Friday, February 19, 2016

Westside Writers Mingle Talks Diversity: A Recap of the February 3, 2016 Mingle

By Rebecca Light

This month at the SCBWI Westside Mingle, our micro community discussed diversity, spurred by two picture books released in the past year—both depicting stories of American slavery—A Fine Dessert, and A Birthday Cake for George Washington.

The initial critical response to these books had our room of writers both discussing Scholastic’s decision to recall one of the books, and then talking about how to appropriately introduce challenging topics to children of picture book age. The feeling in the room was that children age five and up were equipped to explore difficult topics, so presenting only a seeming “bright” side of these topics doesn’t seem to be necessary. If that is the case, perhaps these books exemplified a failure of nerve to tell a complex story to young people?

The discussion broadened out to our responsibility as writers. Diverse stories need more representation, so how do we get there? How does a writer tell a story outside their ethnicity, class, ability, experience, etc.— while maintaining the integrity of that experience? Is it even their story to tell? On the flipside, how does a writer resist being pigeonholed to write only from their one worldview?

Our group offered some suggestions for tackling these challenges, but agreed it is most important to support diversity by buying and reading books by writers and illustrators from underrepresented groups. Literature may be an art form but it makes its way into society as a business. If the market demands diverse books, publishers will supply diverse books.

If you want to read further, here are a few of the many links on either the subject of the two picture books mentioned above or on diversity in kidlit. There are many, many fine discussions and threads on this topic other than what we have listed here, and it would serve every writer to spend some time reading them.

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