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I follow and support #WeNeedDiverseBooks, an initiative to promote and encourage more diversity in childrens's literature (and beyond). As I'm currently struggling with questions of authenticity in writing diverse characters different from myself, these recent tweets struck me:
I agree. Writers who are themselves diverse, whether that's a non-majority race, sexual orientation, or disability, should not be pigeonholed into writing only characters who are like themselves.
For me, being white, hetero, able-bodied, I also do not want to write only characters who are like me. But what does that mean?
(by the way Sona Charaipotra's book Tiny Pretty Things is a fabulous YA spin on Black Swan at an elite ballet academy.)
I wrote a manuscript with a character of a different heritage than myself already, but I'm currently working on a young adult story where the lead character is biracial, half-Korean. She spends part of her summer with nearby Korean grandparents. It's a point of stress and worry that I get the details right. So far, interviewing and having readers with the same or similar heritage has been invaluable. Google can only get you so far. And even then, I still have doubts.
Because there's no checklist to complete your diverse content. There's no stamp of approval a reader or diversity expert or resource can give you to "approve" your content. Experiences will differ.
Creating layered characters should always be a focus, but I think even more so with books targeting diversity. A fellow Bloomsbury Spark author Valerie Tejeda often discusses how she wrote the upcoming Hollywood Witch Hunter because she always wanted to read about a Latina urban fantasy heroine who looked like her. If readers are looking to see themselves in your story featuring a character like them, only to find stereotypes and lazy writing, that's a huge disappointment.
There's no one right way to do this. And ultimately, me as a white writer am not doing anything groundbreaking by writing a non-white character. So while I may worry, I also aim to be an ally by purchasing and promoting books by diverse authors. I request their books for my library. I give money to We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit, to support programs that give visibility to authors and scholarships to bring interns into publishing who view diversity as necessary.
How do you support diversity in books? Have you written characters that required interviewing or searching for readers outside of your race, religion, or beyond? If not, what stops you? Please share in the comments!
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