By Rachel Werner
Artistic appropriation has been rampant around the globe throughout history. Unfortunately, such erroneous behaviors continue today when concepts like minimalism and plant-based eating have been repackaged by the highly educated and privileged to represent what’s enlightened and chic, often stripped of religious or ethnic origins. Art is not a byproduct of ‘the elite’ in any society, but an intrinsic gift inherent to humanity as a whole. When a culture limits who can be perceived as an artist, an essential component of a civilization’s truth is lost—perhaps never to be recovered.
And the American publishing industry has consistently lacked equitable representation in terms of books featuring diverse characters or culturally-sensitive themes. A strong case could be made that several larger imprints are now hemorrhaging in terms of quality content due to long-standing, systemic barriers that prevent more diverse voices from breaking into the mainstream market. Curbing this damaging trend is even more critical for literature created for children and teens.
The Magic in Changing Your Stars author Leah Henderson affirms the necessity for diversity and inclusion to be aggressively sought in the literary world. “I grew up learning the importance of everyone seeing their possibilities in the world. And stories created from lived experience are that much richer. So, young readers today are experiencing more choice when it comes to representation is both wonderful and necessary,” she told We Need Diverse Books. “Not just for those who need to be acknowledged, but for those who also need to acknowledge and understand the possibilities of others. So, when I write, I always have these thoughts in mind: How can I show every child a possibility and how can I support those who what to share underrepresented experiences full of possibility?”
Thanks to talented writers like Henderson crafting stories, which not only resonate with marginalized groups but also sell well when marketed to a broader audience, these three genres are quickly becoming diverse books hubs for younger readers:
Henderson is a part of a dynamic cohort in a kidlit category quickly becoming a genre in its own right. Other MG books with diverse tween narratives include El Deafo (CeCe Bell), Front Desk (Kelly Yang), The Magnificent Mya Tibbs series (Crystal Allen), and Look Both Ways: A Tale Told In Two Blocks (Jason Reynolds).
YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Inventive tales featuring captivating LGBTQ+ protagonists like Ryan La Sala’s recently released Reverie, Isabel Sterling These Witches Don’t Burn and Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta’s Once & Future create safe spaces (often in alternate realities) for identity and first love to be explored uncensored.
The 2018 State of Diversity in Romance Publishing revealed that for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2018, only 7.7 percent were written by people of color. However, in this niche of YA, the tide is dramatically shifting thanks to the popularity of Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You and its sequel in print triggering a Netflix adaption—plus the big-screen version of Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star.
Each book above is a stellar read, yet there are more stories still waiting to be told and shared. So I implore all diverse authors whether published 10 times or still revising your first manuscript to keep writing. And all of us need to keep buying the books on the shelf we find ourselves in.
Rachel Werner is the Content Marketing Specialist at Taliesin Preservation; guest faculty at The Highlights Foundation and Hugo House; and a 2017 World Food Championship judge. Formerly the digital editor for BRAVA, she has contributed content to BLK+GRN, Madison Magazine and Entrepreneurial Chef. When she’s not working, Rachel is involved in many other organizations and local events like Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Arts and Literature Laboratory, FairShare CSA Coalition and Madison Reading Project. Her passionate commitment to fostering community over competition, holistic wellness and sustainable agriculture keep her a Midwestern girl at heart. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter—as well as running, developing vegan recipes and cycling. Follow her adventures around the country on Instagram @therealscript.