Twitter Round-Up

A lot of the best online commentary and discussions on diversity in publishing happen on Twitter — which makes sense, considering it’s a great place for conversations between authors, bloggers, editors, readers, and so on. Here are my favorite storify-ed tweets:

sofia samatarKu’daa (thank you), Ellen Oh! by Debbie Reese (@debreese)
Books that feel like home and the false neutral by Daniel José Older (@djolder)
Alyssa Wong on Orientalism by Alyssa Wong (@crashwong)
Notes on SaraNAhmed’s “On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life” by Sofia Samatar (@SofiaSamatar)

 

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Being an Ally

When I was writing the review for “The Love that Split the World”, I debated on what I wanted to say about the book because I was unsure about how I felt on some elements of the book. I thought, “I’d love to know Debbie Reese’s take on the book” and I wanted to ask her some questions about the stories Henry integrated into the novel. Alas, I waited until late the night before the review was to be posted to write it and had to make my own conclusions about the stories. And what I wrote was…

“One part about this novel I do want to mention is the parables that Grandmother shares with Natalie. Henry did a great job of presenting different types of parables from different American Indian nations and even includes a Biblical parable. Like any elder, the stories Grandmother shares with Natalie not only teach her about different cultures, but also provide lessons and insights into Natalie’s situation, helping her solve the mystery of who Grandmother is and how Natalie needs to save him. Well, not all the parables add to the mystery, sometimes a story is just a story that elders tell to their children, and that is what really endeared me to many of the tories. In her acknowledgements, Henry gave credit to the nation’s stories that she used and it was clear she did proper research.”

A few days later,  Ellen Oh’s blog post “Dear White Writers” was published. On Twitter Debbie came out in support of Ellen, but also spoke on “Love that Split the World” and knowing that Debbie always has profound words, she and I had a conversation about the novel. And from her I learned that Henry didn’t actually do her research well and misrepresented the stories of the people she borrowed them from. From our conversation, I realized that I had made a mistake with my review. I felt horrible and felt like I had failed Debbie and many American Indian youth. For that I am sorry.

I did also take my conversations with Debbie as a learning moment, where I sat and listened to what she had to say and understand her point of view. To understand the hurt that books like “Love that Split the World” bring. To step outside of my own world view as an African-American woman, and to step into Debbie’s shoes and see the world as an American Indian woman. And this thought brings me to the second point of my post. Debbie and I are fighting the same battle, but our experiences, our point of view, has us fighting the battle from different perspectives. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. In this instance I was wrong and it was my job to shut my mouth and listen. It was my role, as an ally to Debbie’s fight, to listen to what she had to say and not to turn it around and make it about me. It was for me to take in her words, process them and then act (which is today’s post). That, my friends is the role of an ally. That when people of color are expressing their experiences, their hurt, we do not respond with “but I..”.  No, we close our mouths and open our ears. We take off our own shoes, put on the shoes of another and take a walk with their experience. When we do that, we become enlighten to experiences other than our own and with that knowledge can call out others when they make mistakes.

In the past few weeks, there have been instances where people of color have spoken out about an experience and “allies” have responded negatively. There has been hurtful words slung at people I greatly respect, and they did not deserve such vitriol thrown in their direction by people who believed they supported the cause. I say this, and will probably get words thrown at me too, that if you are unable to be empathetic to the words of a person of color who is sharing with you their pain, can you really call yourself an ally?

It is hard to say, “I’m sorry,” but it is the right thing to do. To humble yourself and own up to your mistake is hard, but again, it is the right thing to do. When you humble yourself, and actually open your mind (and your heart), you end up learning more about another person, another culture. And that, is an ally.

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Changing the Conversation

As much as I gripe about it, I love YA lit, and I love watching the landscape change into one more welcoming of POC representation. Things have definitely changed for the better over the last few years… but obviously, there’s still a long way to go.

One thing that bothered me, several years back when I first started paying attention to the diversity movement in YA lit, was how often the conversation repeated itself. First step, establish that diversity is important! Second step, discuss how to ‘write diversely’ and encourage writers to be brave! The weight of media representation weighs heavy on your shoulders, unnamed white author. Rinse and repeat.

The YA lit conversation always seemed to circle back to this “writing diversity 101” business, and it was clear by the tone and information given that the target audience was white, privileged. Ironic, no? I recognized that this as important, and figured the conversation would shift as everyone grew, the shadows turned, the earth orbited.

Surprise! The conversation didn’t change. It’s expanded to include more complex discussions, hashtag campaigns, beautifully compiled book lists, and so on. But still, the conversation always returns without fail, to the same refrain. “How do I write diversely? I’m afraid to get it wrong. Can you tell me that I did it right?” Occasionally, bloggers would point out that being able to ask these questions was a mark of privilege. That demanding reassurance and kudos for writing diverse representation was a microaggression in itself. That the privileged are centering the conversation on themselves, even when they try to be allies.

