Diversity in YA Literature
by Anne E. Johnson
Previously I wrote about the widespread push -- led by the We Need Diverse Books campaign -- to bring a range of voices to children’s and middle-grade books and stories. This followup column deals with diversity for young adult readers.
Where to Find Out What’s Going On
It’s part of your job as a writer to know what’s out there. Keeping track of diverse representations in YA lit, however, can be tougher than visiting your local bookstore or library. The whole point of We Need Diverse Books is that many types of people are underrepresented in books, and therefore the books are hard to find.
Fortunately, there are some folks ready to help. Diversity in YA, for example, is an entire website devoted to new YA releases with diverse content. Review blog Rich in Color also focuses on diverse lit; this one is kind of a team effort, asking for reader participation to keep their files up to date.
Always a trusty source of kid lit information, the Children’s Book Council offers a list of recommended MG and YA multicultural books. And here’s a list called “Ten authors of color to read in 2015” (yes, it’s okay if you don’t get to these books until 2017).
How to Write It
Learn to write by reading. It’s not a bad game plan. If you want to know how to make your own work more diverse, get to know the work of diverse authors. You might start with this interview featuring three authors who specialize in diverse YA: Aisha Saeed, Sabaa Tahir, and Renee Ahdieh.
Another educational approach for the potential author of diverse YA is to study characters representing diverse groups. School Library Journal has put out a list of disabled characters in YA. The American Library Association offers a list of teen characters with autism in YA books. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating the link to I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell Do I Read, an ongoing list of LGBTQ-related fiction for YA and middle-grade.
Where to Send It
If you have written or plan to write any diverse YA, you’ll need some publishers or agents to consider it. As always, look at the background of everyone you consider: the agents’ client lists and the publishers’ back catalogs. See what they publish. Read interviews to see whether they have an active interest in promoting underrepresented authors or characters or settings or perspective. One example of a publisher with precisely this agenda is the Tu imprint of Lee and Low. You can read their mission statement here.
It may be worthwhile to look into grants or awards, particularly if you are a person of color or disabled, or a member of another diverse group. The 2017 deadline is coming right up (Nov. 1) for WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Award for YA. (Note: you must qualify according their definition of “diverse” to enter.)
As for agents, besides reading interviews with them and blogs by them, you can also learn a lot from a series in Writers Digest called “30 Literary Agents Seeking Diverse Books Now.”
Good luck, keep writing, and keep expanding your perspective on the world. In can only lead to better stories!