Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demand Diversity at Midwinter

"Hi, I'm a middle school librarian, and I'm especially looking for fiction with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students."

Really, it wasn't a trick question. I wasn't a plant. Actually I was thrilled, beyond measure, to be at ALA Annual for the first time. I was over the moon as I walked around the exhibit floor, brushing past famous authors at every turn (Sarah Dessen! Sherman Alexie! Jacqueline Woodson! Laurie Halse Anderson! For a book lover, it was like being at the Academy Awards). And I wanted to bring something back to the 1000+ students in my diverse urban public school, so when I stopped at publisher booths I asked, "Could you please show me some books with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students?"

My request was greeted with polite puzzlement. Mildly frantic hunting around the booth. Offers of good middle-school titles about white main characters. The answer I remember most clearly came from the Penguin employee who thought hard for a moment, then said brightly, "What about NONfiction!" and presented me with an advance copy of Marching for Freedom.

I was pleased to have an ARC for Marching for Freedom. I purchased Marching for Freedom for my school library. But oh, what a disappointing response to my question.

Colleen Mondor's post Demand Diversity in Publishing is very timely, as ALA Midwinter begins this weekend. I hope ALA members and visitors will read my post, and hers, and start conversations on the exhibit floor. Every publisher will have at least one book to offer. Ask for more.

Look for some of the new books like Eighth-Grade Superzero (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) and One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins). Then demand MORE.

At ALA Annual I went to a YALSA session called Strengthen Your YA Collection with Small Press/Diverse Publishers. I also looked for diverse publishers on the exhibit floor. Since Annual I've gotten some great book recommendations and resources from the e-newsletters, websites, and Twitter posts of these publishers. Take a look.

Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press (@artepublico)
Brown Barn Books
Cinco Puntos Press
Curbstone Press
Just Us Books
Lee & Low Books (@leeandlow)
Rolling Hills Press

Harlequin is not a small publisher, but I want to mention that they highlighted diverse books for teens at Annual with the Kimani TRU imprint.

Updating to add more publishers:
Charlesbridge Publishing
Groundwood Books
First Second Books (guess they're not a small publisher, but a photo on Fuse #8 from Midwinter reminded me how great they are and that they publish ethnically diverse graphic novels)
Tu Publishing (new, first books coming in 2010)


Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Thank you for posting this, and just in time for Midwinter, Laurie. My YA novel Gringolandia, was among the Curbstone Press titles exhibited at the Small Press Program, and I'm glad you attended. I should let people know that Northwestern University Press acquired Curbstone Press last month and will be distributing its backlist as well as publishing books in the pipeline at the time of Curbstone founder and editorial director Alexander "Sandy" Taylor's sudden death. One of those forthcoming books is a picture book titled A LITTLE STORY FOR SAYA by the acclaimed Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.

MissA said...

Great post Laurie! Thank you for going to ALA and demanding diversity and hopefully, you made those publishers think :) Ugh, they only had non fiction, wonderful, but where's the fiction??? But how cool to see Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson and Sarah Dessen!

I wish I could go to ALA. Alas, Boston is too far and I'm not a librarian.

Caroline said...

Thank you for asking this, and thank you for posting this! This is so important to keep asking - and DEMANDING - diversity.

I hope one day to go to ALA; I can't even think of being so close to those authors!

MissA said...

Oh and I gave all of you ladies an award

Doret said...

Thanks to the links to the small houses.

One book MG book I want to read is Celia's Robot by Maraget Chang. It published by Holiday House.

The MC is Chinese and White. The book looks like a lot of fun. There is an excerpt is up over Holiday House.

Mrs. Pilkington said...

Fantastic post! Thank you for links, and the mention of Superzero.

Anonymous said...

PARTY by Tom Leevan has a handsome looking African American boy on the cover. ;)
You can ask for it at the Random House/ Delecorte booth.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, and I forgot So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow

Anonymous said...

Laurie, thank you so much for starting that conversation at ALA!!!

Tarie :o)

Hannah said...

HI Laurie; I found your blog through MotherReader and I just wanted to comment on your "About Me" profile. You read and like the Sue Barton books???? I think I read these at my grandmother's beach house, checked out from the tiny library on Fire Island, more than 20 years ago. I have never met anyone else who's read them! I love your other book recommendations too, from The Westing Game to the Melendy books. I'm betting you liked the Penderwick books! Just a guess. :-)
(I apologize that this comment is not so relevant to your post, but I just got excited!)

Unknown said...

Demanding diversity from publishers is one thing...but you cannot demand diversity from an author. If you are an author, then you know: what is written is written, and if you can't have the publishers force authors to go back and fundimentally change their characters (end of the free literary world), that leaves only one other offer preference to books that show diversity, just because they show diversity. This might cause two books sitting on a publishers desk to be disputed in his mind, and then he would toss the non-diverse book written by the author who just wrote from her normal history and background, but perhaps wrote the better book, and then our children might be denied a treasure in the name of diversity. It is the job of society to change, not the publishing industry. Only when we see no racial lines will we really see divese books emerge in any great number, until then, they will only emerge in token number, slowly rising from time to time to stem the flow of anger. Hopefully there will be jumps every ten years and the level of diversity, but demographics and sales will always rule. Sad but true. Business is business, and untill there is somebody running a totally not for profit publishing company, there will be very little "diverse" demand that meets with much success. We have a long way to go...but society will have to merge first, and stop being split into diverse groups...once we become one group, there will be more desire to learn the history and stories of our brothers and long as society is stand-offish, all sides will hold things like literature from diverse groups at arms length, and it will not sell well enough across demographic lines for massive diversity to succeed for a publishing company.

Heidi Rabinowitz said...

Danny makes a really interesting point that we don't really want to start some kind of affirmative action of books (do we?). But is it really a choice between the white book and the diverse book? HUGE numbers of books get published each year and plenty of them are drek. Surely there are crappy white books that could be replaced by quality diverse books. And surely there are books that are written to cover a topic or to make money, rather than because an author was inspired by a living breathing character, and those lower-level books would not suffer if editors asked authors to diversify the characters in them.