Make Reading “Diverse” Authors The Goal, Not the Challenge

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed Staff member, Alexis Nedd, published a post called “My 2015 Reading List Includes Nothing Written By White Men.” According to Nedd, “After a long time reading books written by people in publishing’s privileged majority, I want to spend a year seeking some balance in the perspectives and voices I take in.”

Are white men overrepresented in almost every aspect of the publishing industry, as Nedd states? Sure. Male authors still produce about 75 percent of the work being published. And while men make up only 26 percent of the publishing workforce, 89 percent of that workforce identifies as white.

Putting those numbers in perspective, however, also means that there is a great deal of work being published by authors who are neither white or male. Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published). If even a quarter of those books are written by diverse authors—women and men of all shapes, colors, and backgrounds—then that’s still more books than one person can hope to read in a lifetime.

It’s hard to be critical of a personal commitment, like Nedd’s, that 1) gets people reading, 2) gets people talking, and 3) points readers to books that they may not have otherwise heard of. But my own bias is this: most of the books I read every year are written by women. That isn’t because the publishing industry shoves those books at me. It’s because I gravitate towards them, and I believe that’s how most readers are. Nicole, a fellow blogger, reads graphic novels because she wants to. And Tiffany reads YA because she wants to. Entire blogs are dedicated to specific genres because those are the types of books that audience can’t get enough of.

If you haven’t been reading diverse books, maybe you haven’t been looking. And while challenges are nice, they’re a bit like new year’s resolutions—they don’t last.

We should read a book about a character or written by an author who’s black, white, straight, queer—we should read a story by anyone—because we get something out of it, because we are transported, because we want to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Isn’t that the point of reading? Having a balance of voices on our bookshelves should be the ultimate goal, not a year-long challenge.

BuzzFeed isn’t the only publication out there promoting diverse books. BookRiot has been publishing a series of posts about reading diversely over the last month. In Part 1, two contributing editors answer frequently asked questions about the topic. In one, a reader asked “Isn’t paying attention to the race of an author racist?” To this, one contributor responded, “If more people are buying/checking out books by diverse authors, then publishers will put out more. It’s a pretty simple equation. And it starts with deliberately seeking out authors of color, by specifically paying attention to race instead of ignoring it like you’ve been taught your whole life.” Among other things.

I believe that. Publishing runs on trends. But I think it will take a whole lot more than a challenge to read diversely to get there. Challenges end. Reading diversely shouldn’t be just a trend.

As I write this post, I feel it’s only fair for me to discuss my own background. I’m a blend. I’m white, with ancestors from Poland and England. I’m also Mexican and Native American. I’m a woman. But those words are all so limiting.

There is so much more about each of us that makes us diverse. I grew up with a single mom. I know what it’s like to feel homeless. I’m twenty-four years old and, next month, I’ll have a master’s degree in writing and book publishing. I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve done things I regret. I’ve done things I can’t remember. I’ve been told I’m going to hell, by my own family members. These are only a fraction of my experiences. They’re different from yours, and therefore, they’re diverse.

I think this conversation is worth having. Start talking.

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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