and I’m proud every time I get to read one of them.
What advice do you have for young, diverse writers looking to get into the publishing world?
We try to signal boost efforts to support, mentor, and elevate aspiring writers and illustrators as much as we can. Our social media accounts are often retweeting/reposting agents looking for diverse clients to represent, writers’ retreats and degree programs that support diverse viewpoints, scholarships, and articles with writing advice. I would also encourage aspiring creators to follow the authors and illustrators who most inspire them. Reach out to them! Read not just their books but their blogs and articles. See who their influences are. See who represents and publishes them. Be as informed as you possibly can be.