#WeNeedDiverseBooks is celebrating its fourth anniversary, and I’ve watched this amazing initiative with no small bit of awe and gratitude. There are no words that could express my admiration for the team behind WNDB, and the work that they are doing every single day to bring diverse literature to readers.
As a person of colour (PoC/POC), I have struggled to find stories with characters who look like me in YA fiction. I was 15 the first time I read a book with an Asian female protagonist. They’ve since been few and far between. As a writer, I have and continue to push back against the internalized racism in me, and learned to see stories with people like me as real and desirable and important.
With that in mind, I decided to re-evaluate my own book collection to see just how diverse it is, and where I could add to it with regards to diverse authors and characters.
Some quick guidelines:
- This inventory is only for YA novels. Short story collections, memoirs, auto/biographies, and other non-fiction were not included.
- ARCs are not included in the final count of books. I am only counting finished copies, as they are the final version of these stories.
- I own several versions of certain books, but only counted them once.
- Books with both male and female protagonists were counted once in both categories. So The Raven Boys would be a checkmark in both “male protagonist/s” and “female protagonist/s,” because Blue alternates POVs with the Raven Boys.
I was actually surprised that I had that many, especially after I got rid of nine boxes’ worth of books between moving to a new house and some charity drives. It was also pretty cool getting to see how I had more contemporary, stand-alone novels than fantasy/paranormal, when I thought it was the complete opposite.
I’m not completely shocked by this number, as I’ve actively tried to find more male-POV books in the YA section. I want to be able to write complex male characters, and reading about them will help.
Again, not unexpected. I’ve always read mostly female-centric stories, but the last few years have been about trying to expand my reading horizons beyond that one perspective.
Here’s where we see how well I’ve stuck to that decision, however:
I’m genuinely disappointed in myself for this. Only 3.7% of the books on my shelves feature PoC protagonists. I know that I’ve read more than these 15 books, but I don’t own copies of those stories, and I’d really like to develop my collection further in the next few years. There are so many books out there with non-white protagonists, and it’s up to me to find them.
It’s not much better on the PoC author front: there are only 12 authors of colour on my shelves, and all of them are women. Out of these 17 books, only seven are about characters of colour.
It’s even sadder when I reach for books with LGBTQA protagonists. Eight books out of 404 is unacceptable in this day and age.
We might be three months into 2015, but I don’t think it’s ever too late to start building a more diverse library. As much as I want to spend all my money on diverse books, sadly I have yet to win the lottery and make that a reality. So what can I do right now to a) find more books with diverse characters and b) promote authors of colour?
- Make it a point to read at least three diverse books a month. It’s easy to get carried away by the hype over new releases, but I’d really like to pay attention to books that might not be as buzzed about and amplify their voices.
- Interact with more writers of colour on social media: listen to their stories, and do what I can to help get their stories out there.
- Write at least one post a month about a diverse book. It could be a review, or an analysis, or just a casual discussion of the themes and characters that I can relate to as a person of colour.
- Buy at least 15 books written by new and emerging POC authors over the year. If I want more diverse literature in bookstores, I need to show that there are readers who will buy and support these stories.
For those of you who might want to join me:
- Salon compiled a list of Asian-American female writers back in January.
- K.T. Bradford is challenging herself to stop reading white, straight, cis male authors for a whole year, and includes a few lists of books with which to start.
- Fantasy Magazine has curated a list of recommended books featuring POC characters.
- Victoria Law at Bitch Magazine shares her list of 50 books by POC authors from 2014.
- BookRiot polled its readers, asking for their 25 favourite authors of colour.
I want to do my part in helping to make diverse literature as prolific as stories written about white, cis, able-bodied characters. So for the next year and onwards, I’m going to work to support fellow writers of colour, and hopefully one day, let my shelves speak for themselves.