And although I followed the Stupid Puppies fight no closer than scanning some headlines, I expect that’s still being fought in the SFF world too.
Are Romance and SFF the only genres where diversity is discussed? Maybe they’re just big and loud with a tendency to turn housekeeping into performance art.
No. Diversity is a global forest fire that flashes up sporadically into public awareness, but it’s been burning for years, regardless of whether the public sees it.
Diverse: showing a great deal of variety; very different. Oxford Dictionary
So, diversity in fiction.
As it affects personally, or doesn’t, or is perceived and acted upon, or not, by readers, authors, and publishing professionals.
First off, what’s it got to do with me?
The glaringly obvious answer is that I’m human, and by its very nature diversity is about all of humanity.
Then there’s my 24 years as a chronically ill spoonie. I’ve been experiencing diversity in life for far longer than I’ve been writing diverse characters in my novels. Not dying with it: living with it. Spoonies are the quietest lobby group you ever won’t hear shouting.
Most importantly, I have many friends of all ages who are women, and/or persons of colour, and/or LGBT, and/or physically disabled, and/or mentally disabled, and/or chronically ill with any number of physical and/or mental conditions, and/or people from ethnic minorities and/or from classes, cultures and countries that place them at an undeniable disadvantage in terms of economic difficulty and/or human prejudice.
Because, despite the opinion held by some that diverse means other, the fact is that diverse is normal.
Compared with the huge numbers of people who are disadvantaged in all those various ways, the group of mainly middle class, mainly well-educated, mainly white, mainly straight, and normally healthy people who tend to enjoy freedom from prejudice in life and relative ease of passage in the UK/US publishing industry are actually a small minority.
That’s life, I hear someone say.
Yes it is, but life can be changed. Life should be changed when it’s shitty and unfair.
It’s the definition of diversity used by the University of Oregon’s Steering Committee on Diversity. It’s beautiful.
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect.
It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment.
It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.
I love that. In the spirit of it, my definition of diversity is:
The inclusion and celebration of the full range of humanity in fiction.
What do you think?
How does my definition work for you?
What are your experiences of diversity in fiction? Your views? Will you share them with us?
How do you think we can move our industry to a place where everyone will have a fair chance of being published?
Or of writing diverse works for publication?
Or of buying and reading books with characters who reflect our own lives and identities? And our children’s?
What about, for example, white people writing characters of colour? It’s a step, but in the right or wrong direction? If it’s a problem, is it still a problem when an author rejects tokenism and cultural appropriation, researches well, and writes her characters well?
In self-publishing, there’s an evident freedom to write and enthusiasm to read diverse characters. Will that freedom be a tipping point that’ll bring big and small presses sliding inevitably into the real world?
Or are the old ways so entrenched there’ll be no changing them, no matter how many people are shouting for diversity and for how long we shout?
Will mainstream publishing continue to be a mainly white middle class industry with magical access for privileged kids via unpaid (or at best inadequately paid for their big city location) internships that most young people can’t afford to contemplate?
Is there hope?
Are there already some real changes happening?
Are some small presses leading the way?
Is the YA world’s enthusiastic support for the #weneeddiversebooks campaign a birthplace for a better future throughout the industry?
Or does the call for diverse books carry within itself a potential for danger, in that it’s likely to maintain the view of an exotic otherness rather than embracing the normality, the universality, of human experience?
Oh, and this business of the UK/US publishing industry that I mentioned earlier
That isn’t a privileged mindset at all, is it?
How about, as well as encouraging and promoting diversity in Western publishing (which includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, of course) we make it easier for books written and published elsewhere in the world to be visible and available here?
Non-English markets are flooded with translations from English, but the tide doesn’t flow the other way. Why is that? Can we change it?
Are translation services too expensive? Why is that and how can we change it? I hope we can get beyond The Market in this.
(The Market isn’t a god. At best it’s a lazy excuse used by privileged people who don’t want to act to change something, and at worst it’s an aggressive shield used to stop what they feel is an attack on their comforts. When people like that trot out “The Market” as a conversation stopper I tend to want to slap their silly privileged heads.)
Over to you
What do you think? What do you know? Talk to me. Tell us about it.
I blog about writing and life, chronic illness and life, and diversity in life and in fiction. If you’d like to get my posts in your email, there’s a sign-up box in the sidebar on the right if you’re on a desktop, or below this text if you’re on a mobile.
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