Last spring a storm of indignation swept over the online publishing world. The BookCon, a major book show and convention held yearly in Manhattan, announced an all-male, all-white panel of "luminaries of children's literature". The lack of diversity was pointed out to organizers, who initially failed to respond at all. Frustration had already been growing about the incredible lack of diversity in children's publishing, both in terms of the participants and of subject matter. Angry authors organized a Twitter protest under the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks or #WNDB. Participants posted photos of themselves holding up signs explaining their personal reasons for believing in the need for diverse books. The campaign took off, spawned an organization, websites, reading challenges, and perhaps something of a sea change in the publishing industry. BookCon 2015, for starters, boasts the We Need Diverse Books logo and panels that show a much broader range than last year's.
The thrust of We Need Diverse Books has been to diversify the world of children's publishing, so that children can find characters who are like them and who can provide role models for them. I can only applaud this. But I propose taking this a bit wider. I happen to believe, and there is scientific backing for this belief, that reading fiction helps develop empathy, and that a large part of its social value is enabling us to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes and to gain perspectives that are foreign to our own experience.
So, in the spirit of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, I am launching a #WeReadDiverseBooks challenge. For each month of 2015 I will lay down a different reading challenge, encouraging readers to step outside of their normal experience in twelve different categories. Please spread the word, using the hashtag #WeReadDiverseBooks, or #WRDB. This is not aimed at children – although they are certainly welcome to participate – but primarily at adults who are willing to be stretched. Our emphasis will be on fiction, although memoirs and biographies also meet the spirit of the challenge. One book a month, in twelve different worlds. Come explore with us.
If you're late to the party, no problem! Start late, jump into the middle, find inspiration however it suits you. Share what you're doing; you have more influence than you think.