So here we are! Diverse Books Month is finally over, after almost 40 posts from authors, bloggers, agents and publishers. It’s been a marathon event and I’d like to thank everyone that took part, from the interviewees to the people that read and commented and everyone in between. I’m glad it was such a lively discussion and the feedback has been positive across the board, from authors that are glad to have made new friends and have the opportunity to speak from a new platform, and also from readers who have added new authors to their lists to read and follow.
I kind of feel like I should say something deep and thoughtful here, but given the recent events of the Hugo awards and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement in general, there’s not a lot I can put out there that hasn’t already been said by someone far more eloquent and better placed than me.
Instead I’ll tell you the one message from this month that has kept coming back to me, again and again. Rena Rossner said it first, on day 2 of the posts, when I asked her where she saw Diverse Books ten years from now. This was her response:
“Ten years down the road? I hope we aren’t having this discussion anymore. That “diversity” will just become “reality” – which is kind of what it should be.”
MJ Kane had a similar response when I asked if she thought it was important to have specific categories of romance or should we, as a society, be moving towards the term “romance” encompassing all categories, regardless of colour or sexuality?
“My dream is that books be catalogued by genre or categories and that the race of the author be left out of the mix. As an author who is African-American, one of my biggest pet peeves is that my books are automatically put in the African-American category. I write Contemporary Romance and Women’s Fiction. It’s a happy coincidence that my novels feature characters of diverse or bi-racial backgrounds that fall in love, giving me the tag of Interracial Romance. But even with Contemporary and Women’s Fiction in the description, it’s often found right after ‘African-American’….as if because of my race, my novels would only be read by or are written for African-Americans readers only. I am an author who writes stories that focus on the reality of romance for women and men with topics that affect us all. Period. No racial tag should be attached to it. The characters that I have written about are African-American, Bi-Racial (AA/W), Caucasian, and Hispanic. The third novel in my series, Lonely Heart, features a white heroine and a Hispanic hero. (Coincidently, that is the only story that I have published that was tagged as Contemporary Romance without the African-American tag on it! So I guess if I truly want to lose the tag of African-American, I need to not write about African-American people????) The story that I wrote that had a character dealing with cancer is not about how cancer affected a black woman. EVERY race is affected by the disease. Black people are not the only ones who have broken hearts, become single-parents, or have to deal with major career making decisions. So why on earth are my stories not found in the general category of Contemporary Romance or straight up Women’s Fiction? Why does Romance, the most money making genre in the world of books, have to be broken down by race? I mean if that was the case, Nora Roberts’s novels should be found in the Caucasian Romance category! But you don’t see that anywhere! (Okay, rant over!!) Now I’ll be real: Books are categorized by the genre because everyone doesn’t want to read a Comedy, a Mystery, or Sci-Fi novel, which makes sense. Most readers want to be able to identify with the characters they read about so it makes sense for books to be classified by the details. But it would be great if authors were allowed to categorize their books by the way they want them to reach readers. If I could, I would categorize my stories as both Contemporary Romance and Women’s Fiction, period, without African-American or Interracial Romance listed at all.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this month, the above points tell it in glorious technicolour. While it’s important to have discussions about diversity and ensure that we are all on equal standing as creators, readers and representatives of words in all their glorious forms, we’re aiming for a point of normal where we don’t have to speak about it any more because diverse is mainstream. We should be aiming towards a point where all those authors who said to me “I was looking at the bookshelves and didn’t see myself reflected in the books, so I decided to write my own” don’t have to write it because it’s not there. They write it because there’s a community to support and contribute to.
I don’t understand how we got to this point, how we became a society that primarily doesn’t represent reality in our fiction, but I do see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I do see that we can turn this ship around. I believe that if we stop labelling and stop segregating, we may encourage readers to try new things and pick up new books.
I keep saying, again and again, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. Try something new. Read a love story for the sake of the love story, regardless of the race, religion or sexuality of the characters involved. It’s all well and good to righteously cheer on those who are making a stand, the GRRMs of this world, and all those people that voted for the Hugo awards, even me, but cheering isn’t enough. You, the readers, have to make the change. You have to buy the books that represent a more realistic cross section of society. Rhetoric rarely changes an industry. Cold hard cash can. Be diverse in the choices that you make and the industry will have no choice but to follow.
Like Rena, I hope that we are not still having this discussion in ten years time. In many ways I hope we’re not having it in a year’s time, but in the event that we are, I intend to make this an annual event (although not August next year!!) and I hope to bring you another series of blogs full of amazing people.
In the meantime, keep reading. Keep writing. And above all, love one another.