I truly believe that book people, for the most part, are the best people. Since Tuesday, many of us are looking for more ways we can stand against racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, ableism, and any other form of bigotry or lack of compassion.
Today I am going to deliver Maya Angelou books to the New York subway. Then I am going to fight even harder for all the things I believe in.
— Emma Watson (@EmmaWatson) November 9, 2016
You can vote, write letters, volunteer for or donate to civil/human rights organizations, and much more, but if you also want to take a page out of Emma Watson’s playbook and fight back in a bookish way, here are some suggestions.
Buy Stories from Marginalized Voices
It’s such a simple thing, but so easy to forget about. Publishing is, at its core, a business. If we show the publishers that marginalized voices can make them money, they will publish and promote more of those books, placing more marginalized voices in the national spotlight. Plus it doesn’t hurt to financially support those voices so that they can pay rent and bills, and afford to continue creating. If you find one you really like… well, guess what everyone’s getting for Christmas?
Donate Books by Marginalized Voices
We need as much diversity as possible in the narratives young people are consuming. If there is a library or school looking for book donations, throw in a copy of The Girl From Everywhere or Of Fire and Stars along with that Harry Potter book. Don’t forget the prison libraries!
Recommend Diverse Books
Book people get asked for recommendations a lot. Next time this happens, think about the choices you’re offering people and see if you can’t offer a little more diversity in those recs. Or, alternately, don’t even wait for them to ask. After I finished Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, I shouted it from the rooftops, even taking five minutes out of my own book launch event to tell my friends about it.
While you’re at it, suggest these titles and authors to any group you may have influence over, such as a book club or a book convention you frequently attend.
Stock Your Local Little Library
If you have a Little Free Library near you, remember that they operate on the “take a book, leave a book” principle. Consider leaving a book that someone might not seek out on their own, but sounds interesting, and can help expand their worldview in some way.
Connect with a Local Literacy Organization
Most metro areas have some kind of literacy organization. For example, Barbershop Books helps “black boys ages 4-8 identify as readers by connecting books and reading to a male-centered space and by involving men in boys early reading experiences.” During the month of February, schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens host an event as part of the National African American Read-In.
Volunteer your time and resources, whatever they may be. Something as simple as promoting their events to your local friends is a great help if you don’t have a lot of time to offer.
Amplify Marginalized Voices
I know you’re thinking “I have like 150 twitter followers and half of them are spambots” but every tweet and Facebook post and blog post makes a difference. Use your platform, no matter how small or big it might be, to promote books and book events. If 5000 people read this article and they signal boost it to just 100 people, that is half a million impressions, which is a great start. Those “RT” and “share” and “reblog” buttons are so, so easy to press.
Review, Review, Review
In my former life as a book publicist, I learned that peer reviews are the number one factor in purchasing decisions for people 35 years-old or younger. If you read a book you love, especially if it is by a marginalized person or if it creates empathy of any kind, please leave a review at Goodreads and Amazon, at minimum. It doesn’t even have to be a long, thought-out review. Something as simple as “I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone who likes adventure fiction” helps a great deal.
Call Out Homogeneous Rosters & Demand Better
Whether it’s a fan convention, a news/review publication, a library Board of Directors, or any other group of people presented as book authorities or decision-makers, if you see a line-up of cishet white able-bodied people, ask for better representation. Suggest some great additions, if you have them.
Support National Efforts
Support national efforts to make books & writing more inclusive, such as We Need Diverse Books or PEN America. Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens. The Harry Potter Alliance aims to “change the world by making activism accessible through the power of story.”
Most libraries take requests for books and suggestions for events. Ask your library to order more copies of diverse titles and to host more events featuring marginalized voices. Here’s a tip from a library event planner: when those events happen, attend and bring your friends. We repeat events with high attendance.
I know that ordering from Amazon is super easy, but walk in to your local bookstores and ask them to order physical copies of books written by those with repressed identities.
Most book conventions and festivals have a survey you can fill out at the end. Many of them ask for author suggestions. Use that space wisely.
Actively Resist Censorship
When you hear about a local school or library trying to ban a book because a narrow-minded parent complained, stand up and be loud. Most of these decisions go the way of the loudest side. Write (multiple) letters, attend the Board meetings, show up, and make yourself heard. Let your libraries know that segregating LGBT+ books is harmful and potentially dangerous to in-the-closet youth. Let your school know that censoring entire cultures’ experiences because they are difficult is unconscionable.
Write Your Story
A lot of readers think they might have a book in them some day. If you have a story to tell the world, please consider improving your craft and seriously pursuing publication. Your voice matters; add it to the narrative. I cannot promise you it will be easy, but it will be rewarding in so many ways.
I hear a lot of people in the book community in the book community asking, “What now?” We need to support each other and lift each other up. Books are a great way to build empathy and compassion and to fight against a rising tide of hate. The list above is a great start, but let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions or an organization you think is doing a great job!