We were lucky enough in Boston to be a stop on the Diversity in YA tour, which made its way from California to Chicago, and then from Boston to NewYork:
The tour was spearheaded by Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, two great authors who are doing everything they can to promote more diversity in YA books. The fantastic event in Boston was held at the Cambridge Public Library, around the corner from both Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and Harvard University, and included authors Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Fransisco X. Stork, along with Pon and Lo.
Moderated by Roger Sutton from the Horn Book, the panel discussed the need for diversity in YA books. As Sutton pointed out, all the authors on this particular panel except Stork write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but between them, they represent Asian, Latino, biracial, LGBT, and disabled characters in their books.
One of the things they spoke about was wanting to read about characters like them. Another of the discussion points was about cover images: will a white kid pick up a book that has a black or Asian kid on the cover? How do we get them out of their comfort zone? The panel–and audience–were divided on this. On the one side, some felt diversity could be sneaked in. If the book isn’t about race, then it’s not necessary to show. At the same time, some felt that YA readers haven’t been given enough of a chance to choose for themselves.
Stork’s take was that putting characters into universal situations makes a book less about race and more about characters that everyone can understand. He wants readers to accept books that are different to what they’re used to and not just about race.
So why is diversity in YA important to me–a white, straight writer? Having lived in other countries and immersed myself in other languages and cultures, I know what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s difficult, but it’s also interesting. I personally am less interested in reading about “normal” characters, and prefer to be thrown out of my comfort zone entirely.
I was glad to see the panel members agreed. While everyone acknowledged that it’s important to reach beyond stereotypes and do your research when writing beyond your experience, they agreed that diverse characters–even from non-diverse writers–are welcome. In the words of Fagan, “Don’t let fear of making mistakes stop you. Embrace the potential to fail. Do your research and be aware.”