Thursday, December 11, 2014

The We Need Diverse Books Campaign (Final Part of a Multi-Part Rant)

Though I paused a few days there for egregious self-promotion (CORN!) I do want to write one final post about the We Need Books Campaign. If you'll recall, the indigogo funding for this had begun well before black writer Jacqueline Woodson had to endure a racist remark while receiving the National Book Award a few weeks ago. Thanks in part to the publicity surrounding that unfortunate event, donations to the campaign soared.

It's one thing to say that we need change, but it's another to actually create that change. I liked the aims of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign right from the start, because I thought they were practical and likely to be useful.

With their money, We Need Diverse Books is going to:

1. Fund an initiative called Diversity in the Classroom, in which children in underserved areas receive diverse books and personal or Skype author visits.  (If you haven't visited elementary schools in awhile, particularly in "underserved"--poor--areas, you'd probably be surprised by the lack of resources there. When they can't afford books for their students, they can't afford diverse books.)

2. Create the first-ever Children's Literature Diversity Festival, to be held in 2016 in Washington, D.C.

3. Create and fund an award for Young Adult diverse literature, named after the recently-deceased black writer Walter Dean Myers. I'll be honest, while I think this is cool, and I love Walter Dean Myers, I'm not sure how much this one will help. We already have Coretta Scott King awards and awards for LGBT and disabled youth in literature, and our stats weren't improving. But maybe, and anyway this one probably doesn't cost much.

4. Create Walter Dean Myers Grants for unpublished diverse authors. I do like this, very much. It can be really hard to get that first break into publishing, particularly when you've got other jobs to do so you can pay your bills. A grant to get to a writing conference, to meet with an agent, or just to buy yourself some writing time, could make a huge difference in someone's life.

5. Create paid internships in publishing for students from diverse backgrounds. I love this one, too. Right now publishers and editors are predominantly white. Getting some diversity in on the ground floor? Super!

6. Create and distribute educational kits for libraries and schools. If you go to the We Need Diverse Books tumblr account you'll already see a lot of question and answer posts useful to educators. More educational kits will help spread the word of not only why we need diverse literature, but what literature is available and how it can best be used.

7. Create a Diverse Books Recommendation app. This was the last of the "stretch goals" of the campaign. It's another thing that could end up being really cool, though I'm about the farthest thing possible from a technology wonk.

I think that's a pretty cool list. I'm happy to be part of the diversity in children's literature campaign, and I will wear my tshirt with pride.