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Monday, May 23, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- Diverse Books in Authorship and Genre

So this Call to Action thing seems to be doing two things. One, it is allowing me to get some touchier subjects and my strong feelings about them out in the open. And, two, many of you are responding positively to them. Although, I have to say that everyone is choosing to email me their thoughts rather than leave a comment.  I totally understand why, but as I told many of you who emailed me, I may eventually refer to your comments in future posts.

Now that I have gotten the Call to Action train moving, I am going to take a breath and be a little more methodical here. Starting today, and into the foreseeable future, I will start each week with a Call to Action post rather than just write them up when I feel the emotion bubbling over.

Just as I ran the Monday Discussion for many years, I will now start each week with a Call to Action. Each week will begin with a post about a topic that needs you to do something about it-- at the very least, asking you to think beyond your day to day issues and concerns and look at the bigger picture of our larger place as RA practitioners in the profession as a whole, heck in the book world as a whole.

After blowing off a little bit of my built up steam last week, the Call to Action series is getting more organized, but it will still be just as "ranty." I will also use the series to bring back some of my older "rants" that are still important and vital to the cause, with today as a start of this.

Starting today, you can now find all of the Call to Action posts on their own page. And you can expect a new post in the series at each start of the week.

Okay, now on to this week's Call to Action-- Diverse Books in Authorship and Genre

Back in March, I had a long post with my comments on the We Need Diverse Books movement. The summary of my thoughts, after following the RUSA CODES conversation about suggesting diverse books to readers was that I was SHOCKED by how many library workers worried about giving books by diverse authors to white patrons. Please read that post. It also has a link to the full notes of the RUSA CODES Conversation.

I was thinking about that post while I was gathering my post BEA thoughts too. Yes, the issue of diverse books came up at BEA, and publishers are doing a much better job of understanding their role in this problem, but one discussion that is being left off the table completely is also a diversity of genre.

Look don't get me wrong the problems with the majority of titles, reviewers, and publishers being all white is a much larger issue, but even with the effort to bring more authors of color into the mainstream, their books are basically literary fiction. It's just as bad to say that diverse authors are only okay if they are writing "literary" novels as it is to ignore them.

The problem here is that genre authors of any color are not respected by librarians and publishers. I know this all too well in my work with horror.  The best horror books have to be elevated by reviewers or publishers as being able to transcend their genre to be consider great.  It's dumb.  Look people you can call The Fireman by Joe Hill anything you want, but it is a horror-sf thriller. It is a genre book. It also happens to be one of the best books about human nature you will read this year, but it is still a genre novel. As I said in my star review in Booklist, it is "...an excellent example of the very best genre fiction has to offer all readers today." Joe Hill does not want you to cal it more than a genre book. It can be genre and be a great. That is not a contradiction.

Back to the issue at hand though. Romance is the only genre that gets it. The RWA understands that Romance is looked down upon as a genre and they work hard to counter balance this slight.  But they also work to promote diverse authors within the genre too. They are always the first to take up the call for diversity, whether it is to do with sexual preference or color, or whatever, Romance authors and storylines reflect the people who read them.

But again, no one gives them the respect they deserve because....Romance.

I was very happy at LJ DOD that the final panel of the day was filled with romance authors talking about their books, including Sonali Dev, who shared some amazing stories about readers who were so thankful to read a romance featuring people in a family "like mine" or with characters who shared "my experiences."

However, when I went up to an organizer of the event after and suggested they consider ALWAYS ending the day with a genre panel. I was met with a blank stare. I went on to say, while I loved the entire event, it was definitely literary heavy on the fiction side of things.  [On a side note: I did think the nonfiction offerings were much more diverse when it comes to "genre."] I went on to say that bringing in a genre specific panel, like today, each time would do a great service to the librarians present, since most of our readers read genre titles and these get less promotion by the publishers.

Still, crickets on her end. And then, I got this as a response-- "Well, it all matters as to who the publishers can get to come to the event as to how we organize the panels."

So basically, passing the buck.

But this is pure BS. If Library Journal wanted to do a genre panel, you know that the publishers would get their genre authors there. Again, these Call to Action posts I am running are to remind us to WAKE UP and effect change. We demanded more diverse authors and the publishers sent them-- in droves. They were there this year. When we act, they listened.  So let's demand some respect for genre authors too.

Taking my own advice, I tried to offer a solution to the problem instead of just complaining. I called myself to action right there, before I had even figure out I would be writing these posts. I reminded her that I write a horror column 2x a year for Library Journal, and I have a lot of contacts with horror authors, so I could help her to get a group of horror authors together for next year. Then after that, maybe there would be momentum from the publishers to do a different genre in year three, and another one in year four, etc....


[Now you are probably starting to see why these posts are as much therapy for me as they are all call to action for you.]

If we do not keep building off of our success at getting more diverse voices heard, the momentum will end.

So we have a double up-hill battle in front of us. Being aware that there are many voices of color whose stories are being lost to a larger audience, an audience that they deserve, an audience that would enjoy their stories no matter their background. But we also have to make sure that we are including genre too-- both in general and with authors of color.  Don't make the opening the We Need Diverse Books movement is opening even narrower than it already is.


Gail Graziani said...

Kudos, Becky! It isn’t often enough that librarians are challenged to bring positive change to our profession and, by extension, our communities. Thank you for having the courage to speak your mind and to call out and inspire your fellow librarians.

Katie M. said...

I've been thinking about this a lot both in terms of being directly involved with BookRiot & in terms of planning our summer reading program, which is being designed with a diverse patron population in mind. But as much as I support We Need Diverse Books & BookRiot & other similar organizations, I've realized that in my own reading, I am not a particularly diverse reader. In general, I've always tended to stick to familiar stories, and it's hard for me to really step outside my comfort zone. Since doing RA work, I've gotten a lot better at it, but it's still something I grapple with, and it's really doing a disservice to a lot of people, including myself, to not be reading and recommending diversely. But I'm glad you wrote this. I'm going to use this as an incentive to read more international fiction (genre & literary!), translated books, diverse memoirs, etc. so that I can suggest them to our patrons. I realized I've been subconsciously worried about recommending a book to someone that contains explicit racial or political or gender issues that might offend them, but there's no excuse for that. So thank you for writing this. I think I read this at the right point in my library career :)