Well, on Friday I woke up in California to the news that Love Won today, and before I’d even had my coffee. California, because I’m here for the American Library Association meeting, where I’m signing swag and even picking up an audiobook honor for narrating my novel Five, Six, Seven, Nate! — which, yes, features a kiss between two middle school boys, and thus qualifies as “The LGBT, and Sometimes Y-Category!” of diversity.
Which I’m extremely grateful for.
But this marriage equality news also came at a VERY tricky time, because all I’ve wanted to do all day is scroll through Twitter and Facebook, and occasionally even pop over to Fox News to see what slant they’re putting on it, BUT I promised I’d write a CBC Diversity Post due TODAY, and I’ve been thinking: “But what about?” What can I say that hasn’t been said before, by brilliantly diverse people who are better writers than I’ll ever be?
And then it came to me: I’ll write a Buzzfeed-like list-icle, which is my secret weapon these days for tricking myself into starting and finishing things. I cannot possibly come up with enough good ideas to write another guest blog post, let alone a new novel (don’t tell my editor), but I CAN write the Top 5 Things Diversity Means to Me.
Senior Editorial Manager for the Teens & BookBeat Scholastic Reading Clubs
I didn’t realize publishing was an actual career until I was a few years into college. Growing up, my mom had been clear that I was the one who would be a doctor (with my brother the lawyer and my sister the accountant*). It should be noted that I’m not good at math or science.
Unfortunately for my mother, when I was fourteen, she gave me a copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It’s a heavily romanticized version of Michelangelo’s life. Beyond that, it’s about loving your work, and being passionate about what you do. He sacrificed everything to able to create and carve. Agony became a book that I read once a year. (I think we can agree that what comes next is pretty much my mom’s fault.)
Two things happened after my freshman year of college. I’d floundered through one year of pre-med and hadn’t done well (remember? Not good at math or science). Not long after grades were released, I had a conversation with my older brother. He had just met someone who worked at Tor and immediately thought of his nerdy sister who read all the time. He suggested I talk with her. I thought of Agony. I thought about books. I knew that in my life, reading was the thing that excited me most. This was the lead-in to the Big Change: I became an English major.
It’s not carving marble, but telling your Indian parents that you’re not going to be the doctor they spent 19 years expecting to have? Terrifying.
They took solace in the fact that maybe I could still be a lawyer. Ha! It’s a difficult thing, breaking up with your parent’s idea of the future for something new and different.
“Gail Lerner, co-executive producer on ‘Black-ish,’ praised showrunner Kenya Barris for encouraging open dialogue in the writers’ room and pushing the staff to ask difficult questions of each other. Those conversations led to pivotal episodes like 'Crime and Punishment,’ about spanking, and 'Elephant in the Room,’ about whether black people can be Republicans. 'All our experiences are so different,’ said Lerner. 'It makes a conversation. That conversation makes a show.’”—
– ‘Empire,’ 'Black-ish,’ 'Jane the Virgin’ Stars & Writers Talk Diversity On TV by Debra Birnbaum of Variety Media, LLC
Difficult conversations need to happen so that space is created to hear and then showcase different viewpoints and experiences.
These conversations are pivotal when creating any type of content, and children’s book publishers are having them in their editorial, marketing, and sales meetings.
We’re working to increase the number of open discussions by ensuring that there are more voices from different cultures in the room through supporting efforts like the WNDB Internship Program, providing resources like Diversity 101 posts, as well as creating more spaces and opportunities to speak freely in the industry through in-house diversity committees and events like CBC Diversity Dialogues.
During my first year attending the Frankfurt International Book Fair a question was asked of me by many editors at foreign publishing houses. The question was this, “Why don’t English language publishers translate more books?” Years of working in International Rights later, I still receive this question frequently and I still have no good answer. The main reason is that English has become the dominant language in the industry, but that attitude is seeing a shift in recent years. It is our responsibility to represent not just the diversity of our country, but also international diversity. In our increasingly globally connected world it is vital that we understand diversity on all levels, at home and outside of our borders.
I’m a child of Mexican descent, and have grown up half in and half out of that world. Finding books that were representative not only of my experience, but also of my family’s heritage, was extremely difficult. As an adult I’ve visited over a dozen countries and can read in two languages other than English. In the same way that visiting a friend’s house for the first time is an important moment in the development of empathy, visiting other countries gave me a richer understanding of the world and my own place in it. Children’s books in translation could provide that experience earlier in life.
All You Really Need to Know is what Jacqueline Woodson Said at BookCon
I always feel a little nostalgic and reflective at this time of year, because I started my publishing career in June of 1993. Looking back at the market then, I mostly giggle. Then I think about what I was complicit in perpetuating, and I want to barf.
This is the first book I ever helped to edit.
This is the first novel I ever published.
Two thousand years from now an archaeologist might reasonably assume that in the early nineties there was a law banning books for teens that didn’t feature straight white blond girls. I remember I brought up Won’t Know Till I Get There by Walter Dean Myers at an editorial meeting that fall—I’d read it in 8th Grade—and people stared at me, slack-jawed, not comprehending why I thought it would be cool to talk to him and maybe even try to work with him. “On a basketball book?” was one response. (From a very smart and well-meaning colleague whom I still love and respect, no less; I’m sure that person would also want to barf now, remembering this.)