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Diversify YA Life: Diversity at BEA and BookCon

Two years ago at Book Expo America 2014, there was some concern about the lack of diversity in an all white all male diversity panel.  The We Need Diverse Books movement formed after BEA 2014 and because of the movement, there has been a steady rise in diverse authors and characters.

Since its start in 2014, We Need Diverse Books has seen support from the publishing community, libraries, authors, and book bloggers.  Book bloggers are a unique group because they volunteer their time and money to promote literacy to the masses.  Over the past two years, many bloggers have hosted diversity reading challenges, Twitter chats, and author interviews to spread the importance of diversity in children’s/ young adult literature.  BEA and BookCon is the event YA bloggers look forward to to connect with friends, meet authors, and find new books to promote on their sites.  I got a chance to meet several YA bloggers of color and interviewed them on the importance of diversity in YA literature-Steph, Erica, and Hafsah.

Diversify YA Life_ diversity at BEA_Bookcon

Meet the bloggers.

With over 1100 website followers and 7,000 Twitter followers, Cuddlebuggery Book Blog is a leader in the YA blogging

Steph from Cuddlebuggery & Laini Taylor
Steph from Cuddlebuggery & Laini Taylor

community. Stephanie Sinclair started her blog in 2011 called Stephanie’s Book Nook and in 2012 joined Kat Kennedy to form Cuddlebuggery.  In 2014, Meg Morely joined the team that reviews YA lit, adult crossovers and middle grade books in a fresh, inventive and fun atmosphere.  You can follow Steph and Cuddlebuggery on the following social media sites:  YouTube channelGoogle + pageFaceBook page,Tumblr,Twitter,Instagram andGoodreads.

Erica has been reviewing YA fiction since the start of this year and she hosts a regular feature on Mike the Fanboy called Book Beat.  You can follow Erica and her 1,200 followers on Twitter at @Cambear.

Hafsah began her young-adult book review blog, IceyBooks, in late 2010 because she was homeschooled and had no one to share her love of books with. Over the years, she befriended countless people in publishing, other bloggers, authors, agents, editors, and found some of her dearest friends all because she started blogging. She now blogs on IceyBooks with her sister, Asma. You can follow Hafsah and her 8, 000 followers on Twitter and her 3,000 followers on Instagram at @HafsahFaizal.

How do you think the We Need Diverse Books movement has progressed since its start two year ago?

Steph: It’s definitely grown considerably and I’m impressed with how much its accomplished in such a short time. I feel like I can directly see some of its effects as well. There’s been more books being purchased by publishers written by marginalized people and I’m seeing them more prominently at bookish conventions, such as BEA. It’s been a very “in your face” movement, which is exactly what publishing needed. There have always been people campaigning for diverse books, but this just helps us all scream a little louder.

Erica: I haven’t been covering YA books for that long, but I think there is greater awareness across most media. There’s greater awareness that there is a lack of diversity and I think groups are getting more organized on raising their voices. Certainly the internet is quicker to pounce when something happens.

If you look to commercials, the most sophisticated marketers already know they need to feature diversity because they want to connect with as broad an audience as possible. You can see a better mix of races, ages and family units (gay, straight, adopted) in commercials. The ad industry is much further along than the media companies. They have to be or they can’t sell their product.

So there’s a proven business model out there. We need more opportunities for blockbusters (books, movies and TV) with diverse casts to prove this in other industries as well.

Hafsah: I think the WNDB movement has grown tremendously because of what it represents: the innumerable amount of people looking for themselves in the world of fiction, between the pages of a book. We need diverse books, and the WNDB movement is pushing for just that.

Why do we need diverse bloggers in the YA world?

Steph: Simple answer is that it’s important to see and hear voices of various backgrounds, no matter what field it’s in. Having marginalized voices at every level of the publishing industry is essential and allows people to get more familiar with what they don’t know. It causes everyone to be more socially aware and tolerant.

