January 4, 2017
We Need Diverse Books publishes first of two anthologies
by Julia Fleischaker
In 2014, inspired by yet another literary panel made up exclusively of white men, YA author Ellen Oh took to Twitter and launched the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Two years later, the nonprofit borne out of that tweet is an impressive and important voice for diversity in publishing. With the goal of “putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children,” they’ve accomplished quite a bit, as Ron Charles runs down at the Washington Post.
During its short life, We Need Diverse Books has already raised money to fund grants for writers and illustrators; internships for people interested in publishing; and a list to help booksellers, librarians and teachers discover books featuring characters from diverse backgrounds. The organization also has sponsored contests, seminars and author visits to schools and given away thousands of award-winning books.
Announced in July, a new book Oh has edited, Flying Lessons & Other Stories, is geared towards a middle-grade audience, and features “original stories by an award-winning lineup: Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson. The collection will also include a story by debut author Kelly J. Baptist, winner of the WNDB short-story contest, and by Walter Dean Myers, the late and beloved award-winning children’s author.” It is being published by Random House Children’s Books.
Oh spoke with Charles about why the project is so important to her.
Oh, a Korean American who lives in the Washington area, has seen firsthand just how important it is for all children to have creative models they can relate to. She recalls the day she visited a middle school and a young African American girl asked her to sign a copy of one of her books. “I always wanted to be a writer,” the girl told her, “but I never thought I could because I’m black.”
“Seeing me in person made the difference,” Oh says. “The only authors she’d ever seen were white.”
She hopes “Flying Lessons” will inspire other children of color, but she’s quick to point out that this new anthology should appeal to any young reader. “I truly believe in diversity as much for white kids as others,” she says. “That’s the beauty of ‘Flying Lessons.’ There’s something for everyone.”
The collaboration between We Need Diverse Books and Random House Children’s Books also includes Lift Off, a young adult anthology to be released in Summer 2018.
LIFT OFF, is scheduled for release in Summer 2018 and will be edited by Lamar Giles, author of the Edgar Award–nominated novels Fake ID and Endangered. The book will feature original YA short stories and contributions by authors including Melissa de la Cruz, Sara Farizan, Sharon Flake, Eric Gansworth, Malinda Lo, Walter Dean Myers, Daniel José Older, Thien Pham, Jason Reynolds, Gene Luen Yang, Nicola Yoon, and others. The anthology is dedicated in memory of Walter Dean Myers.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.