There have been some great posts this week about the diverse books movement. Jacqueline Woodson’s 1998 article in the Horn Book, titled Who Can Tell My Story has been revived. Ellen Oh’s salient post Dear White Writer takes on diverse books and white privilege. There are numerous other articles and posts I could point you to; the discussion about diverse books is wide, intense, difficult, eye-opening, enraging, encouraging, and exciting.
In the last year, as the conversation about diverse books has picked up steam, a noticeable shift has taken place in my query box. It’s a shift that happens each time the trends change in publishing. Paranormal gave way to dystopian, which gave way to horror, which gave way to contemporary, which has recently given way to…diverse books?
The We Need Diverse Books campaign started in 2014, igniting a much-needed conversation about the kid lit titles we are putting into the world. And we do need diverse books. But even more importantly, we need diverse authors writing diverse books. And yet the queries are pouring in to my submissions box, written by mostly white writers, citing the popularity of the We Need Diverse Books campaign as justification for them having written their book about a person of color.
What Ellen Oh asserted in her blog post bears repeating: diversity in books isn’t a trend. It’s not the latest “in” or magic bullet that’s going to get you published. And if you’re a white writer who is trying to capitalize on that, take a keep breath and back slowly away from your keyboard.
Because the diverse books movement is not about you. And it’s certainly not about your writing.
“But this is an important conversation!” you say. “I want to be a part of it!” you say. Here’s how you can do your part in bringing diversity to kid lit: read diverse books and authors, and encourage others in your local and online communities to read them, too. Ask for books by diverse authors at your library and your local independent bookstore. Talk about diverse books and authors on social media. Read books by diverse authors to your children. Organize a drive to donate books by diverse authors to your local schools. Give books by diverse authors as gifts to your friends and family.
Your part in this conversation is to support diverse writers, not further your own career. Kwame Alexander. Ellen Oh. Thanna Lai. Rita Williams-Garcia. And on the non-kid lit side, Ruth Ozeki and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name a few. Seek them out. Read their works. Spread the word about a writer whose work has touched you.
And as for your own writing? The best story you can tell is your own story, one that speaks the truth about your experiences. One that translates your triumphs and failures into an unforgettable character. That’s the story that will stand out from the pack in the query box. Every single time.