November 16, 2017

We Need Diverse Books™ | Movers & Shakers 2015 — Change Agents

We Need Diverse Books™

vitals

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Ellen Oh
YA author, President
Aisha Saeed
YA author, VP Strategy
Marieke Nijkamp
YA author, VP Finance
Lamar Giles
YA author, VP Communications
I.W. Gregorio
YA author, VP Development
Meg Medina
Executive Committee board member
Miranda Paul
teacher, picture book author, VP Outreach

FOLLOW
@diversebooks; weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com; facebook.com/diversebooks; instagram.com/weneeddiversebooks

FACES OF WNDB (Clockwise from top l.): Allie Jane Bruce, Dara La Porte (fiscal partner from An Open Book Fdn.), Barbara Binns, Don Tate, I.W. Gregorio (cofounder), Nicola Yoon, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Miranda Paul (cofounder), Ellen Oh (cofounder), and Sona Charaipotra. Photo by Bob Stefko

Hashtag Heard ’Round the World

The diversity gap in children’s books and publishing isn’t new, but 2014 saw it confronted with unprecedented energy. A group of authors for children and teens together assembled a virtual call to arms that is likely to influence the face of publishing for years to come.

It began as a Twitter exchange on April 17, 2014, between YA authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo, who expressed their frustration with the lack of diversity at BookCon’s May 31 event—an all-white, all-male author panel had been announced for the convention for book fans to be held the following month. YA author Aisha Saeed first used the #WeNeedDiverseBooks (WNDB) hashtag on Twitter on April 24, and it took off, officially trending for the first time on April 29. Other kid lit fans joined to raise awareness about the dearth of people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender individuals in children’s books with a three-day event (May 1–3). BookCon soon added several panels on diverse books to its 2014 roster.

Now a volunteer-based nonprofit, WNDB is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity in literature for young people will help lead to acceptance, empathy, and, ultimately, equality. It mobilized thousands of people to help raise funds via IndieGoGo (igg.me/at/diversebooks) and support its future initiatives. The campaign raised $181,676 from October 23 to December 10, surpassing its $150,000 goal. It garnered attention and coverage from a range of news outlets, including the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, and the Guardian.

WNDB has also joined forces with the National Education Association, which made a yearlong pledge to promote diverse books and authors to its members. First Book, an organization that provides free books to at-risk kids, agreed to produce 10,000 paperback copies of selected titles to get them into classrooms nationwide. LJ sister publication School Library Journal has partnered with WNDB to organize and sponsor a diversity-focused event to be held in conjunction with the 2016 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston; a Diversity Festival to be held in summer 2016 in Washington, DC, which the group hopes will serve as “an inclusive incubator for diverse voices”; and the joint development of an Education Kit for teachers, booksellers, and librarians.

WNDB has also created the Walter Dean Myers Award, “The Walter,” to be given to a young adult work written by an author from a diverse background. It has announced plans to support a publishing internship to advance diversity in the industry, led by award-winning author Linda Sue Park. WNDB is also spearheading a project with the Washington, DC, nonprofit An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation, to send children’s authors and illustrators into schools in underserved communities.

I.W. Gregorio, VP of development, says that WNDB will continue to advocate for authentic portrayals of diverse cultures and the promotion of diverse voices. “We don’t want diversity to be used as a marketing tool. We’re not a fad.”

A year after being criticized for only featuring white authors on panels, BookCon is teaming up with WNDB to host two BookCon 2015 gatherings that spotlight authors of various backgrounds, including National Book Award winners Sherman Alexie and Jacqueline Woodson. But the group remains a watchdog: Lo and others have called out BookCon producer Reed Exhibitions, which also puts on the trade-focused BookExpo America (BEA), on Twitter for the absence of authors of color to be featured at the BEA children’s breakfast in 2015.

Cofounder and president Oh has noticed a marked difference when the diversity conversation crops up among authors of color. “There was this hopelessness, but now there’s such energy.” She says the group’s ultimate goal is to work themselves out of a job. “We want to work as hard as we can so that a lack of diversity is no longer an issue.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. I started following the campaign on tumblr earlier this year, and just reading the posts has completely changed how I see books, the publishing industry, and it has changed my reading habits. I intentionally try to read more diverse books now, and I’m better for it!