Halfway Through #DiverseDecember

Applying to my MA course I started my cover letter with this sentence:

I am a black girl who loves to read… and I’m also a black girl who has been let down by the industry that provides the majority of her entertainment.

The lack of racial diversity the entire industry is a big problem in my opinion. There are only so many books you can read searching for representation, eventually swearing off of books because they’re not for people like you. It’s alienating as a reader to be repeatedly shown you are unimportant and invisible in fictional worlds, especially if reading is an escape from those Real Life Problems™️.

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Source: TheDailyDoodles.com

We’ve been talking in lectures about the evolution of Publishing as a whole. As a Publisher, my job will be to acquire content, manipulate the content and attempt to make a profit. It sounds like a simple enough business model right? And despite this, there are still large audiences who are not being catered to.

This is where #DiverseDecember comes in. It’s now been officially over two weeks since I found out about this twitter campaign (I can’t believe it’s halfway done)… So I want to talk about the difference it has made in my To Read List and the importance of campaigns promoting diversity in Publishing like We Need Diverse Books, Diverse YA, Creative Access and  Inclusive Minds.

BAME Authors, like BAME students in a majority-white class, are pigeonholed and made the “go-to” spokesperson for their entire race and culture. Like, how stressful is that- carrying an entire race and culture on your shoulders? They’re criticized for writing  or talking too much about race and they’re criticized for not writing or talking enough about race.

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“What’s the Black POV on [topic]?” or “This race-thing again?”
 Marlon James recently said in an article for the Guardian Books that BAME writers, if they want to succeed have to pander to the views of publisher’s main consumers (middle class white women). Which then leads writers to fall into the trap of the single narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned us of, in order to succeed. I’m talking acacia trees and sunsets, rastafarians, steel pans and lounging in hammocks, curries, arranged marriages and “mythical” religions, martial arts, “weird” delicacies and lotus blossoms… You see what I’m getting to right?

Like #ReadWomen2014, the hashtag is about promoting different kinds of reading. #ReadWomen2014 was about reading more books from female authors, because despite the fact that the majority of the industry audience and workers are female, the most celebrated writers are often men. For example, YA literature is full of female writers, and yet John Green has been labeled the savior or “crown prince” of the genre.

#DiverseDecember was started by bloggers Naomi Frisby and Dan Lipscomb with the aim to celebrate the work of BAME writers, encourage people to read diversely and to “spread the joy of stories”. The twitter page and hashtag is full of people recommending their favourite classic and contemporary authors of colour, authors and stories from around the globe, other campaigns promoting diversity in publishing and stories about BAME-centric literary projects like Nikesh Shula’s upcoming letter collection “The Good Immigrant” and the fact that Nosy Crow is currently accepting submissions from BAME authors. For someone who used to struggle finding particular authors, the hashtag is a god send. It is so wonderful to see people promoting books that they have loved and want to share with others.

The importance of hearing BAME voices in literature is for more than just having a wider selection of reading. It’s a positive affirmation of my Black-British existence. In my youth I often felt as though I didn’t really have a place in this country, or the one my parents immigrated from.  Learning of the history of your country, and finding out that the only way you are connected through it is through the effects of conquest in the name of Empire, is not the one. I’m sure that many BAME readers must have felt the same kind of disconnect, and campaigns like this only serve to bring us closer to each other and our dual-identities.

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Change doesn’t have to be completely radical, the Publishing Industry isn’t going to get diverse in the snap of our fingers. We can’t collect all seven Dragonballs and ask Shenron to grant our wish… Marketing doesn’t have to be a pushing tactic- it’s easier to pull in this case, as I’ve learned from the last guest speaker of the term- Sam Missingham (the queen of twitter).

The audience is here. We’re identifying ourselves as potential customers.

We’re just waiting for someone to point us in the direction of something we would enjoy. Most of the time, its a close friend or relative- but what if it was direct from the source?

Imagine the profits.

Imagine the books (and apps, and events and the potential for other media tie-ins!).

Imagine the audience returning time and time again because they know you are serving up exactly what they’re looking for?

Yes, I’m thinking about #DiverseDecember from a Publishing Student point of view right now. But a year ago, when I had just graduated, all I wanted to do was read books for and about people who looked like me. As a consumer, I am grateful for this campaign because I’m finally seeing myself as part of the process, and part of the story.