Diversity in literature: Let's talk about it
“What diversity advocates are working for an industry that honestly, accurately and equitably represents the world we live in”
Mike Jung, author of Unidentified Suburban Object
The world we live in is full of diverse people. And the books we read should be, too!
What are diverse books?
Diverse books are books that are written by and/or about a person of colour, a person with a disability, a member of a marginalised cultural or religious background or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Diverse books may also take place outside of the UK or U.S or are translated from a language other than English.
Why is diversity so important?
There are several reasons why it’s important to read and write diverse books. Firstly, people like to see, and are comforted when they see themselves represented authentically in what they read. If we take a look back through history, the books that are deemed to be ‘classics’ are largely written and about cisgender, heterosexual able-bodied white men and women. Here in 2021, more and more books are centring around people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of different religions and people with disabilities, so more readers can see themselves represented in what they read.
But readers from marginalised communities shouldn’t be the only ones reading diversely. A diverse book can help readers to who do not share the same background as the author to step into their shoes and learn about their experiences. Reading diversely allows us to become aware of our own privileges and challenge our own ideas of issues that may not affect us directly.
Diverse books are also important because they allow can open discussions about current events. For example, Angie Thomas’ 2017 Young Adult novel The Hate U Give centres around 16-year-old, Starr who witnesses her best friend Khalil being shot by the police and shows Starr’s activism against police brutality. The novel has been taught in schools throughout the U.S.A since its release, allowing for discussion in the classroom about the society we live in, especially in a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is dominating headlines.
Diversity in fantasy spaces
Here at SmashBear, we love some fantasy! But it might be the genre that traditionally lacks diversity most. The biggest fantasy franchises both on page and on screen, such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones feature predominantly white characters and offer very little diversity. To put it bluntly, fantasy is traditionally a genre that is usually very white, very heterosexual and very much based around Western cultures.
However, fantasy has been transformed in recent years by Millennial authors who seek to diversify the genre. For example, Tomi Adeyemi’s number one best-selling novel Children of Blood and Bone follows Zélie, who is on a journey to reawaken magic in the country of Orïsha – but there is more to this story than meets the eye. Adeyemi describes this as ‘an allegory for the black experience’ as inspiration is drawn from African mythology and the Black Lives Matter movement. Each moment of violence in the novel is based on real footage of violence against people of colour.
Here are some of our favourite diverse fantasy reads:
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
You can check out a range of other diverse books here.
A term created by writer Corrine Duyvis. #OwnVoices refers to when an author from a marginalised group writes about their own experiences, for example as a black woman or someone with a disability, rather than an author creating a character that they do not share these characteristics with.
The movement gained traction on Twitter in 2015 with the hashtag being used to recommend books about diverse characters written by authors from the same group.
Some Own Voices books include
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
How can I make my reading more diverse?
Take a look at your bookshelf. Are all of your books written by someone who looks and lives the way you do? Then it’s time to diversify your TBR pile! We now have the benefit of the internet to research our books rather than wandering into Waterstones blind. There are copious amounts of Goodreads lists full of diverse books in every genre that you can check out before you hit the bookshop or the library.
Or why not take part in a read-a-thon or challenge? For example, there are read-a-thons during Black History Month and Autism Pride Month. Keep an eye on social media, particularly Booktok or Booktube, to find out when these read-a-thons are taking place.
We’ve come a long way when it comes to diversity in books. But, there’s still a long way to go – for example, did you know that only 10% of books published in the last 24 years were written by and about people of colour?
What are you doing to read or write more diversely? Let us know!