By now, many of you other writers out there have probably heard about the National Book Award incident involving Daniel Handler’s racist joke at author Jacqueline Woodson’s expense. You may also have heard that he stepped up to the plate in a major way with his apology, helping to raise funds for the indiegogo project We Need Diverse Books.
What you may or may not know is that the campaign for this project is ongoing.
It is already over-funded, but I think the cause is one that is very much worthwhile. Diversity is sorely lacking in literature, which is a pretty big problem. Stories, whether they come in novels or some other medium, are a powerful tool for passing on a society’s cultural narratives. When people don’t see themselves represented as heroes in stories, they feel like they are being told by society that they can’t be heroes, that they are only good enough to be the stoic sidekick, or the comic relief. Or worse, that they don’t even matter enough to show up at all.
We Need Diverse Books aims to bring more literature featuring protagonists of various backgrounds into the world. Its focus is particularly on children’s literature, where this kind of movement is arguably most important, as it can make young people excited about reading and help them learn to see themselves as important parts of society at an early age. Putting more funding into the project will aid its sustainability, and I think that’s very much worth while.
Following the disheartening events in Ferguson yesterday, I’d say this cause is even more worthy. It’s clear that we need to change many aspects of our cultural narrative. As Matt de la Pena asserts in the campaign video, “reading is the ultimate form of empathy” and diverse books and stories are a way to help convey experiences and points of view that other people have either ignored or simply don’t understand. Over time, it’s something that could change people’s perspectives and (hopefully) give them windows into the difficulties and experiences that other people face. It’s something that we, as storytellers, can build towards, even if we can’t have an immediate impact on the goings-on in the world around us.