Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Look at the kids and see why #weneeddiversebooks

As an African American author I look forward to the annual Romance Slam Jam conference. for readers and authors of black romance.
RSJ Authors
This year was the 19th RSJ and the theme was "Romancing The Big Easy" and the get-together was in Kennar Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. The conference covers four days of fun and informative events that included spectacular new Orleans cooking, an awesome high school brass band, a half-day seminar from Mark Coker of Smashwords, a well-attended booksigning, and the Emma awards ceremony with a special tribute to the late Francis Ray.

Smashwords seminar

This year the event included something new. A C Arthur and her street team arranged a special “Teen Scene” luncheon. Several Louisiana schools and libraries sent teens to an author meet-and-greet on Saturday May 10. As the author of three YA novels, Pull, Being God, and Minority of One, I was one of four African American YA authors invited to talk to the kids.  Other YA authors included were
  • AC Arthur who writes the Mystix YA series (Manifest, Mystify, Mayhem and Mesmerize) under the pseudonym Artist Arthur. 
  • Sheila Goss who writes street fiction for teens under the pseudonym Sparkle.
  • Celeste O. Norfleet  who writes YA for Kimani Tru

As an author, it was a joy to see a room filled with teens who hung on your every word. They did not know us, some had never heard of any of us before or seen an African-American author in person, much less four in the same room. It was inspiring to see these young people, hear their comments about reading, and to be pummeled by questions from aspiring young writers. The event grounded me and helped me remember why I write YA fiction. It was all about enthusiasm, a host of new readers, and seeing them get over the shock at seeing actual published black authors. You could tell some of them had not fully believed authors who looked like them really existed.

The kids many publishers claim don't read scrambled for books and then stood in line to get those autographed. Four were assigned to interview me, and I was pummeled. Two argued over who would get to introduce me and share what they had uncovered. The winner had been one of the quietest girls in the room. But she stood next to me with pride as she introduced me and my work on getting more diversity in YA and children's fiction.

When it was time for general questions, several attendees had lists. One was impatient for a prize raffle to end so she could keep going on her list. We were together for several hours, talking all through lunch (I loved the bread pudding). The adult sponsors finally had to pull the kids away to get them back on their bus to go home.

Kids of Color are absolutely hungry for books about them, and for authors who look like them.  I have been writing for years and have been to several writers conferences, conferences for educators and librarians, and many schools.  This is the first time I looked into a room full of young faces and felt like a true role model. I applaud the conference for organizing the event, and hope to see it repeated next year.

P. S. For a little contrast, take a look at my companion post about my adventures at a different conference. It gives more information on why the twitter-verse is exploding at  #weneeddiversebooks  -


Judith Ashley said...

All I can say is "Wow" BA. What an awesome event and experience on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this!

Sarah Raplee said...

As a white teacher's aid in a diverse middle school, I can attest to the fact that Kids of Color read as voraciously as all kids when offered access to books they can relate to.

I totally 'get' that kids need to read about kids who are different than themselves, but they also need to read about kids who are more like them. Those characters and stories make them feel grounded in an often harsh and confusing world. They also serve as role models that overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.

Pamala Knight said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful and productive time which is always great. It's baffling when you see how much kids WANT to read about characters like themselves as well as those that are different, but aren't given the opportunity.

I'm glad you could spread the message that diversity in fiction matters just a bit further. Keep up the good work. :)

Lynn Lovegreen said...

What a wonderful event--I'm so glad you could interact with the teens there!