Advancing the diversity conversation

We-Need-Diverse-BooksIt’s been a rowdy few weeks in online discussions of diversity in YA and children’s books. I was just getting my thoughts together about Meg Rosoff’s dismissive-shading-to-hostile-shading-to-defensive response to an important contribution to children’s literature. (Read Edi Campbell’s post, which includes Rosoff’s Facebook remarks, and see Deb Reese’s post here for a list of many responses to Rosoff from the YA community.) And THEN this past weekend Michael Grant came out with a self-congratulatory catalog of ways he’s promoted diversity by including characters from many backgrounds in his fiction.

My first reaction to all this has been incredulity. I guess prejudice, opportunism, and showmanship are not just for the Republican primaries any more!

But I keep reminding myself that, however blatant the dysfunction of Rosoff and Grant’s remarks, they also do something useful for those of us who care about meaningful diversity in fiction and in publishing (you know, the REAL WORLD of agents, editorial boards, publicity offices, awards, and author lists).

First, they surface assumptions held by many out there, including quite a few teachers, librarians, and other stakeholders in education. Second, they create opportunities and a public platform for cogent responses and critiques of these assumptions. We are seeing more and more of this. The impassioned responses to representations of slavery in A Fine Dessert and of American Indians in The Hired Girl are two examples from this past week.

As talk grows as to what this can or should mean for books being considered for awards and presentation to children, we are finally seeing the conversation moving to the mainstream. Debbie Reese excavated this language about “Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation” from a manual for those sitting on committees (see her full comments here):  on page 25. Like this sentence in the first paragraph:

“Everyone benefits, children most of all, when the titles recognized within and across ALSC awards and best-of-the-year lists authentically reflect the diversity found in our nation and the wider world.”

And these three, at the end of the second paragraph:

“As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.”

That seems to me to speak directly to the conversations we’re having about A FINE DESSERT and THE HIRED GIRL. It says “be open to listening.” As we’ve seen, people are open to listening, but many are not swayed by that listening.

Listening may not always lead to action. I think, however, that we’re beginning to reach a tipping point toward an increased expectation to both listen and act on that listening.

Fingers crossed that this is real and not just the effect of my middle name on my worldview.


1 Comment

  1. Vaunda Nelson

    Congrats, Ashley, on your Printz Honor! Bravo!


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