June 4, 2014
#WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks at BookCon
by Bradley Babendir
When the guest speakers for this year’s BookCon were announced, the line-up was about as white as white could be. The entire roster, all 31 of them, including one feline, were white, which was not shocking so much as it was sad and disappointing.
In the days that followed, a campaign entitled #WeNeedDiverseBooks launched on Twitter and Tumblr. It began as a conversation between a small group of writers and publishers about the controversy, but then it manifested itself as something much larger. The organizers concerned themselves primarily with the world of children’s literature, where a study at the University of Wisconsin revealed that less than eight percent of books published in 2013 were written by or about people of color.
At BookCon on Saturday, the campaign’s commitment to an intellectual, critical and respectful discussion paid off in the form of a panel titled The World Agrees: #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks.
It kicked off started with a discussion between five of the campaign’s team members and a moderator, and closed with three guest authors—Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, and Matt de la Peña—all of whom have received praise for diversity within their own writing. According to NPR’s Balal Qureshi, the panel was attended by hundreds of people from all cultural and racial backgrounds.
By all accounts, it appears the panel was resounding success. Still, it does not exist as a happy ending to a frustrating saga. Instead, it exists as a step in the right direction for an industry that spends a lot of its free time running shamelessly in the opposite direction.
ReedPop, which organized BookCon, deserves little praise for the way it handled the situation. Throughout the month long ordeal, they acted like a child testing their parent’s limits, making deliberate and avoidable mistake after mistake in order to gauge just how much they could get away with.
But they do deserve some praise, or at least a more lenient punishment: the #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks panel was a fantastic way to address the mistake they had made and remedy it, if only just a little. ReedPop showed an honest desire to correct and improve, and they did it in a way that benefited both participating authors and the broader community. It was too late, but it wasn’t too little, too late.