Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#ILLibrary15 Illinois Library Association conference panel on Diversity

In October 2015, I was moderated a panel of authors and illustrators of diverse books at the Illinois Library Association meeting in Peoria, Il.

B A Binns, Miranda Paul, Chris Raschka, Laura Park
This well attended panel presentation took place in a double room at the Peoria Civic Center on October 23, 2015 in front of a packed crowd of public and school librarians eager to learn and panel members eager to do our job to help.

But looking back, I'm afraid we failed on one particular question. One librarian asked if any of us had ever been asked to change a character's race or ethnicity. We all gave quick, and technically correct answers: No, nothing like that had never happened to any us. Then we went on to the next audience question.

It was only after the presentation ended that I realized the answer was too quick and too literal. No, none of my editors has ever asked me to change a character's race. But they have done other, sometimes more sinister things.

Before I was published I had someone explain that my black male character did not talk like a real black man. That person gave me a list of books featuring black characters to read as examples of how African-American males talk, books written by white authors that featured stereotypical black characters. My brother and I had a laugh when I told the man I used as a model that he did not talk like a black man. I had one editor who looked at my first published novel, Pull, claim the heroine was too smart. I still get the "I just can't feel this character" kinds of comments from editors looking over my books; something that I never hear from readers. And right now, one of the editors looking at my most recent manuscript said the dialog "needs a lot of work."

No, they didn't exactly ask for a change in the race of the character, but I do get comments that would never happen if the character were white. Like the suggestion that I was wrong having the mother of a boy recently released from juvenile detention feel ashamed because that kind of behaviour is normal in neighbourhoods like that. Or that it was unrealistic that a ghetto school would have a thriving music program.  When I mentioned that I never said the place was a "ghetto" just that the student body was predominantly black and latino, the response was to tell me that if it was not a ghetto area I needed to say that in so many words.

So no, I've never been asked to change a character's race in so many words.  I just get the push backs because of their race.

It's not just me. Some authors censor themselves first. I know one black author who writes white characters because that's the way she can get published. CCBC statistics show that many Asian authors do not create Asian characters. ( See the numbers on books by and about different races as compiled by the CCBC - the Cooperative Children's Book Center - At the same time I have seem a middle grade book whose publishers decided to "shade in" (and that's a direct quote) one of the characters and call it diverse.

This is the real answer to the question.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Class on incorporating diversity in your writing

Authors, are you interesting in using more diversity on your writing?

Beginning August 31, I will be teaching the Adding The Spice Of Diversity to your writing class in conjunction with the RWA Online chapter.  
Course objectives:
1. Gain a better understanding about what is meant by diversity
2. Learn why diversity is important to writers, publishers, and especially readers
3. Learn about problem tropes and caricatures to avoid
4. Understand the importance of cultural research and provide  some new sources for research
5. Find new ideas for characters, settings, building tension, and conflict that can both spice up your plots and attract new readers
6. Help you build the confidence to use these new ideas

Take a look at for more information and to register.
This is a four week online course and the cost is only $15. 
Hope to see you in class! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Adding the Spice of Diversity class

Some of you know that I give workshops and teach classes for authors and readers.  One of those classes is Adding The Spice of Diversity.  Originally given as a Workshop at the 2014 Chicago North RWA Spring Fling conference, the material is now a four week course allowing attendees time to delve deep in to the issues and find solutions that match their needs.

Comments from previous students:
Thanks you so much for the great workshop. In the car on the way home, I figured out how to solve a major problem with one of my short stories, thanks to some of the things you said. - Mary Driver-Thiel

The online class is being offered in February 2015 in association with the Young Adult RWA chapter. Find out more about the class and register at YARWA Workshop site

Course description:

Many authors fear inserting diverse characters and settings into their work for fear of creating a stereotype of not getting it right. This course will explore both the reader’s need for something different, and ways an author can put those different characters on the page free of stereotype. This includes characters from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and with disabilities.

Course outline:

Week 1 What is diversity/multiculturalism? (It may not be what you think) Why is it important to writers/readers
Write what you know - good advice that may not mean what you think it does
Week 2 Taking ourselves out of the story, putting the character in
Introducing your characters and settings to your readers. Sometimes the hardest work happens at the start.
Week 3 Backstory - Getting to the heart and soul of a character
Week 4 Final touches & Resources Keeping it together, revision and editing and keeping things real
This is a four week class and will include homework assignments. The target Audience is beginner and intermediate writers and anyone interested in about adding diversity and multicultural elements to their writing.

Interested in taking the journey? Register at  YARWA Workshop site 

PS: The winner of the free spot in the class was Patricia M. Congrats and I can't wait to work with you in February.