Reading and Writing Diversity – Let’s Discuss

June 11, 2015 Let's Discuss 36

This is the second in a series of discussions that I’m planning based on my experiences at RT 2015. These are thoughts that were inspired by specific panels, or by books from RT, or just by random passing things that happened there. I love that events like this help me to think critically about books, blogging and the publishing world in general!

Today’s topic is diversity. I tend to gravitate toward diverse books, especially books that show interracial couples or characters. My youngest son is black (he’s adopted from Haiti), and I think I like to imagine a world where that isn’t the least bit odd. (I do have to say that, living in the Chicago suburbs, I’ve almost never had anyone look at our family with anything more than mild curiosity, and that is a true blessing. I know that wouldn’t be the case everywhere.)

Anyway, I attended two different panels at RT about diversity in books. Both were geared toward writers, but I thought that they were incredibly interesting for anyone involved in the publishing world and for readers as well. The basic message was:

weneeddiversebooks-logo

And, there you go. That’s all I need to say, right?

Of course, the realities of diversity in fiction are more difficult than this one little statement would lead you to believe. I think that all of us want diversity in our books, but it’s never quite that simple, is it? First of all, someone has to write this diverse fiction, and then people need to buy it.

But most authors are English speaking, white people. Is it okay to write diversity if you don’t come from a diverse background yourself? The overwhelming opinion of the people on the panel was yes! The panel members encouraged authors to write diverse characters – to take the chance, even if they fear getting it wrong. Of course, authors should do their research and have people of the ethnic background that’s being represented read the book and give feedback – but hopefully they won’t steer clear out of fear.

One good point that a few different panel members made – everyone has different life experiences, no matter what race or ethnicity they are – it’s not like all African American males live the same life. One of the writers on the panel is Indian and she mentioned that she sometimes got comments that something in her book was “wrong” – she said, “Well, that’s how it was in my family!” No matter what, you can’t please everyone!

Now, once we get people writing diverse books, we need people to read them! Sadly, it’s been shown that books with diverse characters on the cover don’t sell as well. It’s human nature for us to be drawn to what we know and characters who are similar to ourselves, but it’s still kind of sad. I would encourage all of my readers to deliberately pick up some diverse books and expand your horizons!!

Want some suggestions? Here are some great books I’ve read that feature diverse main characters (in race/ethnicity and/or sexual orientation):

Young Adult

Not the main character, but still major characters who are diverse:

  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – In this one, one of the major characters is hispanic.
  • Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke – Two of the main characters’ best friends are gay.
  • Unwind Series by Neal Shusterman – This one has some diverse characters, including Native American.

New Adult/Adult

  • The Untamed Series by Amber Hart. These books take place in the jungle in Africa and some of the main characters are natives!
  • Anything by S.J. Pajonas (her books all have Asian settings and Asian main characters). She has a NA dystopian series and a contemporary.
  • Whisper to Me by Christina Lee features a Native American guy as the main love interest, and Two of Hearts features Kai’s older sister and has an even greater emphasis on the Native American culture. (I’ve read both of these, but haven’t posted a review of the second one yet.) I also just discovered that Christina just released another book in her Between Breaths series that features a M/M romance (I somehow didn’t even know this one existed!)

I know I’m forgetting some!! Help me out!

Have other great diverse books to recommend? I want to know!

36 Responses to “Reading and Writing Diversity – Let’s Discuss”

  1. Kritika

    I love this! Diversity is something important to me too, and I love that the consensus is to include characters from diverse backgrounds even if the author is not necessarily from a minority or underrepresented group. Some of those recs are new to me so I’ll check them out!

  2. Cynthia

    Thank you so much for the list of books with diversity. I have been trying so hard to read more diversely this year. I have been reading more books with LGBT characters, but sadly most of the books are still written by white people. I do need to change that.

    • Nicole

      Yes, I was surprised how hard it was for me to find diverse books on my list! I definitely want to read even more.

  3. tonyalee

    I have a lot of thoughts on Diversity in books – nothing bad – and I think it’s always a great topic for discussions. (I won’t go fully into it right now but… ) I have read a lot of books with diverse characters and agree it’s something that we should see more of.

    I didn’t realize that books with diverse characters on the cover don’t sell. (this is just plain weird to me) lol Here are a rec recommendations (a few haha)

    Sanctum by Sarah Fine
    More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
    Trust the Focus (M/M Romance) by Megan Erickson
    Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine
    Emmy & Oliver (gay friend)
    Steel Lily by Megan Curd
    Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M Lee
    The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
    Hard to Hold on To (Adult) by Laura Kaye

    • Nicole

      Well, now I want too know your thoughts! You’d better write about it soon! Thanks for the recs! I forgot about The Walled City – I loved that book!

  4. S. J. Pajonas

    Lol. Read your list, and thanks for the props 🙂

    “But most authors are English speaking, white people.” Well, most authors in the US are and I’ve actually been trying to encourage people to read books written by authors outside of the US (and hopefully more books will be translated over the next few years). And yeah, just because a writer may be one race doesn’t mean they can’t write another. We actually discussed this in a FB group recently and I was dismayed to see one author say that she was told she couldn’t write African-American characters because she is white. WRONG. I find that to be total BS. Can men write women? Yes. Women write men? Yes. So why not a different race? Do some research and then get in touch with your character!

