What a difference a year and a lot of determined advocacy makes. We Need Diverse Books, the grassroots group that emerged after ReedPop announced last spring an initially homogenous roster of BookCon authors, has partnered with pop culture event organizer ReedPop to ensure a more multicultural line-up at BookCon 2015. ReedPop announced with WNDB Thursday morning that Sherman Alexie, the Native American author best known for his YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Jacqueline Woodson, whose YA memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, recently received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, will be two of the authors headlining BookCon in 2015.
The consumer book show targets primarily YA and middle-grade fans, and will be held at Jacob Javits Convention Center May 30–31 after Book Expo winds down. Last year’s debut drew 10,000 attendees to a one-day event that overlapped with the last day of BEA.
WNDB will curate and moderate two panels at BookCon: the first panel, on Saturday, May 30, will focus on science fiction and fantasy, with Hugo Award winners Kameron Hurley (The Mirror Empire) and Ken Liu (The Paper Menagerie), World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper) and Joe Monti (executive editor of Saga Press). The panelists will discuss the role that diversity plays in the genre and in their own writings.
The second panel, on Sunday, May 31, with Woodson and Alexie on it, will focus upon children’s literature; the two will be joined by Libba Bray (The Diviners), Scholastic publisher David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing), and Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass).
“We’re thrilled that BookCon and We Need Diverse Books are teaming up once again to connect fans with a broader range of voices in the publishing industry,” BookCon show manager Brien McDonald stated in a release. “These panels will once again move the conversation of diversity in books forward and highlight authors who are addressing this head-on with their fantastic work.”
McDonald told PW in an email that “immediately” after last spring’s BookCon 2014, which included a panel on diversity he contacted WNDB and asked them to participate more fully in BookCon 2015.
“The fan response was so positive that we both wanted to grow the partnership,” McDonald said of the diversity panel, which featured four WNDB representatives (some of whom also are authors) and five authors, including Woodson. “They quickly got to work and curated their children’s literature panel. We collectively fine-tuned a few things and finalized the line-ups in November.”
WNDB “started with a handful of people and quickly spread through the world,” their v-p of strategy, Aisha Saeed, noted in ReedPop’s release. “At BookCon this past May we were touched by the outpouring of support. Thanks to this we are where we are today: launching initiatives to help change the face of children’s literature.”
WNDB’s initiatives to promote multicultural children’s books and their authors include a children’s literature festival in the summer of 2016; underwriting the Walter Dean Myers Award for established authors, to launch in 2015, as well as grants for emerging voices; programs to bring authors and illustrators into schools in underserved communities; educational kits and materials for schools and libraries; and an internship program to support individuals from diverse backgrounds who want to pursue careers in publishing. An interactive app of multicultural authors and books is also in development.
In order to fund these initiatives, WNDB waged a six-week fundraising campaign through Indiegogo.com that ended at midnight December 10. To date, $335,436 has been raised from about 2,500 funders, more than three times the organization's goal of $100,000. WNDB president Ellen Oh noted in an email to PW, however, that with “some checks still trickling in that haven’t made it to our fiscal sponsor,” the grand total may yet be significantly larger.