In response to the controversy that erupted last month over the lack of diversity in its schedule, BookCon has added a panel titled “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks” to its programming lineup. The panel includes five key members of the #WNDB campaign that emerged out of the BookCon controversy and three bestselling authors well-known for including diverse characters and exploring issues relating to diversity in their books: Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), Matt de la Peña (The Living), and Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon). The panel discussion is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 31 from 10-11 a.m. The moderator will be #WNDB team member I.W. Gregorio, whose debut YA novel, None of the Above, will be published in 2015.
BookCon show manager Brien McDonald told PW that, after witnessing the outpouring on May 1 of tweets under the #WNDB hashtag concerning diversity in books, he contacted the organizers of the grassroots campaign and invited them to put together a panel. “When you look at BookCon and what we’re striving to do for the industry and what we will do as far as content, this is a really nice piece of it,” he said. “What they’re doing is highlighting an industry-wide conversation that is of critical importance. And it’s an issue a lot of readers definitely care about.”
The panel will kick off with five #WNDB representatives, four of whom are YA authors – Ellen Oh (the Prophecy series), Aisha Saeed (Written in the Stars, 2015), Marieke Nijkamp (DiversifYA founder), Lamar Giles (Fake ID), and Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities) – discussing the highlights of the campaign, as well as strategies for effective grassroots activism, and how readers can diversify their own bookshelves. The discussion will then shift to the three featured authors speaking on how, in Woodson’s words, “the work of African-Americans and people of color is important and necessary and relevant and timely and timeless.” While declining to provide specifics, #WNDB spokesperson Oh promises that the #WNDB campaign will “have some really exciting news to share” about the group’s future activities that will be disclosed during the session. ReedPOP is also providing a table for the #WNDB team members at the show to publicize the campaign and its message to BookCon attendees.
Noting that Jason Low, the publisher of Lee & Low Books, played a key role in pulling Woodson, de la Peña, and Lin onto the panel, Oh told PW that after McDonald contacted the group to suggest that they put together a BookCon panel on diversity, they agreed because “we realized that we could do a great job talking about the issues and that we have amazing authors. [BookCon] is a great place to continue the conversation. I’m glad they’re taking things seriously.”
She added that there were many other supportive authors that the group considered including on the panel, “but we couldn’t make it work in an hour. We want to make sure the message is heard, and if we have too many authors, it might drown out the message. We have a strong lineup and I’m happy with that.”
While earlier expressing during a phone interview with PW that it’s “heartbreaking” and “exhausting” to “constantly have this discussion” about the need for and importance of diversity, Woodson subsequently wrote in an email that she agreed to participate on the panel because the “easiest thing to do would be to turn my back on BookCon, to continue to be insulted and aggravated and do nothing.” Woodson is autographing books at BEA on May 30 and is one of the featured speakers as well at the BEA Author’s Tea that afternoon.
“Change has never come from walking away from the struggle,” Woodson wrote. “I want to sit on a panel where I am not the one person of color speaking about diversity but part of a bigger group, part of a larger and longer-term idea about creating effective and lasting change – part of a continuum. And that’s what this is, that’s what my work is, that’s what the struggle is –a continuum.”
Even though “The World Agrees” panel is taking place at the same time as a heavily-promoted conversation between two A-list authors, John Grisham and Carl Hiaasen, both Oh and McDonald are confident that the panel will draw an audience. “Given that the campaign and what they’ve done grassroots-wise, that in itself will have everyone curious,” McDonald said. “That’s positive for attendance. [It’s] going to be an awesome panel and a great opportunity for discovery.”