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark, etc etc. So today, I’m linking to a few things that are helping change the conversation. Maybe not perfectly or even efficiently, but at least it’s not the same-old, same-old.

Bare Lit Festival with Media Diversified – read about the UK festival for writers of color here
Lee & Low Books’ New Visions Award – promoting and publishing new writers of color
We Need Diverse Books’ Mentorship Program – partnering industry writers and illustrators with up and coming writers
Diversireads’ Reviews – some of the most thorough, honest YA lit reviews around
Decolonise, not diversify – an important reframing of representation discussions
I’m Still Here | YA Highway – still an incredibly relevant post… here’s a quote:

There’s this weird thing that happens when we talk about the overwhelming whiteness of publishing and it assumes that because publishing is overwhelmingly white that the only people we should ask about fixing this are the white people in the structure. Or that because you can’t see us, we’re not talking. And it ignores first that most of us have set up our own groups and communities to talk this out, because we’re safest among people who understand the macro and microaggressions we experience day to day without judgement or fear. And second that we have been having this conversation for a long, long time…

I’m not advocating for silence, but for a restructuring of how we think about those of us underrepresented in the young adult publishing community. Instead of thinking of us as people that need to be lifted up or spoken for, consider us equals and the people who should be driving this conversation, instead of just grateful to sit at the table.

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Diversity and Promotion

Yesterday, Lee & Low revealed the results of their 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, which took a look at the diversity in 8 review journals and 34 publishers along race, gender, orientation, and disability lines. The results weren’t exactly surprising, especially not when “the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.”

Here at Rich in Color, our focus has been (and will continue to be) reading and reviewing young adult books by or about people of color. Aside from the occasional link roundup, interview, or book list, we haven’t been able to do much active promoting for books we don’t have the time or opportunity to review. As we approach our third anniversary, we decided it was time to have an official promotion policy that would allow qualifying authors (or their agents/editors) reach out to us for activities such as guests posts, interviews, previews, giveaways, etc. We are particularly interested in highlighting the upcoming works of authors of color—especially debut authors of color.

We hope that this policy will allow us to better connect with authors so that we can further the discussion—and celebration—of diversity in young adult books.

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Crystal’s Favorites 2015

This year many wonderful books were published. Here are nine of my favorites in no particular order:

happyMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
My review

Summary: The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

shadowShadowshaper by Daniel José Older
K. Imani’s review

Summary: Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

xX by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
My review

Summary: Cowritten by Malcolm X’s daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world.

I am Malcolm. I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me. They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

NoneNone of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
K. Imani’s review

Summary: What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

under a painted skyUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
My review

Summary: Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

suitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
K. Imani’s review

Summary: Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

serpentine

Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Summary: Serpentine is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, Serpentine tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

santiagoSurviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
My review

Summary: Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.

Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.

The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia.

Urban TribesUrban Tribes: Native Americans in the City edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Group Discussion

Publisher’s blurb: Young, urban Natives powerfully show how their culture and values can survive—and enrich—city life.

Much of the popular discourse on Native Americans and Aboriginals focuses on reservation life. But the majority of Natives in North America live off the rez. How do they stay rooted to their culture? How do they connect with their community?

Urban Tribes offers unique insight into this growing and often misperceived group. Emotionally potent and visually arresting, the anthology profiles young urban Natives from across North America, exploring how they connect with Native culture and values in their contemporary lives. Their stories are as diverse as they are. From a young Dene woman pursuing a MBA at Stanford to a Pima photographer in Phoenix to a Mohawk actress in New York, these urban Natives share their unique perspectives to bridge the divide between their past and their future, their cultural home, and their adopted cities.

Unflinchingly honest and deeply moving, contributors explore a wide-range of topics. From the trials and tribulations of dating in the city to the alienating experience of leaving a remote reserve to attend high school in the city, from the mainstream success of Electric Pow wow music to the humiliation of dealing with racist school mascots, personal perspectives illuminate larger political issues. An innovative and highly visual design offers a dynamic, reading experience.

— Cover images and summaries via Goodreads


What were some of your favorite diverse reads of 2015? Please share in the comments.

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Year-End Housekeeping

So far we haven’t been able to find any YA releases by or about people of color in December—if you know of any, please send us a message on our website, tumblr, or twitter. We want to make sure we get them up on our release calendar, especially since the holidays are right around the corner.

We have typically closed out the year with each of our reviewers compiling a list of their favorite books from that year. I thought it would be fun to turn that over to you today. Tell us in the comments, through tumblr messages, or by tweeting us what some of your favorite 2015 books by or about people of color have been, and we’ll share them with everyone else.

Personally, I think it has been a fantastic year for contemporary novels. I’m generally more of a science fiction and fantasy fan, so it has been a delightful change of pace to find several contemporary novels that I loved. But you’ll find out what my favorites were next week—what are yours?

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