Dear Authors, Editors, Agents, and Publishers,
I have been involved in a lot of conversations about diversity in books lately; honestly, it’s more like since I entered the writing scene almost four years ago and began to give readings and make other appearances associated in with my writing. I participate in these conversations because as an author who is also a black woman who feels these issues are important, I don’t really have a choice.
Of late, these conversations have been happening on Twitter and a few weeks ago, I tweeted these tweets:
And I knew as soon as I posted those tweets that I would have to write a longer blog about it. Yesterday, when I posted a couple of tweets about what it means to be poor, I figured it was about time that I did.
Now, for the record, I grew up relatively poor. There is, as I tweeted, no shame in that. My people always told me while we were relatively materially poor (and I keep stressing the relative because what we call poor in the U. S. reads quite different when considered globally), we (my siblings and I) were rich in so many other ways. We were bright, curious, and courageous with all sorts of possibilities ahead of us. The key to those possibilities was education, and the foundation of a good education was a love of reading. My mother made it her business to instill in us a love of reading. She made reading assignments for us (including Berenstein, Hamilton, Twain, Montgomery, Alcott, and Hamilton again), to make sure that we would grow up readers–and we did.
By the time I was in second or third grade, Mom didn’t even have to make assignments anymore. I had bought what she was selling hook, line, and sinker and was actively seeking out my own books, from classics like Ramona and Beezus and Sideways Stories from Wayside School to things that were probably not quite as appropriate for an eight year old. My school library became a second home and as I got older and was able to venture out on my own, I visited my neighborhood library once or twice a week.
What’s my point here? My point is that I was not spending a lot of money on books when I was a kid. My family did not have a lot of money for me to spend on things like books. However, I was a voracious reader (2-3 books a week). And as I was in the library searching for the books that I would devour during any given week, I was looking for books starring characters of color. Little girls that looked like me; little boys that reminded me of my brothers. Those books were few and far between, especially in my preferred genre–fantasy. I could not afford to buy them; but I was looking for them and burning through whatever I could lay my hands.
My story is not unique. There are so many kids who are just like that today. Kids who can’t afford to purchase a book and thus add to the author’s NYT stats, but who are voracious readers and who are hungry for characters who look like them and stories that resonate with their experiences. They are the kids that make weekly trips to the library to check out 3-4 books. They are the kids that borrow books from their friends whose families can afford to buy them. Finally, they are the children who get lost in publisher statistics about the demographics of the reading audience–which, as we know, influences what kinds of projects publishers seek. Because these statistics and anecdotes don’t account for the millions of readers who simply can’t buy books, these kids are forgotten once again. Frequently, because class, race, and gender are intertwined, those are children of color and young brown girls, like I used to be.
This is a letter for those kids, because they (we) do exist and because, despite their lack of discretionary income, they deserve to have their stories represented too. Do you want to be the one to tell them, again, that they don’t matter?
A Formerly Broke Kid (still somewhat broke adult)