BookCon’s current all-white lineup continues to roil the blogosphere. Declaring on Tumblr that “now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored,” a group of 22 authors, publishers, and bloggers kicked off a three-day social media campaign called “We Need Diverse Books” on May 1, to call attention to the lack of diversity in contemporary children’s literature.
YA author Ellen Oh told PW that, while the issue of diversity in children’s literature has been something that has long concerned her, ReedPOP’s announcement of the Blockbuster Reads panel and then the rest of its lineup – white authors only, plus Grumpy Cat – prompted a core group that included Oh; her fellow authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, who are also Asian-American; Hannah Ehrlich, a publicist with Lee & Low Books, which is known for its diverse children’s list; and Megan O’Sullivan of Braun Books in Cedar, Utah; to organize; others quickly joined in.
The campaign is taking place primarily on Twitter, but also on Facebook as well. Participants from all corners of the publishing world and beyond are posting comments and uploading photographs expressing their feelings towards diversity in children’s literature, by finishing in their own words a sentence that begins, “We need diverse books because .” The organizers began posting on Tumblr at 1 p.m. Eastern time all comments and photographs submitted to them.
“The intent is that from 1 pm to 3 pm, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word,” the campaign’s organizers wrote on Tumblr. “The Tumblr will be active throughout the length of this campaign, and for however long we need to keep this campaign going.”
Even before the official launch time, the hashtag, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, had gone viral, with 27,796 Tweets from 8,988 contributors recorded at 10:45 a.m. By 5:00 p.m., there were 46,672 tweets from 13,459 unique contributors, with 82,272,930 timeline deliveries, and with the numbers changing by the second. “It’s kind of lit a spark in people,” Oh said. “All of these voices are coming together.”
A sampling of Twitter comments today included author Jodi Picoult’s “#WeNeedDiverseBooks because fiction reflects the world, and thankfully, wonderfully! – the world is not monochromatic or uniform.” Lee & Low Books wrote that #WeNeedDiverseBooks because they SELL (no hiding behind that myth anymore!),” and included a photo of the press’s staff holding a selection of titles. Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., tweeted, “#WeNeedDiverseBooks because no child should ever feel invisible.” Author Jamie Ford pointed out, “#WeNeedDiverseBooks because no little kid ever said, ‘I want a box of 64 white crayons!’ ” And, in response to a follower’s query, asking author Neil Gaiman if he would help the group spread the word about #WeNeedDiverseBooks, he responded: “Of course. Because we do.”
The second part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign will launch at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, May 2, with a Twitter chat using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, during which participants will be encouraged to share their thoughts about diversity in children’s literature and why it matters.
On May 3, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, the campaign will shift to a “Diversify Your Shelves” initiative, with participants being encouraged to “put their money where their mouth is,” according to the group’s Tumblr page, and “buy diverse books and take pictures of them” for posting on Tumblr, to further increase awareness.
ReedPOP, whose announcement last week that four white male authors would be featured on a panel of children’s literature luminaries ignited the controversy, is taking note. In response to a query from PW, senior v-p Lance Fensterman wrote in an email, “#WeNeedDiverseBooks is an important movement that speaks to the challenges in the publishing world and [we] support its efforts wholeheartedly.” He also reiterated statements that he has made previously, that ReedPOP will soon “announce guests and panels that reflect the diverse world of books and publishing.”
Update: As of 10 am Eastern time Friday morning, 60,346 Tweets from 17,283 contributors, with 106,057,130 timeline deliveries, were recorded under the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.