I suck at readathons. I think I read harder when no one is making it a “thing” and it’s just something I know I need to do for my own mental well-being. However, there are a few readathons that represent matters close to my human bean spirit.
DiverseAThon is one of those very readathons. It is a readathon for celebrating diverse literature; diverse authors, diverse places, and diverse histories. Kelly’s Rambles actually introduced me to it from her blog. DiverseAThon has its own Twitter handle and hashtag. They’re actually hosting a Twitter Chat tonight at 8 pm for anyone interested and they will do one everyday for the entirety of the week long readathon. It’s always good to chat with like-minded people, especially if you’re like me and you strongly prefer spending your Sundays only talking to your animals. My week actually consists of the nagging thought, “Is it Sunday yet?” This is the life of the homebody.
Because they’re social media savvy and know that bookworms prefer various social media tools, there are Instagram prompts as well. I won’t be participating in these, but I will gladly like all of your pictures if you choose to. All of this is up for grabs on the twitter account.
I believe whole-heartedly in supporting diverse literature. This all stemmed from being in the classroom and realizing that there were so few books with stories that mirrored what my students went through without turning them into stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs. I’ve said many times on this blog that I believe we need books that are windows and books that are mirrors. Literature that we can see ourselves in is just as important as literature that transports us to new cultures and new ideas, when both of these types merge and we find ourselves at the precipice of empathy, that is just a gift.
I found that my students had obsessively read The Bluford series. Each book was chapped and cracked open, with wrinkles of age and smudges from chip fingers holding tightly to the stories. My students would walk to the library afterschool to get to these boxed books. Of course I had to read them. What I found, with fear, is that my students couldn’t find much outside of the Bluford Series. It was its own beautiful niche, but knowing that hurts. Where are the other books that represent my students? As the faces looking back at me in my classroom became more and more diverse (I moved to an area very close to a Lumbee Reservation), I had to search that much deeper through the glossed hardbacks in the library for books that not only reflected their stories, but wrote them thoughtfully and truthfully. Now, Tweeters and book people like Debbie Reese, Roxanne Gay, Diverse Books, and Angie Manfredi keep me clued into literature today that is not only diverse, but accurate, meditative, and compassionate to the characters and stories within.
None of this stops because I’m out of the classroom. I still worry that students get to the high school classroom having only read dead-white-male authors. I still think about how often I turned to Patricia Smith when the textbooks were emptied of what I called in the classroom “literature in bubbles.” Where all characters were able-bodied, straight, and assumed to be white. (I’m still a little peeved with JK Rowling for just announcing one day that Dumbledore was gay without actually writing that into the literature). I even taught world literature and was fascinated with the very few tribal stories, and aboriginal stories contained in the textbooks. A lot of the beginning stories came from The Bible actually. Meh. In fact, I’m not sure there was one aboriginal story in the newest textbook in our book room. By year two, I had decided not to teach from the textbook at all (this involved killing a lot of trees, I’m sorry nature, until I could prove to my principal that I needed more technology).
In 2012, Roxanne Gay wrote in The Rumpus that 90% of the authors reviewed in the NY Times are white. (There’s a pie graph in the article if you’re too lazy to actually read it). The Guardian recently wrote that the publishing industry is dominated by white females, which definitely shows in the books published recently. FiveThirtyEight wrote about children’s books being “still very white” and in 2015 Sunili Govinnage wrote about reading books only by minority authors for a year and found, “just how white our reading world really is.” Govinnage gives a list of books read, if you’re interested in reading Diverse Books during the challenge, or making it a focus for this year which I highly recommend. Vida Count has been giving us data for multiple years now on the publishing industry and its diversity. See 2015 here and look at the trends from years prior.
While I don’t think dedicating just a week of the 52 you have in a year to diverse literature is enough, I do believe it’s a start if you read mostly white-washed literature. And I don’t mean “diverse” to only categorize race, but race, gender, sexuality, illnesses, disabilities, geography, landscape, and histories. (I really want to put etc, but I almost feel like that’s really inconsiderate). I need to do better at reading books with characters that have different sexualities than my own. I think I will make that a goal of this year. Actually at the women’s march yesterday I had to explain a poster to my best friend that read, “Support all of your sisters, not just your cisters.” Without diverse literature, I would never be able to understand and empathize with that sign.
If you’re considering participating and you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of some of my favorite diverse authors, and diverse character choices. I would love to chat with you about any of these.
I am going to read the following few books during this DIVERSEATHON, particularly:
I honestly can’t believe I haven’t read In the Time of Butterflies yet, but I just haven’t. Comment below if you have some FABULOUS recommendations of diverse books or ways you support diverse and amazing authors. I look forward to hearing about your diverse reads in the Diversathon. Follow the readathon on Twitter, Instagram and read along with me. YAY! Let’s get “he who shall not be named” out of Simon and Schuster and get their diverse and deserving authors promoted. This is also a way to continue what you started at the Women’s March by reading and advocating for women of color, and women of differing sexualities. Make sure you post what you’re reading and write about the why. When people know you’re why, they’re more likely to invest.