    I pretty much only write Asian characters but outside of some cultural differences and how those play on their personality, they are not that much different than any other person. I encourage all writers to branch out if that’s what they’re interested in! Hopefully more readers will want to read those books too. 🙂

    • Nicole

      You’re right – I realized I was totally generalizing when I wrote that. Seems like most of the books we’re exposed to regularly are written by white, English speaking people, though. I do need to make more of an effort to read books by foreign authors. And I totally agree with you – writers can’t write only characters who are just like them – how boring would that be?

      • S. J. Pajonas

        It would, and IS, totally boring, which is why the push for diversity is getting so strong. The tide is turning, as far as I can tell. More books are being published abroad as self-published titles, which are then diluting the mass of fairly white books from US publishers. I take great care in making sure my books and their covers and their blurbs represent the diversity I want to see in the market. Like, I have worked hard to put the Asian men and women on my covers even if it costs me an arm and a leg (I have had to buy stock images from Singapore to get passable photos for book covers which costs $$$), whereas I’ve seen publishers just white-wash and walk away.

        I feel like diversity in both books and the authors that write them is coming!! Another year or so, and we’ll be inundated with them (but my guess is mostly self-published because traditionally published diverse books are a much harder sell.)

  5. Joycedale Chapman

    Ya: Perfect Chemistry has hispanic male leads (at least the first 2, I haven’t read the rest yet)
    Na/adult: Senses series the female lead is half black but raised by her black uncle and Mexican aunt. The spinoff books has one that is a m/m story.

    That’s all I could think of off the top of my head that you hadn’t already mentioned.

    • Nicole

      I’ve been meaning to read Perfect Chemistry anyway, so this is a good reason to do it soon. Thanks for the recs!

  6. ShootingStarsMag

    I do think diversity in books is important – no matter what age you are writing/reading. I also think that people should write what they want and not just based on who they are or what they already know. Sure, do research and talk to people who might know better, but at the end of the day, we all need to put diversity out into the world (as writers) and pick it up as readers.

  7. Elizabeth

    I am not “good” about reading for diversity.When I taught middle school English I spent a lot of time finding books that took place around the world since we studied world culture/geography in Social Studies. I had at least 2 books from each continent, but obviously there are tons for Europe. I recently found this awesome online tool that might interest you. It has a map that links to books that take place around the world. For each book, there is a synopsis. http://www.whereshouldireadnext.com/

    • Nicole

      Thanks for letting me know! I just switched to a new plug-in for my social media buttons because I hated the way the old ones looked, but working is better than not! 🙂

  8. Terri M., the Director

    This is a hot topic right now. I get frustrated by the conversations though. Books can’t be everything and contain everything that connects everyone of every race, gender, etc. to it. Books would be larger than a George R.R. Martin tome.

    Your list is great and I do agree that The Lunar Chronicles contains a wide range of diversity. 🙂

    • Nicole

      Yeah, the point shouldn’t be to just try to stuff in every type of minority and represent everyone (I’ve actually seen that in books and it feels a bit manufactured). And you don’t want stories to get sidetracked by random efforts to include diversity. But I do think that if more authors made an effort to include some diversity, it would go a long way!

  9. Lanie

    Great discussion:D!!! I love diversity in books, it shakes everything up. I think its hard for a lot of people to write characters that are from different social backgrounds or ethnicity from them because they dont wanna offend. My experience is though if you mean well and try to be as respectful as you can, everything will work out in the end! 🙂

  10. Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life

    Love, love this post! I went to the We Need Diverse Books panel at the Irving library a few weeks ago, and I loved how enlightening it was. The cause of #WeNeedDiverseBooks is just amazing, and I love what they’re doing. <3 Ensuring everyone's story is told and that people who may not be of the majority can relate to stories as well is so important, in a lot of different ways. You can't make everyone happy, yes, but I think it's always good to try. 😉

    You've got some awesome recommendations on here!! I loved seeing the culture in To All the Boys I've Loved. I'm excited to read Pretty Little Things, since that features some different POC characters.

    Lovely, lovely post! <33

  11. Paij Slater

    Great discussion. I LOVE books about diversity! I think there should definitely agree that writers should step out of their comfort zones, and write more diverse books. They are just so good!

  12. Zeee @ I Heart Romance

    Awesome post! As part of the minority, I absolutely love to read books written by or with characters that are of a different race. Unfortunately, I don’t really see much books of this type in the genre that I prefer 🙁

  13. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    I definitely agree, Nicole! Diversity in books is very important! I don’t care all that much about covers, so I don’t always realize I’m going to read something that’s ‘diverse’ until I check out the blurb and actually start reading.
    I will add some of your recommendations to make sure I’ll keep my shelf as diverse as possible.

    • Nicole

      Exactly! It’s not like I expect everyone to only read books with diversity, but if we all pay a little more attention and buy books with diverse characters, hopefully we won’t even have to talk about it anymore, right?

  14. Olivia Roach

    I know I love books with diversity in them. But sometimes I like a lot of books which are contemporary which are focused on real themes that we also experience. But then there are also diverse books which reach into those themes as well. Which makes me super happy 😀 Those are my kind of books I like 🙂

    • Nicole

      I l love books that focus on real life too sometimes – but then sometimes I just love to escape into a complete fantasy world. Just depends on my mood! 🙂

  15. Benish

    I feel diversity is very important in books and I do like how young adult is taking it this year! There’s also All The Rage where the male lead is black, and P.S I Still Love You where the heroine is half-Korean I believe. There’s also More Happy Than Not, and Simon vs. The Homo sapiens where the male leads are gay. Wonderful discussion post!

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