Literary Links: Diversity Discussions

Reflecting on the recent events in Charlottesville and elsewhere around the country, including our own home base of Durham, NC, we’ve compiled some recent explorations of diversity in books and the book industry.


Children’s author Grace Lin talks racism in kids’ classics on PBS, and offers insights on how to acknowledge problematic elements when sharing your old favorites with future generations.


Meanwhile at The Atlantic Isabel Fattal interviews professor of children’s literature Philip Nel about identifying and exploring racist themes in Dr. Seuss:

Nel: I think that what we have to do is admit that our relationships with these books can be complicated. It’s okay to think fondly of a beautiful story, but you need to also think about the way in which that beautiful story may also be racist. We can talk about what is masterful about it or what is artistic about it, but we also need to talk about some of the things in the book which are not, and if presented uncritically are simply transmitting these ideas to a new generation.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, The New York Times suggests eight children’s books to help parents talk to their kids about events like Charlottesville.

Given the language and images many children heard and saw in news reports about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend, these children’s books about people — including kids — who helped in the fight against Nazis and against racism here in the U.S. may prove similarly inspiring.

(And outlets like Bustle and Vox are publishing post-Charlottesville reading lists for more adult audiences.)


CCBC stats from May 2017 highlight a recent uptick in children’s books by and about non-white people, but also make clear that those books remain underrepresented:

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The Hugo Awards continue to see an increase in female winners, with N.K. Jemisin winning the novel award for the second year in a row.

Female authors also took home the awards for novella (“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire), novelette (“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon) and short story (“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar). Additionally, legendary fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin won the related work award for “Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016.”


Bix Gabriel at Electric Lit pushes a step beyond diversity in books and authors to explore diversity in literary criticism and reviews:

I found myself considering the role of the critic, the reviewer, the judge, whose word can make or break a book’s sales, and sometimes, even a writer… looking only at two “mainstream” magazines that publish book reviews, the New York Review of Books published only fifty-two reviews by women, as opposed to 216 by men. The New York Times Book Review fared much better, with 475 female reviewers and 469 male reviewers. But a closer look reveals that of the 871 women published or reviewed at the New York Times Book Review, 294 female writers responded to VIDA’s survey, and among them, 216 self-identified as white. Similarly, of the 44 women who self-reported at the New York Review of Books, 34 were white. The numbers are evidence: even just taking into account the categories of race and gender, women of color reviewers and critics are published at far lower rates than white males [emphasis added].


And a bookstore in New York gets trolled IRL (!) by people trying to plant copies of Milo Yiannopoulos’ book in their store and pens a note to their community about it:


What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!


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