Today’s diverse voice comes to us via Elizabeth Stephens, author of the novel Population. Though writing has been her unrelenting passion since the age of 10, Population is Elizabeth’s first published novel. She has a repertoire of short horror publications under her belt and has worked as a political correspondent and travel writer across the US, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. She currently lives in Johannesburg with her boyfriend and a fat cat called Zurg. Here she works as a communications consultant and author. She writes:
I wanted to write an article on diversity for Writer Unboxed because this is an issue that hasn’t received enough attention. Writer Unboxed is a huge platform with a broad network, and an incredible place to showcase this issue and help movements like #weneeddiversebooks and the authors that support it, gain momentum.
Introducing You to a Hashtag You Should Know: #WeNeedDiverseBooks
My novel is a post-apocalyptic, science fiction, violent, romantic, adventure fest that features a strong female protagonist and fits ideally into the #weneeddiversebooks movement. Like other online movements, #weneeddiversebooks is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in literature.
But why is it important and why is it so crucial that my book fits into it?
I’m currently at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference seated in a stiff-backed chair in Emerald Ballroom D. The everything-but-emerald room is half-full and most of the occupants are women. Similarly, the panel at the front is compiled of industry professionals, three-fourths of which are female. All good signs, and show that the space has opened up in recent years for women.
What I don’t see however, are people of color. In fact, there are only three of us in the room. But why does this matter?
Frankly, my answer is simple: consciousness. Consciousness and inclusion. There’s no reason that more voices can’t be brought into the conversation; on the contrary, they absolutely should.
Movements like #indiebooksbeseen and #weneeddiversebooks are committed to the ideal that embracing traditionally underrepresented voices in commercial literature will lead to greater acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality — particularly among children’s genres. This will empower a wide range of readers in the process, beginning at a young age, and curb the stigmas associated with being the “other.”
My novel aims to do just this. By including a principle character of color without the purpose of the novel being her color, I strive to bring brown girls into the mainstream. I want little girls dressing up as Population’s tough-as-nails protagonist, Abel, regardless of what they look like. Because no kid should be excluded from dressing up as their idol because of skin tone for Halloween.
Bringing minority voices into commercial fiction won’t be easy, and what I outline is a collective approach. First off, I call on the readers. Readers, we must support our authors by purchasing, liking, and reviewing books that bring untold stories into the mainstream, tell our friends, and if we have the resources to help, do. Search hashtags highlighting #AAfiction and #LGBTromances to find the relevant websites and authors involved. Access books outside of the Big 5 publishing houses, and authors whose love of writing may not have the connections, the networks, or the resources to put their books out there.
My next call to action goes to all of the authors out there who represent minority groups, whether they asked for the burden or not. To you, I say keep writing! And to those lucky few who have had success in publishing, I call upon you to help others in your community. Write blurbs, provide endorsements, mention books and new authors in your upcoming newsletters and give these writers your honest feedback on their work.
Publishing companies are interested in the bottom line. They aren’t interested in advancing the career of any author or supporting any social movement unless it’s beneficial to them. No, we can’t rely on our publishers. It’s the readers who have the power to reform the industry by letting publishers and authors know what it is we want to read. It’s us authors of diverse backgrounds who must supply the print. And together we can bring the underrepresented into the mainstream by edging our way to the top of the lists, one paperback at a time.
Are you writing and reading diverse fiction? Do you have a question for Elizabeth? Comments welcome.