There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in reading and writing, both in traditional media and social media. I know that one of the problems for writers can be that hesitation to include diverse characters for fear of getting them wrong and ending up doing more harm than good. So I wanted to give a quick signal boost to an online course coming up on Writing the Other, taught by K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl. It’s going to be a small class in terms of size, but I suspect it will be offered again if it’s successful. If this is something you’re concerned about, either generally or for a particular project, you might want to check it out.
Back in December, I did a quick review of my personal reading for 2014, and decided I wanted to make a concerted effort to read more diversely. My stats for last year included a chart that showed I read slightly more women authors than men, and about 25% of the books I read were by authors of color. I also read predominately authors of American or British origin, with very little in translation. While those numbers were not terrible, they were not as well-rounded as I’d like, so I knew I wanted to work at changing them this year.
But how to change? There were a number of challenges going around at the start of the year — suggestions of how to diversify your reading habits no matter what demographic you were seeking to increase. One of the most notable was K. Tempest Bradford’s reading challenge, where she suggested readers go an entire year without reading a single book by white male, cis, straight authors.
I thought the challenge sounded fabulous, but a little extreme for my personal taste, simply because I knew I would trip over books during the course of the year that excited me and that I would want to read immediately, and sometimes they would not fall into the challenge parameters. Instead I decided I would let her challenge inspire me to be more mindful of what I read in general, and make a concerted effort to choose more books by a variety of different authors. They were certainly on my radar — and on my shelves. It was just a matter of pushing them higher up on my to-read list.
Because I did own so many books by authors of color and different backgrounds, I physically pulled a bunch off of my bookcases and made an actual pile. This way, when I’m ready to read a new book, these titles are some of the first I consider. New books by authors of color get added to the stack when I acquire them, as well, keeping them in the forefront of my mind.
So how am I doing? Better, but there’s still room for improvement. As of today, my ratio has increased and approximately 35% of my reading this year has been by writers of color. I’ve read fewer books overall than I’d have liked, but there’s still more than four months left in 2015, so I have plenty of time to catch up in all respects. I’m pretty pleased with my system, but I’ll definitely reassess at the end of the year to determine if I’ll continue this way in 2016, or if I will find a more aggressive way of meeting my goal.
The beauty of reading challenges is that they serve as a spring board. If they fit with your goals, and seem like something you want to try for, terrific! If they seem a little too ambitious for you, tailor them for your own needs. Some readers already read diversely in terms of authors of color but would like to check out more books in translation, or simply by non-American authors. Other readers want to read more women authors, or more nonfiction.
Although I sometimes joke that I’d like to read “all the books,” in reality I know that’s both impractical and simply not true. Not all books appeal to me. There are plenty of titles out there that I’m happy to skip. But with so many millions of books to choose from, there are definitely many I’ve yet to discover that I no doubt will adore. It’s a matter of scratching around and being open to all of the many sources, and widening my scope when it comes to the places where I go to learn about both back lists and new releases.
For instance, despite knowing of Tempest’s challenge, I only recently came across her YouTube channel where she recommends different books by a range of authors, all of which fit her challenge parameters. Even though I’m not following the challenge precisely, this serves as a fabulous source for reading recommendations. I’m also a frequent visitor to Book Riot, where they are actively discussing diversity in publishing and make an effort to talk about a broad range of books. I follow the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and learn about great authors of color writing for kids and young adults.
For me, it’s not sufficient to read more by authors of color. I also want to be more aware of the books that are out there and — I hope — help more great books by authors of color find their way into bookstores and the hands of readers. I’m not just a reader, but a person working in the industry, and so part of reading more diversely for me is about making strides toward diversifying publishing as a whole.