Monday, January 26, 2015

My New Year's Reading Resolutions by Courtney McKinney-Whitaker



I always thought I was pretty supportive of diversity. Do We Need Diverse Books? Of course! Am I all for that? Absolutely! Do I have more than one graduate degree to do with books and children and the relationships between them and how young people need to see themselves reflected in literature? They are on my office wall in pretty frames.

Do I buy diverse books? Are they on my own personal library shelves? Well...not so much. For me, this has been an error of omission rather than something I meant to happen. Like a lot of people (everyone?—yet another reason We Need Diverse Books) I lean toward books about people like me. In my personal backpack of privilege (the link is for a satirical article--click through for the original by Peggy McIntosh), I carry the fact that there are a lot of books about people like me: straight, white, cisgender, overachieving princess-types. (I never thought I had a particularly privileged childhood, but I've recently been assured that if you had three American Girl dolls with accessories, you had a particularly privileged childhood.) So what I'm saying is, I naturally gravitate toward books about characters I relate to. Characters I can imagine being.

I'm all for increased diversity in publishing, but actions speak louder than words, right? Even for writers.

Two things happened last fall that made me really take a look at my own shelves. First, #WNDB started trending on Twitter. Second, if there's one thing I love as much as a book about an overachieving princess-type, it's a holiday anthology. I read MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME, the anthology of YA holiday short stories edited by Stephanie Perkins. Reading about so many characters who are not like me (in gender, in sexuality, in faith, in race—in a bunch of ways), made me realize how startlingly NOT diverse my own bookshelves are. I don't even have many books by male writers. I'd been thinking about how to make my writing more diverse, but I realized I'd skipped a major step. First, I need to make my reading more diverse. If I ever want to pay more than lip service to the idea of diversity, I need to check my own privilege, and my own habits.

In true overachieving princess fashion, I like measurable goals with tangible results, so I've set myself two tasks, both of which I'm really looking forward to. First, each month in 2015, I am going to buy and read one YA or MG book whose protagonist is not exactly like me. I may read more, but I'm definitely going to buy at least one because publishing follows our pocketbooks, and if diverse books lose money, publishers will be more reluctant to publish them. I'm also going to keep track of the books I finish in 2015 so I can get a good overall picture of my reading habits.

Second, I signed up for a class taught by author B. A. Binns through the Young Adult chapter of Romance Writers of America. I write about characters who are like me because I'm scared of writing about those who aren't. I'm afraid I'll get it wrong. I'm a perfectionist—I hate getting things wrong. I'm also afraid that in getting it wrong, I might do more harm than good. I'm also a lifelong student, and I'm committed to learning what I don't know.

What has inspired you to check your privilege lately? What steps are you taking toward greater diversity in your reading, writing, and life?

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