Junot Diaz is the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He was a National Book award finalist for his New York Times best-selling novel Drown. As described on his website’s About page, “He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
He also runs a writing workshop for writers of color called “Voices of our Nation Workshop”. With events around the country that still reflect our nation’s dire need to address racism, I think it’s important that we support organizations like VONA. Their mission is to bring together a community of writers of color from the margins to a place where it is centralized and honored.
Melinda D. Anderson quoted on Twitter today that “If racism is lodged in white perceptions, one answer might lie in diverse children’s literature.” I think she’s on to something important. She’s quoting an article by Noah Berlatsky in PSMag.com. He says that of the 2,300 children’s books published in 2013, only 67 of those were written by African American writers and only 93 had central black characters. According to the article, that’s the lowest tally since 1994.
I’ll let you read the article by clicking the link, but the theory Berlatsky brings up and Anderson supports is that we need diverse literature not just for children of color but for white children, too. By reading about diverse protagonists, there may be a reduction in racial anxiety which could, in turn, reduce implicit racism. One of the ways of reducing racial anxiety is by having positive, inter-racial interactions. Books can do that for us as well! When people read about or engage in media with diverse protagonists, their racial anxiety is decreased through counter-stereotyping. I think this is an important and vital issue that all of us who tell stories should be examining and supporting.
I’ll end with a great quote from the article:
“Diverse kids’ literature gives children of color a chance to see themselves as heroes, which is vital. But smart, thoughtful books with non-white protagonists can also give white children a chance to see black people and people of color as something other than anxiety-producing others or stereotypes.”
Let me know in the comments if you are working on or reading diverse literature and the effect it has had on you. If you are taking part in the protests, stay safe, stand tall. Black lives matter. We need diverse books.