Recently I wrote a blog here about diversity in children’s literature Black and White and Everything in Between. I'm returning to the discussion again today.
Malorie Blackman has talked and written and
discussed the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Recently she was
interviewed about the issue and egregiously misquoted, which led to a lot of racist
comments on her Twitter feed. On the Edge Writers blog, Paula Rawsthorne discussed this and the issue of diversity. You can read it here..
Bali Rai has talked about the lack of diversity in
children’s literature, as have many other writers, librarians, readers and
In the States a huge campaign was launched after
it was revealed that all the ‘luminaries from the world of children’s, teen and
YA writers invited to the panel discussions at the BookExpo America were all white
and all male’. After the campaign, a much more diverse group of children’s
authors were invited to sit on a panel to discuss the issue.
The American Association for Library Service to
children also initiated a programme to address the lack of diversity in
children’s literature available in libraries.
I blogged about the whole US #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on the Edge Writers blog, which you can read here.
When I talked about the issue on Twitter I was
told by an editor at a very big publishing house that it wholeheartedly promoted
diverse writers, and already had two on their lists, (the inference drawn was
that obviously that was quite sufficient). But, she said, the problem really
was that British writers from ethnically diverse backgrounds were not submitting
manuscripts to publishers, and she could not understand why...
I know the truth to be a little different.
I also know she did not grasp this concept at all:
that if children from ethnically diverse backgrounds rarely see any version of
themselves, other than occasionally as stereotypes or as bit parts, then they are
in danger of believing that books are the preserve of the white middle classes,
and also that the children’s publishing industry might not be a place for them
when they grow up. Perhaps I’m painting it too black and white, but I’m sure
you know what I’m saying.
Children’s fiction, teen fiction and YA fiction is
a tougher market than it ever was before, it’s also become far narrower than
ever before, both in terms of the books commissioned and published, and the
apparent ‘market trends’ as dictated by the publicity and marketing departments.
This is reinforced by the lack of diversity in terms of ethnicity, age,
background, and sex of most of the editors at most of the publishing houses in
the UK. You only have to go to a book publishing event or conference to see
that for yourselves. There are few people of colour.
Everything has been squeezed. The market-driven
publishing houses are all on the look-out for the Next Big Thing, mid-range
writers are often fighting a losing battle, teen/YA shelves are now full of
very, very similar books on very, very similar themes, and you’ll be very lucky
if you find much diversity in theme never mind anything else.
Something has to change surely. So I
wholeheartedly support Malorie Blackman in her endeavour to promote diversity
in children’s literature. I know lots of children’s writers who feel the same
way and are blogging to raise awareness.
Here’s a hashtag we can all use to help promote diversity
in children’s literature, and I use the term diversity in its widest possible
sense - #WeNeedDiverseBooksUK
And I very much hope that the publishing industry
pays more than lip service too.