The lack of diversity in books is not a new topic; the scarcity of diverse protagonists and themes is an ongoing source of contention for parents, educators, writers and readers across all genres. However, I am glad that this subject is receiving the attention it deserves recently. In fact, over the past few weeks the trending hashtag that went viral in 2014, #weneediversebooks, has resurfaced in the context of National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo2016). Below you will find a powerful piece written by Megan Blackshear of Bookbound Bookstore of Ann Arbor, Michigan from the perspective of a community bookstore owner. Megan has a background in social and community activism and opened Bookbound, along with her husband Peter, in the summer of 2013.
Over the last few weeks, there has been some controversy about the lack of diversity in the book world, from the skin color of characters in children’s books to the authors represented at major industry events. Discussions have been sparked on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere in recent days. We believe this is a very important conversation to have, although we’ve struggled with trying to fit our thoughts into a 140 character tweet.
We need diverse books because otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our job as a community bookstore. Simply put, we are in a very diverse neighborhood and we want our books to reflect our customers’ varied interests. We want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome in our store.
Many people read to feel connected – to a character, an idea, an emotion, an identity – and to know they are not alone. Too many folks are marginalized and underrepresented, are struggling with identity, or just ‘feel different’. Knowing that someone else, somewhere, sometime, felt this way too and managed to survive and thrive can make a real difference in one’s life.
Books are a vital source of education and information. We can learn about people and places that are different from ourselves in terms of nationality, race, class, religion, gender orientation, sexual preference, and overall life experience. We can read about ideas that challenge the mainstream. Books give us a chance to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes if we are open to it. They allow us to relate to ‘the other’, and to realize we may have more in common than we thought. Perhaps they can help us navigate this world with curiosity and appreciation for diversity rather than fear of the unknown.
Books can have a profound impact. They matter. We need diverse books.