by Amy Fitzgerald, Editorial Director, Carolrhoda
We’ve heard the buzzwords: “diversity,” “inclusivity,” “own voices,” “mirrors and windows.” And we’ve seen some heartening progress in movements to open up children’s publishing to authors with a wider range of backgrounds.
Brave, innovative stories told by marginalized authors are making their way from agents to publishers to the reading public. With the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give hitting movie theaters last year, with Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X garnering the 2018 National Book Award, with Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone spending more than 70 weeks on the New York Times YA bestseller list, it’s becoming easier to think of Own Voices stories that are breaking through the whitewashed glass ceiling.
If you only think of books like these, though, you’re seeing only part of the picture.
Many of the most acclaimed Own Voices authors in children’s lit have chosen to write stories that explicitly tackle issues of inequality and oppression. These stories are getting well deserved, long-overdue attention. At the same time, many authors are writing different kinds of stories—stories that are deeply rooted in their cultural, ethnic, and racial experiences but also explore themes beyond those experiences.
And many authors want to write about dance, about animals, about physics. Some Own Voices authors have expressed frustration that publishing gatekeepers seem to expect them to write only about marginalization, to be experts only on this aspect of their creative work.
A woman can write compellingly and expertly about more than, say, how it feels to be catcalled. She can write about anything from the history of sneakers to epic video-game battles. The same is true for authors of any marginalized background.
If we’re serious about improving representation in kids’ books, publishers and other gatekeepers—librarians and teachers, for instance—should seek out underrepresented authors writing all kinds of content. Writers of color, writers with disabilities, LGBTQA+ writers, and others shouldn’t have to write only about certain topics for their work to be valued and taken seriously.
With that in mind, Lerner is holding an open call for K-12 nonfiction authors of underrepresented communities and backgrounds. (Note: This open call is now closed.) Spearheaded by my colleague Jenny Krueger, it’s part of an ongoing effort to diversify our entire author pool, not just the fiction lists where Own Voices authors are expected to gravitate. We aim to welcome authors with a bigger range of experiences, perspectives, and skillsets who are interested in writing about anything from science and technology to history and current events to crafting and cooking.
Take a fresh look at your library shelves. Are they stocked with books by a wide variety of authors, beyond a specific “diverse books” display? Now’s a great time to start a search of your own.