SCBWI Executive Director Speaks Out on Diversity

lin1-250x300An open letter from Executive Director Lin Oliver:

I’d like to share some of my thoughts on diversity in the children’s book industry, something that has occupied my thoughts for a while, but especially in the last month when it’s become a matter of important public discourse in the publishing world.

My first and singular thought about diversity is simply this: It’s essential.  It is a crucial thing for young people to see all kinds of people reflected in the pages of their books—people who are represented fairly and fully and deeply, without stereotypes.  Yes, minority kids need to see themselves in the pages of their books, but as important, all kids need to see the variety of the human experience, to understand that human beings are complex, different, and yet the same.

A tougher question is who should create these works that represent diverse cultures.  In other words, who has permission to write “multicultural” literature?  This is a hotly debated subject, and I’m not sure where I come out on it, philosophically speaking.  I understand and empathize with both sides of the argument.  Yet I do know, intuitively, what I am comfortable with for myself, as a writer.  And it’s this.  I don’t believe that I can authentically write from the point of view of a contemporary protagonist who is telling a unique story that derives from a racial or cultural experience not my own.  Some people may feel comfortable with that.  I don’t.  One of the reasons I’m so eager to read literature written by people with diverse backgrounds is to get their authentic take on their experience.  I just don’t trust that my take on it would ever be completely true or right. However, I do believe that I should always try to include people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, races and religions in my work…to populate the world I’m writing about with all kinds of people.  This is different for me than writing from the point of view of a particular ethnic or racial character or experience.  That’s where I personally come out on this issue. 

Often, the issue of who should be writing multicultural books obscures what to me is the most important issue of how we can implement diversity in children’s books.  I feel like it is my deep and constant responsibility to support diversity in our field.  I can do this in many ways.  By reading broadly from the works of authors (and illustrators) that represent cultural or ethnic minorities.  By recommending those books to friends, kids, parents and booksellers.  By buying those books for myself and as gifts, because let’s face it, the best way to get the publishing industry to feature multicultural books and authors of color is to make those books a success in the marketplace.  By speaking publically about the need for a diverse body of literature for children.  And finally, by working within the SCBWI to initiate and support the many SCBWI initiatives that help discover diverse creators of children’s books and to do everything in my power to increase their visibility and reach. 

Won’t you all join me and do the same? 

Lin Oliver

Want to get involved? Come hear the diversity panel at this year's SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles.