Reading Diversely FAQ: Part 2

It’s no secret that diversity in reading is an important value at Book Riot. We write about it so often, in fact, that we’ve noticed that the same questions come up again and again from our readers in the comment sections of those posts. I, along with Riot Contributing Editors Swapna and Preeti, are going to answer those questions in a series of posts coming out over the next few weeks, so anyone who has asked these questions (to us or just to yourselves) can get a straight answer. Just search the “readdiverseFAQ” tag on the site to find every post in the series, or click the link at the bottom of the post. Let’s get started:

 

1. Where can I go to find authors from diverse backgrounds?

 

Preeti: Good news! There are plenty of places to find diverse authors. You can look at diverse award lists. For children’s and young adult literature, you can check out the ALA’s list of Awards (things like the Coretta Scott King award, Pura Belpré, Stone Wall, the Amelia Bloomer book list, or the Schneider which cover everything from race to disabilities to LGBTQ stories). With a quick web search, you can find winners from past years and books that were short-listed for these awards and many more. There are groups like the Black Caucus of the ALA or the Asian/Pacific American Library Association, who have awards highlighting authors from that culture (are you seeing a trend here? Librarians LOVE diversity!), there’s also the South Asian Book Award and the Lambda Literary awards for contributions to LGBTQ literature. As you can see, odds are if it exists, there is a literary award for it, and that is a great way to find quality diverse literature.

You can also ask your local librarian or local booksellers for suggestions. You can find very specific lists on book blogs, like African American authors to read, or Gay YA characters. We’ve definitely done one or two or several over here on Book Riot. You can ask for book recs on Twitter or on Tumblr (like at the Diversity in YA tumblr)  or Facebook. Ask us! We’re happy to recommend!

There are so many ways to find diverse literature!

Amanda: I second what Preeti said about asking us. The quickest way to get an answer from us on Twitter or Facebook is to be as specific as possible. A question like “What’s a good sci-fi dystopian novel with a solid romance from a diverse author?” lets us hone in on what you’re really looking for, as opposed to a general “What should I read that’s diverse?”

Swapna: Thirded! We love giving recommendations. If you’re not sure exactly what genre you’re looking for, then just the names of some books you’ve enjoyed recently are helpful when it comes to recommending. If you just want to browse some reviews, blogs are a great place to look. I make it a point to review diverse fiction and nonfiction on my own blog, S. Krishna’s Books.

 

2. Isn’t this publishing’s problem?

 

Amanda: Yes and no. Publishers are a business, so they will sign authors who are similar to authors who have already done well, sales-and-recognition-wise. Since best-seller lists and award rosters are dominantly white, that’s what publishers bring on and promote. So it’s their problem that they’re not more aware and proactive about fixing the issue, but it’s also our problem as media (since we’re responsible for the books that get championed to our readers) and our problem as readers (since we’re responsible for buying what we’re sold without critical thought). So while readers do have a responsibility to be more intentional about their book-buying if they’re interested in equality, publishers as gatekeepers also have a responsibility to bring on and promote more excellent work by people of color, which is a job at which they’ve largely been failing. Readers can’t read diverse books if publishers aren’t letting those authors in, unless those readers are willing to go digging through the millions of self-published titles out there themselves. And the diversity in self-publishing is excellent, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for more equal representation in traditional publishing, which is still where most readers are getting their material.

Preeti: Amanda is right, and like we said last week, you buy ‘em, publishing will make ‘em. I know it can ruffle feathers when we use words like ‘responsibility’ when it comes to someone’s reading habits, but that’s really what it is. As a POC, I find myself in the position of hoping that my white allies and fellow POCs take a second to support diverse literature to prove to businesses that it is worth investing in. It’s just something to think about.

Swapna: Yup yup yup. Publishing is a business, first and foremost. If we as readers prove that POC authors are marketable, then they’ll publish more of them.

 

3. Who counts as a “POC” (Person Of Color)? For example, does someone from Spain count? Or someone who is Jewish?

Swapna: For us, it’s simple: someone who isn’t of white European descent.

This question can get dicey, especially when you’re talking about POCs (a term I don’t love, but I haven’t found a better one that speaks specifically to what I need it to) versus diversity. There are all kinds of diversity, and you can define that however you want: people who have a different cultural background from you, people who have a different religion than you, people who live in a different country than you. The definition of diversity can be subjective, but the definition of POC is not.

We’ll talk more about diversity in all its forms (LGBTQ, people with disabilities, etc.) when it comes to reading in a later question, but for our purposes, “not of white European descent” is our guideline.

Amanda: This can become a hugely complicated question, with different connotations for readers in different countries- so much so that perfecting the definition gets in the way of doing the good. The easiest general working definition of “POC” (which, like Swapna, is a term I’m not crazy about but is one we’re using for lack of a better alternative) is just someone who isn’t of white European descent because that cuts through a lot of the specific “what ifs?” For example, what if someone is biracial (like I am), or multiracial? They’re not totally of white European descent, so we would count that- especially since they will still experience micro-agressions and prejudice in U.S. What if someone is Jewish (or Muslim, or Buddhist)? Well, are they of white European descent? If so, then they are not a person of color- which isn’t to say that they don’t experience discrimination, prejudice, or oppression- it’s just to say they’re not a person of color. What if someone was born to parents of color, but was adopted and raised in a privileged upper-class American household? She’s still a person of color, and will likely experience discrimination, structural racism, and micro-aggression. Things like colonization and imperialism can further complicate the concept of a “POC,” but sticking to this general guideline can be helpful when you’re seeking out authors of color for your reading choices. But remember that it’s just a general guideline- specific examples may or may not fit into this framework.

It’s important to note that reading authors who come from other countries, are from other religious backgrounds, and have different political beliefs than you do is important, and those are all forms of diversity (which we’ll be discussing in a later post). But those guidelines don’t necessarily help correct the racial inequality that exists within publishing and the book world. And you’ll often find that by reading authors who are POC, you’ll automatically end up reading authors from other countries, with different religious and political beliefs. Similarly, if you purposefully read authors who aren’t from America and Western Europe, you’ll probably end up reading more POC authors.


Preeti:
Well, the two ladies before me wrote it out pretty clearly. I’ll echo the sentiment that POC is someone who is not of white European descent. (And that I don’t love the term, but will use it for myself until a better one comes along.) We are definitely looking at this from our experience as women of color within a traditionally Western setting (~America), and so for our setting, this is the definition that works. This is not to say that people who are of European descent never experience things like micro-aggressions or racism or sexism, but that for the definition of this term, POC, they would not be included.

A quick note: we all use the term micro-aggression, which are usually forms of unintended discrimination or racism. Micgro-aggressions can be committed against any type of diverse person, whether it’s people of color or people who are LGBTQ or people with disabilities.

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That’s it for installment 2! Click here for all the Reading Diversely FAQ posts so far, and stay tuned for future posts where we’ll be answering these questions:

  1. What about other kinds of diversity? Isn’t reading diversely important in terms of politics, religion, and where an author is from, as well as race?
  2. What about books written by white people that are about POC? Do those “count”? And as an author, what if I’m uncomfortable writing a character who is a POC?
  3. How can I, as a non-POC person, relate to a story by/about a POC?
  4. Why does everything have to be political?
  5. So what’s a “good” percentage to aim for? And isn’t that just filling a quota?
  6. Am I a racist if I just don’t care?
  7. Why are diverse books specifically important in children’s literature?
  8. Isn’t it enough to have at least one PoC character?
  9. Why is it important to have PoC characters in stories that are about more than just their racial background?

Have a question not on this list? Leave it in the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer it for you!

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