There is always more to discover, and as your basic white, cis-gendered, straight, middle class suburban mom, I know I have to actively seek out different perspectives and keep reminding myself not to--is "white-splain" a thing? I'm sure it's a thing. A thing that I should avoid doing.
Discussions around #WNDB issues
- Ellen Oh Discusses Why We Need Diverse Books
- Renae of Respiring Thoughts on Why I'm Not Reading Any White Authors This Month and on The Value of Diverse Narratives and Perspectives. This blog is what really got me thinking about this issue, and I appreciate Renae's leadership and intellectual rigor.
- A post about the value of Sensitivity Readers to be sure your writing rings true
- This horrifying yet hilarious article about a white poet who got published after assuming a Chinese name.
I've written before about the windows and mirrors metaphor. Growing up, a lot of what I read was a mirror--books about other white kids. Of course, even those books were types of windows, as I got to live in New York City, or nineteenth century London, or with divorced parents. As I continued to grow as a person and as a reader, I added works by Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, Walter Mosley, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez--and I learned something of what it means to live in the US as a non-white person. I read books by lesbian and gay authors and started to consider a view of sexuality beyond what I'd previously assumed was "normal." When I got my MAT two decades ago, I remember writing an annotated bibliography of literature that helped shape my cultural awareness. The best way to start to see another's perspective is to have friends (plural!) from different backgrounds. But the next best way is to read widely.
Lists of Books Featuring Diversity
- Debuts from authors of color and debuts about diverse characters.
- Renae Recommends Books by Authors of Color
- MookyChick's post about 8 Examples of Diversity in YA that Totally Nail It
- The 10 LGBT YA Books You Need to Read This Year
As a teacher of mostly Latino students, first and second generation immigrants, I've seen many times the value of literature that offers mirrors for students who do not look like or live like I did as a kid. When you are growing up in a culture that tells you in ways large and small that there is something not-right about who you are, to see someone who is like you represented on the page is incredibly powerful. I seek out these voices for my classroom library, keeping in mind that I don't always know what my students need to see mirrored. Cognitive differences, family structure, religion, sexuality, poverty, unencouraged talents, emotions and experiences they believe to be shameful--the wider the range of experiences and characters available to read about, the more kids who get a chance to recognize themselves in a book.
Some Key Posts from Read Diverse Books
This blog, along with Respiring Thoughts, has really pushed my thinking about what it means to read diverse books. Written by a male (!) Latino (!!) with a passion for increasing his own understanding of other people as much as encouraging his readers to push themselves in their reading, this is a blog that I always learn something from. Key posts include:
- A blogging challenge to Read Diverse Books Year Round.
- A discussion about What Does the Term Diverse Mean to You?
- A controversial post with some really good points: White Authors, Fill Your Stories with People of Color, but Don't Make Them Your Protagonists
#Ownvoices is another concept I can really get behind. Naz's post about white authors needing to stop writing protagonists of color got a bit of discussion about The Help going in the comments. I never liked the book--it felt patronizing and Great White Savior-ish to me from the get-go. Framing it this way, this it lacked the authority and power that comes from #ownvoices, really makes sense to me. My small perspective into this is how frustrated I get with many representations of kids in foster care and adoptive families. It becomes jarringly obvious to me which writers are writing from lived experience and which are not--even if that experience is not anything like my family's. I mean, obviously we have to write from other points of view, or memoir would be the only art form available to us. But the central locus of your narrative better come from a place of personal knowledge if you are writing about contemporary life (or, as suggested in one of the links above, you'd better at least be open to lots of feedback as you write from people who have the lived experience.)
It's a journey, right? And it's a journey that includes BOOKS, so in addition to being all serious and important and stuff, it's also a good time.
In the comments, please leave the titles of books that made you go, "Wow, I'm not the only one!" and books that made you understand a completely new perspective. And, y'know, your thoughts and responses.