The Banned Books Week just started. This year it runs from September 25 to October 01, and the focus is on diversity.
According to ALA, the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015 are:
- John Green: Looking for Alaska
- E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey
- Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings: I Am Jazz
- Susan Kuklin: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
- Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- The Holy Bible
- Alison Bechdel: Fun Home
- Craig Thompson: Habibi
- Jeanette Winter: Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
- David Levithan: Two Boys Kissing
James LaRue, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, wrote in a blog post Defining Diversity about the significance of diversity to the Banned Books Week:
“While ‘diversity’ is seldom given as a reason for a challenge, it may in fact be an underlying and unspoken factor: the work is about people and issues others would prefer not to consider. Often, content addresses concerns of groups who have suffered historic and ongoing discrimination.”
He further went on to identify a common thread why many of these ten books may have been challenged so often:
“In collaboration with other sponsors of Banned Books Week, we are highlighting the diverse content in the list of 2015 Top Ten Most Challenged Books. Talking about this commonality may offer some insights into the current concerns of those who challenge materials.
“For instance, four of this year’s titles clearly fall into the LGBT category: Beyond Magenta, Fun Home, I Am Jazz, and Two Boys Kissing. Three books deal with religion, and challengers’ suspicion of it: Islam in Habibi and Nasreen’s Secret School; and Judeo-Christianity in the Bible. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time centers on the disability of the main character, who is autistic. Call it neuro-atypical: a mode of cognitive processing and emotional responsiveness that falls somewhat outside of the norm. OIF staff agree that all of the above fall well into our common understanding of diversity.”
I don’t have time this year for a specific banned / challenged books project, but it occurred to me that in a way my 21 Authors project counts, because the ten newest books (from Lowachee down in the picture below) are mostly by women of color:
While to the best of my knowledge the SF/F authors on my list haven’t been challenged, book challenges or bans are just a tip of the iceberg. Publishing in U.S. in general is not the most hospitable of environments towards authors who fall outside the perceived norm, whether their difference is of gender, race, sexual orientation, neurotypicality, religion and so on. I’ll use race and gender as an example below.
People of color face many obstacles in getting their stories published that whites don’t. For example, children’s and teens’ literature has “a long way to go” before it reflects the existing diversity, both with regard to protagonists and authors (Cooperative Children’s Book Center). The publishing industry is still overwhelmingly a white business (Publishers Weekly, 2016). Young adult book covers have a whitewashing problem (School Library Journal, 2009; YALSA, 2012). In the speculative fiction market, the number of stories by black authors remains staggeringly low (Fireside Fiction, 2016). Books written by whites are reviewed more than books written by people of color (Roxane Gay, 2012). Also, books written by women are reviewed less often than books by men (Strange Horizons, 2015), which implies that books by black women are reviewed even less.
If talking about banned and challenged books matters, then talking about the obstacles faced by non-white authors also matters. Some of these obstacles, especially when compounded, amount to de facto silencing, which is what banning also is: a way to deny someone their voice.
One step towards redressing that silencing is to create demand for books by minority authors. Reading widely and trying new genres or authors is something we can all do, especially with the help of libraries.
I’ll finish with a short personal experience.
A couple of years ago I started consciously reading more books by women. That lead me to read more about the state of publishing and gender balance in the U.S. market, which lead me to consciously include more authors of color, more QUILTBAG authors and more disabled authors in my reading. As a result, I’ve discovered many, many talented, new-to-me writers to follow and so many books to be excited about. I am loving the fantastic stories and worlds I read nowadays. I haven’t even finished 21 authors yet, and I’ve already got my next reading project lined up.
In addition, my efforts indirectly lead to Husband’s first commercial short story publication. Most likely I wouldn’t have seen the call for submissions for the Hidden Youth anthology had I not started paying more attention to the publishing climate. Hidden Youth, in its turn, has introduced me to another new set of authors I want to check out. It’s a cycle I’m thrilled to be a part of.
Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.