Monday, June 27, 2016

Diverse Books as a Reflection of and Entrance to Real Life

I've been collecting links to articles and blog posts about the importance of diverse voices in literature, lists of POC authors, discussions about what "diverse books" even means, etc.  As the list gets longer and longer, I decided I'd best share it before it gets completely out of control.

The focus of this collection is ethnic and racial diversity, with a small nod to LGBQT representation as well.  Later this summer I'm going to have a huge mental illness post or two as part of the Shattering Stigmas event.

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

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 

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:

#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.  


  1. Interesting and insightful post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Awesome post. I’ll have to check out some of your links. I’m glad that the need for more diversity in books is starting to be recognized by authors and the publishing industry. I also like seeing all the posts about diversity in the blogosphere. I have my own diversity post scheduled for the end of next month.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!


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