Let’s face it. There are still not enough people of color working in publishing houses. There have been some great efforts to hire newcomers into the fold, but in recent years I’ve taken notice of how many diversity hires don’t stay in their jobs. When I hear of a young person who’s left a publishing house to pursue a career in a different industry, I ask them why they’ve left. I often get the same answer. It has little to do with the low salaries in publishing. (Oftentimes these people are passionate about publishing and are willing to start out with a publishing salary, in the hope that they’ll eventually earn more through career development and advancement.)
Fortunately, I work in an environment where attention to hiring and retention of diverse talent is paramount and core to the culture. But in my observations across the industry, bright newcomers tell me that while they were happily welcomed into the fold, they often felt isolated and directionless once they got in their jobs. I hear it over and over again ― these up-and-coming talents tell me they didn’t fully succeed in their roles because it was hard to find mentors within the company who would groom them, show them the ropes, help them figure out the subtle political and social cues that exist in any workplace.
They say that, as people who are often newly out of college, it wasn’t easy to assert themselves when issues of race were discussed in meetings. When well-meaning people made inappropriate race-related comments that nobody else considered offensive. When a question came up at a meeting about whether or not to depict a face of color on a book jacket (as this is sometimes perceived as a detriment to sales), or when a person of color on a cover is shown from behind or only depicted through body parts like feet. When this employee had an idea for how to market a book through grassroots efforts that involved having to push for promoting it through, say, the black church or the NAACP, and having these ideas fall on deaf ears.
When you were a child or young adult, what book first opened your eyes to the diversity of the world?
I didn’t read books as much as I should have. I struggled with comprehension and retention. There was plenty of Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose around the house, but I preferred our Funk & Wagnalls Young Students Encyclopedias. That’s where I discovered a multicultural world.
As a child, I thought the world was white. That’s what my world looked like growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1960s and 70s. White people, white books, white movies, white television, white music. Encyclopedias allowed me to see the world from another vantage point. They revealed a world made up of color – brown people of every shade. Maybe that’s why encyclopedias appealed to me so much.
What is your favorite diverse book that you read recently?
I’m a little confused about the term ‘diverse book.’ It’s one of those uncomfortable, elephant-in-the-room terms, that used to mean one thing, but has morphed into something entirely different. It’s an industry code word whose definition still evolves.
I’ve illustrated children’s books for nearly 30 years – trade and educational. When I entered the business back in the 80s, people used the word ‘diversity’ interchangeably with Black or African-American. When someone said ‘diversity,’ I knew they were talking about me. I was often hired to illustrate a text because an editor had a ‘diverse,’ ‘multicultural,’ ‘African-American’ manuscript. However when I hear the term used today, it’s more inclusive, as should be. When someone says ‘diverse,’ they could mean African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native, LGBT, girls/women, mixed-race, physically challenged, Buddhist – or even white. A better question might be: What is a favorite book that exemplifies diversity? But even that would be a difficult question because I don’t think diversity can be about one or two books. It’s about a body of books: Heart & Soul; Diego Riveria; Dreaming Up!; Around our Way on Neighbor’s Day; Alvin Ho; Jingle Dancer. There’s so many.
How to Write the Great American Indian Novelmtpr.org
All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.The hero
Sherman Alexie on the terrible tropes Native Americans are portrayed with in novels.
For much better writing and characterization, read Sherman’s books (a given), and if you haven’t yet discovered him, try out Joseph Bruchac…
Joseph was kind enough to do our very first Diversity 101 piece, Not Injun Joe. The article shed light on the Native American stereotyping in literature and provided examples on how to notdo it in the future.