For diverse bloggers, we also have a very important role as well, and that’s reading, reviewing, supporting and challenging these diverse titles. Many authors are writing outside of what they know, and that’s awesome, but it’s not always a perfect system. I’ve run across books where most of my white blogger friends have praised a book that I found horribly offensive and books where they found the content uncomfortable, yet I felt it was true and accurate.
The world is a diverse place and, therefore, by default you’ll have diverse readers. As a reader, I love following bloggers who have similar tastes as me to find my new favorite book, but it’s also good to have others who have different perspectives so I can find books I would have never picked up.
Erica: Books, writers and reviewers should reflect the readers and, well, readers aren’t a homogeneous group. The crowd at BookCon this weekend was a full rainbow of all kinds of people.  Each person experiences a book through their own personal lens so having diverse reviewers mean you’re more likely to find someone who might have similar tastes to you.
Hafsah: Just like we need diverse books to read, we need diverse people to spread the love for these books, to appreciate them, and to advocate them. There’s no application to become a blogger, there’s no form to fill out. Bloggers in the YA world have come together because of their love for books, and nothing else, regardless of the differences that make us who we are.
What would you like publishers to know about the importance of diverse books?
Steph: As a kid, I used to wish I wasn’t black because all I saw and read about were white kids going on fantastic adventures. I felt like I was being left behind and it was difficult for me to find stories where I saw myself. Nowadays, that’s changing and I’m starting to see a lot more diverse characters and marginalized voices sitting at the table, fighting dragons and saving the world. It’s fantastic and I’m excited that my kids will have a better selection of stories to dive into.
Erica: People often read books to find characters they relate to whether its based on physical appearance, their attitude, their choices or whatever. The books that stay with people resonate the most and one size does not fit all. Mix things up.
Check out Steph’s diverse YA book recommendations:

Naila’s parents want her to marry a man that’s been arranged for her but when she meets Saif, she doesn’t want to follow tradition.  In an effort to get Naila to appreciate her heritage, she travels to Pakistan with her parents.  Naila soon discovers that her parents planned a marriage while in Pakistan and the only person to save her is Saif.

Simon isn’t quite out of the closet and neither is Blue, his anonymous email friend. When Martin accidentally sees Simon’s emails, Simon finds himself on the other side of blackmail and is forced to hook up Martin and his friend Abby.

When Michelle runs away from a drug addicted mother, she finds herself in NYC alone and out of money.  She meets a nice looking boy that offers her a place to stay but she soon finds herself in the world of child prostitution.

Check out these diverse YA recommendations by Erica.

Three unrelated stories come together with an interesting twist.

This is the story about Rashad and Quinn, one black and one white, and their experiences with racism in America.

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean writes her crushes love letters because she’s too shy to tell them in person.  When her secret box of letters gets mailed, Lara Jean must meet her crushes face to face.

Erica also recommends Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.

 

Hafsah been reading a lot more diverse fiction these days, and she’s especially drawn to fantasy set in the Middle East and Asia, because the majority of fantasy is set in Europe. The ones she most recently loved are:

This is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. King Khalid kills all his brides by dawn. When Shazi’s best friend dies by dawn, she vows to avenge her death by becoming Khalid’s bride and killing him.

Inspired by Indian Mythology, Maya’s future life of love is cursed with death. When Maya is forced to marry for political reasons, her new reign as the queen of Akaran soon becomes marked with magic and mystery.

Vika and Nikolai are enchanters and they are being sought by the Ottoman Empire for political gain.  In order to find the best enchanters, the Tsar announces a duel where the losers must die.  Vika and Nikolai see this as an opportunity of varied reasons but what will happen when they fall in love knowing that they both can’t survive?

Dawn is currently reading – The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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Dawn Abron

Dawn is a Teen Services Supervisor at the Zion-Benton Public Library where selects YA fiction and graphic novels and provides programming for 5th-12th graders.

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