By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
If the first annual BookCon at the Book Expo America in 2014 wasn’t a big enough indication, we do need more diverse books to be available to readers. More and more, this country is approaching levels of diversity unheard of by the founding fathers, yet the publishing industry isn’t doing enough to put out books that reflect these changes. Influential editors and literary agents of color are becoming harder and harder to find, and it doesn’t spell well for writers of color who want to be traditionally published. Some of the most influential editors and powerful publishing houses have parted ways for a variety of reasons, and many of them are not being replaced. There are not too many Marie Browns, Malaika Aderos, and Cheryl Woodruffs. We need to value the ones we have and train the ones that we do not.
Luckily for us, some writers of diverse backgrounds have taken to indie publishing in order to bridge the gap. Unfortunately, this is not enough. We need a strong presence on both sides of the aisle in order to make the biggest impact.
Books, especially the storytelling kind, are supposed to be a reflection of the reader. It should contain universal themes and therefore be relate-able to many. By keeping writers of diverse backgrounds from publication, it says two things: 1) a minority voice isn’t needed to have universal themes, 2) people of diverse backgrounds have nothing of significance to contribute to the human story. This is so far from the truth. By denying, hiding, and obscuring the words of minorities of diverse backgrounds, we are telling them that their words don’t mean enough to be a part of the mainstream and alternate conversations. By not publishing works from a true variety of cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, we are ignoring the truths that they hold to be self-evident—truths that have shaped their pasts and will mold their futures.
This is true for adult and children’s literature.
As a child, I don’t remember a whole lot of books that reflected people who looked and acted like me. While books really were ubiquitous in my life, only two books for Black children come to mind: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Afro-Bets. The lack of variety is unacceptable for my child and future generations of children. Publishers like Rana D’Orio have worked very hard to make sure that children’s books showcase a wide variety of different kinds of children. Cheryl Willis Hudson has made an entire career out of making sure these kinds of books reach the hands of our children. We also can’t forget Troy Johnson, who correctly states that African-American literature is for everybody. Because at its heart, books that reflect the richness of this land truly reflect us all.