Monday, February 3, 2020

Diversity on the Written Page by Brenda Chapman

Discuss diversity in the sense of the market. What do you want to see on bookshelves from black authors in 2020?

Every author brings their own experiences, including culture and heritage, to their stories. This diversity enriches and can be thought-provoking. Stories from different experiences can also help people not of the same race, country, socio-economic level or background to understand what others are feeling and, in the best of outcomes, to gain knowledge and to feel empathy.

I believe that the publishing industry needs to foster authors from all races and cultures and to provide opportunities for them to tell their stories. We are a multicultural society with so many wonderful, varied experiences to bring to readers. We'd be so much diminished as a society if we limit our literature to one homogenous library.

I've recently read two books by black authors where their heritage is integral to the story they're telling: Becoming by Michelle Obama and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. the first a biography and the latter fiction. Michelle Obama writes about her childhood and the effects of growing up black had on her childhood, career, and life in the White House. This book could not have been written by anyone who had not lived the story. The Tayari Jones book gives thought-provoking insights  into the black experience, and while fictional, Jones uses her own observations as a black woman to tell the story.

In Canada, publishers have been consciously seeking stories told by Indigenous authors and their body of work has grown considerably over the past decade. My neighbour spent an entire summer reading books by Canadian Indigenous writers and passed along several of the books to me. These are books that could only have been written by authors who've observed or lived life as an Indigenous person. They're books that have widened my knowledge of what it is to live live as an Indigenous person, and the stories have stayed with me. Not to mention, the writing is second to none.

In my own mysteries, I try to reflect the multicultural make up of our society. I include characters from many nationalities and work hard to avoid stereotypes, rather showing varied backgrounds with a common humanity. I also like to flip preconceived ideas about a race or stigmatized group to make the reader think. In the case of Turning Secrets, an Indigenous man out of prison on parole acts in a courageous, selfless way that I'm hoping will challenge the reader's preconceptions. I want the reader to believe the character could be a real person and not be taken out of the story because they feel contrived or out of place.

In a perfect world, a person's race or income should not have any bearing on how we treat each other. Reading each other's stories and understanding the beauty of diversity is one way to bring us together and to celebrate our differences. In 2020, I'd like to widen my reading choices with more books by black and Indigenous authors as well as authors from other countries and cultures.


Susan C Shea said...

Michelle Obama's book - of course! Would love the authors and titles of a couple of the best Indigenous books you read.

Terry said...

Great post!

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Susan and Terry. I highly recommend Starlight by Richard Wagamese and Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. I plan to read more books by both.

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Brenda. Will look them up for sure.