A Year of Thinking About Diversity

When Cindy Pon and I first talked about launching Diversity in YA, I was motivated by a desire to bring attention to books about non-white and/or non-straight characters in a positive way. I did not want to box these books in as problem novels, as many of them have been positioned over the years (recognizing that the term "problem novel" itself is problematic). I also didn't want Diversity in YA to have a sense of liberal guilt, or an attitude of "you should read these because they're broadening to the mind." I wanted to make "diversity" on this site mean something that was just plain awesome. I wanted to position these books as stories you'd want to dive into because they were about a great character, or had a fascinating premise, or were written beautifully. I wanted the books to be celebrated on their own merits. A year later, my concept of diversity in middle grade and young adult books has been challenged and reshaped in many ways.

Cindy and I knew that this yearlong project could be a daunting one, so we did our best to manage both the tour and the website in ways that would enable us to fulfill our obligations elsewhere as well as here. I volunteered to manage the website because I have experience in that (before I was a YA writer, I was the managing editor of AfterEllen). But because Diversity in YA was a volunteer gig that I fitted in around my other deadlines, I could never do as much with this website as I wished I could.

The concept of diversity is complex, messy, and charged. It means different things to different people. Every week on this site, I attempted to wrangle it into a blog post, whether it was a guest post that I invited another author to write, or in the lists of new books I posted every month. Some things became clear quickly.

My goal of celebrating books solely on their own merits clashes pretty directly with the goal of celebrating them for their diversity. This is fairly obvious, right? Creating a site that focuses on "diversity" in middle grade and young adult books means that the books that we feature are called out because they check the boxes of what Cindy and I identified as "diverse" for the terms of our site (featuring a main character or major secondary character of color, or who is LGBT; or written by a person of color or LGBT author).

We were forced to define what we meant by "diversity" so that we'd have some parameters to work with when choosing books to feature on the site. This was a practical matter that was, nonetheless, weighted with lots of meaning. We chose to focus on race and sexual orientation/gender identity because those were the areas we felt most knowledgable about. Many readers and visitors to the site have noted that these parameters don't include disabilities, but they also don't include countless other characteristics that could be included under the umbrella of "diverse."

I found this to be somewhat amusing when, later in the year, I was asked to participate in a "diversity" in YA panel that involved a bunch of authors of books about white characters. The "diversity" in this case meant "variety" — as in, there is a variety of young adult fiction being published these days.

So, diversity. A slippery and imperfect word, but one that we must work with nonetheless.

Continue reading the rest of this post at Diversity in YA.