As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of the next, we tend to face two directions, reflecting on events past and looking forward to the future. The Roman god Janus comes to mind! In the past few months discussion about ethnic diversity in books has come to the fore, with a certain amount of scrutiny of the publishing world and what could be done to ensure that more books are made available by writers of color. If you haven’t already done so, take some time to read Laura Atkins’ paper on “white privilege in children’s publishing” from this summer’s IRSCL conference, as well as the many in-depth comments attached to it. It may have been written three months ago but these are issues that are not going to go away – yet!
Some writers have blogged about it more recently – Zetta Elliott (who also followed up on her post with an insightful interview of Laura, entitled From the Other Side: An Editor Speaks Out!) and Neesha Meminger have both contributed to what will no doubt be an on-going discussion. Uma Krishnaswami also commented on this (since withdrawn…) blogpost and these words really resonated with me:
there are some of us now who are trying to write beyond the boxes, beyond the simple classifications or the books that are *about* culture or race. In this time of economic stress it’s even more important to make sure we don’t slide back to old insularities!
I think we all need to make a New Year’s resolution that we won’t allow these issues to be conveniently side-tracked. On a recent visit to San Francisco I came away laden from several independent and second-hand bookshops with books that I have got to know through PaperTigers – but I found it very unsettling to say the least that in the large children’s section of an enormous chain bookshop I also visited, I could only find two books – two books!!! So there are not just issues of publishing to be contended with, but also marketing and distribution. And in these times of “economic stress” , we take our hats off to those publishers who are producing a consistently wonderful array of multicultural titles. We do need to keep the voices for diversity heard, written by a diversity of voices, which includes more writers of colour; and we need to ensure that readers from all backgrounds have access to a diverse range of reading material – because that is the only way that kids will be able to fit their own stitches into the vast multicultural tapestry of life.