November 14, 2012

Writing Club Wednesday: Diversity in YA

Hey Misfiteers! <3 Today, I am taking over your Wednesday to talk about a topic very dear to me: diversity in YA. But even though I knew what I wanted to talk about months ago, it took me forever to figure out what I wanted to say. You see, there are plenty of good blog posts about what diversity entails, about how to include more diverse characters in your stories, and with awesome reading lists.

And honestly? Sometimes I wonder why this is even an issue. why, when we live in a world that is SO diverse, most fiction is only a bleak image of that.

Color Your lifeExcept, have you ever tried to encompass the whole wide world in your stories? Unless you're writing the sequel to the Silmarillion, I would recommend against it. (Also, Tolkien, I love you. But seriously, what's with the lack of women?) Yet we talk about diversity in terms of the world. We talk about diversity in terms of all the peoples everywhere. I can only imagine it's somewhat overwhelming if you happen to be part of the very small group whose experiences is nothing more than the straight, white, able-bodied, neurotypical person. (I'll leave the male:female ratio for now. More knowledgeable people than I have talked about it. Besides, I think it's a challenge enough to find someone whose sole experience falls in that demographic.) 

And I think that's where we go wrong. Diversity is not about the overall numbers. It's not about checking all the boxes. It's not about diversity for diversity's sake, including every single 'other'. Not even if we do so to understand it better. (For all that I think that's so important too, I would quite like not to be an object of study thankyouverymuch.) 

Diversity, at its core, is about that little girl somewhere, growing up in a wheelchair, reading about a world that does not belong to her. Diversity is about that quiet boy, struggling with his identity, who reads too many books telling him that LGBTQ is an issue. It's about the teenage girl dealing with bipolar disorder, who loves books to escape from the world but feels invisible wherever she goes. It's about every single reader trying to find themselves in books.

Colour Pens in Black & WhiteThe world around us is weird and wonderful. Diversity is about realizing that we all have different experiences and that there's nothing as soul-crushing as reading a library from wall to wall only to find your experience isn't included. And we should {insert expletive} include those readers.

And before you tell me, hey, M, but what about historical fiction? Speculative fiction? Surely there are no {insert label} in {insert setting}? Guess what? OF COURSE there are. Disability is not a 20th century invention. People don't magically become straight when they leave the solar system. (And if they do, I'm staying here, dammit.) Secluded villages in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere are not immune to mental illnesses.

When writing about teens, no matter what the circumstances they find themselves in, they will have human experiences. They will be diverse. It may not be as visible (For all that there is plenty of evidence that--on the whole--the middle ages were *relatively* LGBTQ-friendly, you didn't want to deal with a mental illness in times of the Spanish Inquisition.) but it's there.

We can throw statistics at that. One out of four teens deals with mental illness. If you write for the American market, in a few years from now, more than half of your readership won't be Caucasian. Five to ten percent of them will be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer. But we can also start wondering about the people behind those numbers.

It's not easy. It's scary as anything to think you might misrepresent something. But we can learn. We can reach out and talk to people. We can try to understand them. And that's what books should be for too, maybe? To understand those experiences we do not have ourselves.

Diversity is not just a matter of adding all shapes and forms to your writing, but it is about creating stories that include all your readers. Not even to normalize, but to celebrate that in our differences we find a common humanity. So the next time you put your pen to paper, dare to dream about your readers for a moment there, and consider if you can include them in a story--in a world that is theirs, too.

"My humanity is bound up in yours for we can only be human together" -- Desmond Tutu.
Do you have any diverse characters in your stories? Do you consider it an important part of your writing?


Feaky Snucker said...

YES! And those diversities should ADD to the book, not BE the issue/ conflict/ selling point. 'My character is GAY!' And? Weave it in. The point is to include them so they DON'T stand out any more!


Kate Michael said...

Rockin' topic! Lots of cultural diversity in my series! :)

Anonymous said...

Love this post and yes I do to both of those questions.

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