My week began at a campus wide workshop on social justice. I looked forward to hearing something new and different on this topic, but not to the intense level of personal sharing, not on a Monday morning and not with a crowd somewhat unaware of entitlements. The presenters, Kathy Obear and Vernon Wall, were excellent and I believe appropriately met people where they were. I can’t let my own ‘just tell me what I need to know’ attitude ignore the power of a workshop that pushed people to engage and discuss about personal experiences with entitlement. It’s the personal experience that makes all the difference when you don’t really know people who live outside your ethnic, gender or ability experience. Books can provide these experiences, too.
Obear and Wall kept referring to research that documents the importance of diversity in the workplace and my thoughts kept wandering to information industries (entertainment, technology and publishing) that lack diversity.
I’ve so far traced the diversity movement, the call for better representation of African American children back to the 1930s. While I’m sure it can go back further and deeper by looking at Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and those who are LGBTQIA fighting separate and similar fights, when you look at these years and years of knocking on the door, don’t you have to wonder how much longer we’ll keep knocking, and why? I often wonder why more haven’t followed Lee & Low or Just Us books to create publishing companies for marginalized people. I know there are many such as Zetta Elliott, Kwame Alexander, Myles Johnson, Kwame Nyong’o and Innosanto Nagara who have done their own publisher and I know libraries are doing more and more to support local, independent writers. Will this movement continue to grow? There is no more work in marketing for beginning writings whether they are self-published or with a traditional publisher, so why not?
Today’s NY Times features an article by Molly McCardle that moves us beyond counting books and workers, beyond breaking down 100 years worth of reasoning for better representation and puts the next move squarely with publishers. She tells them essentially to get with the 21st century. Because, as noted above, authors do not need publishers to be able to deliver their stories to readers.
I went on a tirade on Twitter the other day just tired of “what will you say to white writers who want to write diverse stories”? I’m tired of de-centering the need for diversity, of moving away from the fact that marginalized stories need to tell their own stories. I would ask those white writers what are they willing to do to get more authors of color to press? I would ask if they realize there are publishers who will look at two books, both with African American characters, one written by a white author and one by a black author and they will choose print the book by the white author. I would ask those white authors how often they purchase and promote books by queer authors. I’d say if you’re going to write diversity, live it. And, I’d say understand that there are unseen forces at work. A book can be written by a white author with not a single marginalized character but can still work to promote social justice and equity, can still exist sans Whiteness and can do this unintentionally by one who lives social justice and equity.
Believe it or not, I haven’t been dwelling on diversity this week! The weather is nice and I’m walking more. I’ve planted garlic and pulled out the seed catalogs. I’ve gotten a couple of coloring books themed on ‘harmony’ and I’m still watching ‘Gilmore Girls’. It’s an amazing life when your passion becomes your work, but it’s really important to have outlets that clear your mind and de-stress your being. There’s so much I do to promote diversity that I enjoy! I think I’ve mentioned that we’re about to finalize the We the People Summer Reading List?
I’ve been working on the Digital Public Library’s Open eBooks, a new initiative and e-reader app that will make thousands of popular, top-selling eBooks available to children in need for free. The project worked hard to identify books that represented marginalized children and reacted to how few there really are. I love that this project incorporates technology, building on other literacies for young people. Yes, this is a double edge sword that cuts away those with no Internet in their homes, but thank goodness for libraries who do provide this access. The initiative was announced by Michelle Obama.
Open eBooks is not a federal program; it was created by a breakthrough coalition of literacy, library, publishing, and technology organizations who worked together over the past year to make the initiative possible. This team – Digital Public Library of America, First Book, and The New York Public Library with content support from digital books distributor Baker & Taylor – created the app, curated the eBook collection, and developed a system for distribution and use. They received support for development of technology critical to the app from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and content contributions from ten major publishers — including today’s big announcement that National Geographic will include all its age-appropriate content in the app.
For more information, or to sign up, visit Openbook.net. Please share this link with parents and teachers so that we can get and keep our children reading.
And that’s what it’s all about: getting and keeping our children reading.
This week, I’ll be reviewing Tanita Davis’ new book, visiting my dentist and going to see a local production of Nathan Louis Jackson’s “Broke-ology”.
Here’s to a week filled with doing our best. I really like this quote from Vernon Wall, “May the work I’ve done speak for me.”