There are a lot of movements lately that are attempting to diversify publishing (#latinolit is the one I'm most familiar with). These initiatives have included lists of writers and agents of color; publishing houses dedicating imprints to non-white voices; and an attempt to diversify internships, the position from which many publishing careers are launched.
The need for this kind of overt action became apparent to me last night when I asked the students in my creative nonfiction writing class to bring in their favorite or most influential books. While many mentioned childhood favorites, most cited books they'd read recently that really resonated for them.
As I listened and wrote down titles, I noticed something. A pattern, one that sometimes varied but emerged nonetheless. White men brought in books by white men; black women listed books by black women; gay men brought in dogeared copies of books by gay men. As a half-Colombian woman, my go-to is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. Books by authors that have had similar experiences to ours are, obviously, going to most resonate with us. There is nothing wrong with this. This is the human condition.
However, this phenomenon makes it clear why representation in publishing (along the whole pipeline from writers to publishers to librarians and booksellers) matters. We need representatives in all stops along the way to advocate for the books we, as readers, need.
Here's last night's list of books:
The 12 Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
4-3-2-1 by Paul Oster
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Strange Hours by Loren Eiseley
Cane River by Lalita Tademy
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas
Hans Christian Anderson: The Complete Fairy Tales
Kindred by Octavia Butler
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
A Passage to Ararat by Michael Arlen
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Real and Unreal by Ursula Le Guin
Spark Your Dreams by Candelaria and Herman Zapp
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Wild Embers by Nikita Grill