MARCH 26TH: PROMOTING DIVERSITY IN THE BOOK INDUSTRY (NICOLE @ THOUGHTS STAINED WITH INK)
Prompts: How can we, as bloggers, promote diversity of all sorts in the book world? What are some things you think publishers should do to promote diversity? Is there something a publisher or another blogger is doing right now that you think is a step in the right direction? What are some things you do personally?
I really enjoy doing this meme as I love talking about books a bit more generally. Each time I write one of these blog posts, it really inspires me to think more deeply about my reads!
In last week’s edition, the topic was diversity in books and, for me, diversity in literature takes many forms: racial, ethnic, religious, political, geographical, socio-economic background, sex, gender, sexual orientation – the list is endless!
I think that one of the best things I’ve seen within the book community is trying to uplift works by BIPOC authors or which include a diverse cast of characters. The more we talk about it, the more aware we will become and the wider and more diverse our reads will be. I’ve recently started to use The Storygraph to track my reads after it was recommended by a book club friend; when you review on The Storygraph you are asked if the cast of characters is diverse and I think that’s a really important point to make and it guides me to reflect upon my reading. It’s also useful for people who are trying to find diverse reads, as it’s not always obvious from a blurb.
One of the things I particularly enjoy doing is reading non-fiction written by diverse authors whose experiences differ from mine. For example, one of the most powerful collection of essays I’ve read has been It’s Not About The Burqa edited by Miriam Khan. Although clearly the experiences detailed in the essays differ from my own life, there are still common themes such as misogyny and family relationships which I feel like everyone can sympathise with. Reading diversely helps eradicate some of the underlying biases that I have, and if we are to be anti-racist I think it’s important to recognise that we all have pre-conceived notions of different groups. No-one is immune to that. Reading diversely makes you realise that our differences can be celebrated but there is also a lot which unites us, too.
My Book Club is making a concentrated effort to include more books from BIPOC authors which feature diverse representation. Nonetheless, even if these are suggested (we pick and pitch a book based on the theme then we vote which one we want to read), they don’t always get picked so we are trying to fix that by making some of the themes each month a bit more specific. For example, we wanted to read more crime books and one member (who is amazing for promoting diversity in life in general) suggested we do “black crime” instead. This hadn’t even occurred to me as black crime as a sub-genre wasn’t on my radar so it’s amazing to be able to experience something different.
I think one of the things we need to be careful of is using diversity as a “tick box exercise”. Fives @ Down The Rabbit Hole made this salient point in his Let’s Talk Bookish post last week. Diversity isn’t something to be done for diversity’s sake. It’s about representation.
One of my recent reads is The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla and in it is a fantastic essay by Darren Chetty entitled “You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people!” (the link is to an earlier version of the essay which is footnoted in the book). This chapter in particular resonated with me. I am White British but I teach in Leicester, one of the most diverse cities in the UK, in a school with is about 95% ethnic majority. I teach French and Spanish. And most of the time when pupils are writing about a different person, for example a best friend, they always give them a typically anglophone name like Bob or John. I clocked this, and thought maybe they just call all random people who they make up Bob because it’s easy. But this essay made me think more deeply than that. Why don’t they use Faiza or Mohamed or Diya or Kush (all very common names in my school)?
I think the book industry needs to not shy away from publishing diverse literature. We also need the publishing industry to hire diversely to make sure these books are seen. I think us, as readers, should also take some responsibility to diversify our reads. Individually, we can’t change the world, but collectively we can make it a more inclusive place.