May first of this year marked the beginning of a campaign called We Need Diverse Books, aimed at increasing the number of books that had representation for minorities. The organization, which has a strong following on Tumblr, states that “We recognize many kinds of diversity, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, those impacted by their gender, those with disabilities, ethnic/cultural/religious minorities, etc. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.”
A call was put out on their Tumblr page, asking users of the popular website to submit reasons why more diversity is needed in the print industry. Many submitted posts that expressed the need to relate to characters. There were demands for more books with disabled and multiracial characters as the heroes. However, there were some submissions that lamented the current definition of ‘diverse’.
One contributor states “…our library is limited by the publishing industry and while we eagerly order MULTIPLE copies of any book that speaks to the diversity in our classroom, there simply aren’t enough. Students often get their hands on books … that aim to speak to their urban demographic. Unfortunately, these titles tend to depict people who look like them in a starkly stereotypical light, as many of them have voiced above. The need for rich, linguistically complex literature that depicts people of all backgrounds in a nuanced way is a real need in my classroom, and in the world at large.”
There’s more to books than just writing them. If it’s in a bookstore, then the book has been through a publisher’s hands. According to statistics collected by the Cooper Children’s Book Center, there has actually been a decline in diverse books and authors published since 2008.
Why aren’t publishers turning out the books that people want? Maybe because no one’s buying them. Publishing is about business first, books second. The general theory is that it’s a self destructive circle– publishers take a chance on a diverse book. It hits shelves, but the novel next to it featuring a white protagonist makes far more sales.
This leads to another theory. Julia Kelly at Moonflower Studios speculates that it’s not the fault of writers or even publishers, but readers. She points out that if kids these days aren’t interested in or able to read, then they’re not going to buy the books in the first place. Kelly goes on to say that if the literacy issue in minorities of America was addressed first, then books directed towards minorities would follow.
Once we’ve established that the lack of diversity in Young Adult literature is not the sole fault of writers, readers, or publishers, then we can work towards a solution. Like anything in America, it’s a system of checks and balances-readers ask for diversity, writers produce the product, and one by one publishers start taking chances on diverse books. But it all falls apart if the readers then don’t go out and buy the books they asked for.