If the We Need Diverse Books panel feels like a homecoming, it's because this weekend marks the literary organization's annual return to its birthplace. BookCon is the reason WNDB, which promotes inclusivity and diversity in books, as well as among those writing and publishing books, even exists in the first place. Since BookCon made its debut in 2014, WNDB has had a presence at the literary fanfest as diverse books have exploded in popularity and now routinely perch at the top of bestseller lists.
WNDB began, like so many things do these days, as a hashtag. After ReedPOP, the company that puts on BookCon, announced in April 2014 an all white and male author lineup for its inaugural BookCon "Blockbuster Reads" panel, a firestorm erupted on social media. #WeNeedDiverseBooks went viral during a three-day campaign in which people were urged to post online photos of themselves holding signs with the hashtag. In response, ReedPOP didn't just add a woman of color to its "Blockbuster Reads" panel: it also invited the grassroots group behind the hashtag to put together its own blockbuster panel of diverse authors. The panel, "The World Agrees: We Need Diverse Books," featured Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, and Matt de la Peña, as well as WNDB cofounders Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Aisha Saeed, Marieke Nijkamp, and I.W. Gregorio. It drew a standing-room-only crowd of 300 people that year, with many more turned away once the room reached capacity Now they use larger rooms.
This year's panel features a stellar lineup of middle grade and YA authors, besides moderator Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles). The panel includes Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone), Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbles), Zoraida Córdova (Bruja Born), Anna-Marie McLemore (When the Moon Was Ours), and Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning).
WNDB panels cochair Sandie Chen says that this year's panel grew out of a conversation between the WNDB panels committee and Clayton about the #BlackGirlMagic movement that celebrates amazing black women, as well as the popularity of fiction for both adult and young readers containing elements of magical realism, folklore, and fantasy.
"We try to be thoughtful in our panelist invitations and brainstorm various authors who could speak, without being overly repetitive from previous panels we've hosted," Chen says. "This year, we were lucky that this particular slate of bestselling and critically acclaimed young adult and middle grade authors were all available to discuss the Latin American, Caribbean, Native, and African roots and themes in their stories."
WNDB does more than panels, though: three years ago, WNDB launched the Walter Dean Myers Award for established writers from diverse backgrounds whose work features characters from a variety of backgrounds or addresses the issue of diversity or discrimination. It also established grants for up-and-coming writers and illustrators. More recently, WNDB launched an internship program to encourage young people from minority backgrounds to consider publishing careers and a mentorship program pairing established writers with emerging ones.
WNDB's goal with its BookCon panels, Chen says, always has been "to move beyond Diversity 101 and have conversations that dig deep into various issues surrounding representation and inclusiveness in children's and YA literature."
When it comes to this year's panel, Chen says, "We hope the authors will help make clear that magic in books isn't limited to stories with European roots."
Today, 10:15–11 a.m. The "We Need Diverse Books" panel is in Room 1E10.