I also had a chance to give a book talk on a special book that I recently read--The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore. It's book that represents my desire to see publishers publish more diverse books to more fully represent kid readers of various backgrounds. It is also a book that touches on my favorite period of American history--the Harlem Renaissance. And it represents one of my favorite places to hang: the local indie bookstore.
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My personal reading this year has been specifically targeted toward reading more ethnically diverse books. I am on a mission to figure out who I am going to be as a book publishing professional in light of what I see in our American culture. (You can read more about my mission here.) With all the gathering of stories, characters, platforms, ideologies, and perspectives, I don’t have words yet for how I feel like I have been shaped, emboldened, or propelled by what I’ve read.
What would it be like to be constantly disbelieved for your own experience? To never ever be validated, with or without proof? How does it feel to be dismissed, denied, and rejected? To have your tears and frustration met with responses like, “I don’t believe you. You are lying.”
Currently the official canon of American Renaissance literature (defined by F. O. Matthiessen as literature written between 1850 and 1855) includes no women and no people of color. Across the US and the world that include American Renaissance, or the like, as part of their curriculum study this time period with only the perspectives of white men. But both women and people of color wrote landmark, culture-shifting works during this time that embody the very meaning of renaissance. I aimed to uncover and explore their works.
Adichie tells the story of a Nigerian family under the oppression of a fanatically religious father. The story is told through the sensitive eyes of fifteen-year-old Kambili. The wealthy and privileged family consists of father, Eugene; mother, Beatrice; elder son, Jaja; and younger daughter Kambili. They are members of the Igbo tribe and live in Enugu. Despite his tyrannical rule over his family, Eugene is known an upstanding businessman and kind-hearted, generous philanthropist who gives to widows, pays tuition for over one hundred poor children, and funds the efforts of his local Catholic church.
If you are like me and occasionally catch yourself drooling over the awesome bookish scene in some of the major cities, especially New York, but live light years away from all the action, I hope this post will motivate you to CYOBS (create your own book scene).
I ventured out and tried something different on my blog today and let you hear from one of my dearest friends Becky Van Volkinburg, who just became a published author. Becky and I have sang together, cried together, prayed to gather, dreamed together, vented about "stuff" together... I am so proud of her journey and I wanted to share it with you today.
New York City is known for being the epicenter of book publishing, and in times past I have often wished I lived in New York--if it had Florida-like weather. But I have decidedly stepped out of my wishing to be there to enjoying being here, and what I've discovered is a flourishing love of the literary arts in my local area.
So do you really love the writing in that book you're reading? Are you so engrossed in the story that you forget you are actually reading? Has this book challenged you to live a better life? Give more? Work harder? Go the distance when you first thought you should quit? Take that leap of faith? Yes? Well, you need to get off your duff and show some love!
FOR THE BEGINNER
1. Venture in to any section of the bookstore that shelves books by authors who are not of your ethnic background.
2. Buy a book from that section on something that interests you--fiction or nonfiction.
3. Read the book.
4. Write a brief review of the book and post it on Amazon.com, your blog if you have one, a friend's blog, the author's website, and the like.
5. Recommend the book to your friends who share your same ethnicity.
6. Rinse and repeat.
FOR THE ADVANCED
7. Research and find blogs by people who regularly promote or feature books by people of color. Follow their recommendations on good books--and read them. Many maybe indie or self-published books, but limit discrimination here as well. This is sometimes the best way for a person of color to get their message out.
8. Participate in reader groups or book clubs that discuss books by a diverse collection of authors. There are many online, if you live in a homogenous geographic location.
9. Peruse multicultural or urban bookstores (this can also be done online), buy a book, read it, write a review, and post your review--I think I may have said this already. :) You may be so bold as to send your review directly to the publisher asking for more books like the one you read and liked.
10. Be ready to explore your biases against other ethnicities. Overcome them by allowing childlike wonder to draw you in to reading books by them and about them. Consider the story over the ethnic background of the characters in the book and the artwork on the book cover. You'll be glad you did.
BONUS FOR PARENTS AND CHILD EDUCATORS
11. Buy books for your children/classroom that have stories with diverse characters. Be brave enough to actually talk through the issues presented in the books. ANSWER YOUR CHILDREN'S QUESTIONS about ethnic, social, and cultural issues honestly and with compassion. If you can't, go back to the first two sentences of #10. Also, involve other people who are committed to educating children and adults on diversity issues. Consider that it really does take a village...
These are deliberate actions that will help you step out of your normal reading habits and inclinations. Consider this a challenge for the year. As you become more aware of good books by people of color and find that they are not available in your bookstore, request that the bookstore order more diverse books. Tell your friends to do the same thing. I've done this a few times with hair/beauty supply stores and grocery stores and still find my requested products stocked on their shelves to this day. Stores will stock and promote what sells and it takes a smart and active consumer to help make a difference in what's readily available for purchase.
This is a battle worth fighting with all the bullying and other crimes going on these days. Our active engagement and genuine interest in the lives of people who are different from us helps us to break down the walls that separate us and eliminate the ignorance that makes us fear the unknown.
Will you take the challenge? What other things can you personally do to encourage more diversity in the book market?
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”