Diversity in Literature

The Diversity in Literature: Authors discuss the value of diversity and how it can be achieved Panel will be held Sunday, August 19th at 2 PM. Bookmark this page. This is the “Room” where the panel discussion will be held.

Moderator: Brian Koukol

Panelists:

Connie B. Dowell
Jessica Marie Baumgartner
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84 Replies to “Diversity in Literature”

  1. I guess that’s all, folks. Thanks to a great panel for the insightful discussion. Up next in the Author Q & A Chat Room is a talk by D. A. Bale. According to her website, she likes both Charlotte Brontë and Clive Cussler, so there should be something for everyone.

  2. I’m just very happy that I found this festival. The discussions have been so inspiring and encouraging! Sometimes in our own little corners of the world we start to think the world is a small as the minds of the people around us. This discussion has really been wonderful.

    • I think it’s important to have meetings like this for exactly that reason, Zina. We all live in our own little corner of the world, and many of us only see a certain type of people around us. But when we come together from all over the world with a common interest, we can open up those empathetic paths and really create something wonderful together.

    • It’s always a pleasure. Exploring our similarities while discussing our differences never ceases to inspire me and my work.

  3. I don’t have any questions. Just wanted to say thank you for this important discussion. It is so important to normalize diversity and not just see it as a political football. Thank you.

  4. We have a few minutes left. I’d like to open the discussion now to any lurkers who may have questions for the panel.

  5. What can people reading this discussion do to support more diversity in literature? What can you as authors do?

    • The best thing to do for authors and readers is to seek out diverse books and authors, to spread the word about diverse voices crafting awesome stories. The next thing is to stop writing casts that all look alike and instead thoughtfully and carefully create more diverse worlds in our fiction.

    • Readers can find new authors, whether they’re in #OwnVoices or not, and expand our reading horizons. Authors can write our truths, listen to more people who are different from us, and use those stories to create more diverse characters. And everyone can learn to open our minds to people who are different from us.

    • Always always, go outside your comfort zone.

      Readers should try and read stories unlike the ones they seek. It helps offer a greater perspective and is more fun in my experiences.

      As an author I think all writers should go places where THEY are the minority. Where I live I can always find a spot where I’m the only one who looks like me. If you can’t do that, then read about people from different backgrounds, watch some Tyler Perry, listen to some jewish comedians, get out there and explore the diverse world around you however you can. The internet is a great place to talk with others and get to know multiple perspectives.

      I’m not an expert. I continue to search for new ideas through unexplored stories. I have a new favorite coming up in the Oct. issue of Bards and Sages right here. That one follows a Hindu illegal immigrant who is trying to escape a curse here in the States. I was living in an apartment complex with many hindu neighbors at the time and it took off. How you live matters to your writing.

      • Oh and if you always feel like the minority, then find a group of people like you and draw from what you guys do together. hahaha Gotta put that in there haha

  6. Fantasy and science fiction couldn’t exist without elves and orcs and aliens, but, at the same time, certain vocal fans throw fits about female Ghostbusters and possible nonwhite Spider-men. Do you think certain audiences are more receptive to diversity in fiction?

    • Absolutely! I think most of us are ready for diversity, but those who aren’t are very vocal about it. It’s a case of singular bad apples trying to ruin everything for everyone.

    • I think changing a beloved characters gender or race is just laziness. It’s like the writers couldn’t come up with something new on their own so they just shrug and paint a character who has european characteristics darker, or roll their eyes and make a masculine character feminine. I don’t want female Peter. haha I want more new female heroines and villains.

      I am also very very sick of remakes and nostalgia porn so I could rant about female ghostbusters all day. Just because I’m a women doesn’t mean I want every character to turn into women, nor should I have to haha I’m not a traitor, I just like real diversity not a blanket of switch-a-roonies haha

      • I agree that new stories and new characters would be better than simply switching identities on old ones, but it is a step. That’s why I think this increase in representation isn’t necessarily a turning point. When we start to see less repackaging and more originality, then maybe we will be able to say yes this is the start of real change.

    • It’s hard to tell what audiences are more receptive, but I’m an optimist, so while I know there are some loud anti-diversity voices and they are a big problem, I also believe they are outweighed by the decent folks. The more representation we see in media, the more folks will start to see diversity as normal and those anti-diversity voices will be drowned out.

  7. I’m disabled and enjoy writing disabled people as complete characters, full of all the flaws and foibles you’d expect in your average human being. Because of this, I often hear complaints from (able-bodied) readers about how lazy and selfish my characters seem. How do you speak your truth without alienating your potential audience? Does it even matter if you do alienate them?

    • Ooo,
      So I find that writing those naysayers into the story and addressing it helps. Every minority has experienced that small percentage of assholes who can’t leave you alone. So if you write-in some random jerk on the street who shouts a slur, or have a new co-worker try to call out a disabled character for being selfish or bitter and have your character respond it helps a lot. Show us why they act the way they do. That humanizes the issue instead of keeping it divided through labels and categories.

    • Speaking your truth is tough. One person’s experience isn’t necessarily universal and that is one reason some marginalized authors aren’t comfortable writing someone with their particular marginalization, for fear of not being “right” or “enough.” But to anyone going through this, I’d say if now isn’t the right time to do it, don’t, but if you want to write your truth, it’s your truth. Some people may not like it, but that’s their problem, not yours.

    • I think that some people will never understand points of view different from their own. It requires a level of open-mindedness not everyone has. But I still think it’s important to speak your truth. I do love the idea of writing those naysayers in, though.

      • there is almost always a character in my stories that refers to the protagonist as “buddy.” I don’t know what it is about wheelchairs, but people see them and instantly want you to become their sidekick. It’s like, I’m not your buddy, guy!

  8. Jess and I talked about this a bit at her workshop yesterday, but do you think writers with “diverse” traits should feel any obligation to create characters that share those traits? On a similar note, and Adan already touched on this, how do you feel about the current #OwnVoices movement, where an author shares a marginalized identity with her protagonist?

    • I was blown away when you brought it up. It is important, but for some reason I fear falling into a stereotype or becoming some hyped up over-inflated egotistical ambassador for “my people.” haha Maybe I shouldn’t. I am kicking around the idea of trying to publish more stories with Pagans in them, write about a dyslexic, and I have already played with a Native American who actually lived in an Annie Oakley Wendigo story.

    • Obligation, no. I feel we are all obligated to try to write our truths, whatever those may be, but I think it’s up to each of us how we want to explore our own traits in our writing. That being said, I’m an #OwnVoices writer. My main characters are almost all on the LGBTQ spectrum. Many have been single parents. I guess in that way I write what I know.

      • THIS!
        When it comes naturally that reaches so many more people rather than writing out of obligation.

    • I love that increased representation has let many ownvoices authors feel more comfortable writing stories that center characters who share a marginalization with them, but they should never feel obligated to write only characters who are like them. Indeed, there can be some discomfort with owning the ownvoices label for authors who aren’t yet “out” or have marginalizations that they don’t share with the public. Ownvoices is great in that it has empowered many writers and amplified new voices. I encourage anyone to support Ownvoices authors and seek out those books, but if it doesn’t work for a writer, they shouldn’t feel pressured to use it.

  9. All of us involved in this discussion appear to be of rather pale complexion, though we each certainly have our own intersectional difficulties. How do you add authentic diversity to your work when the truth you are portraying isn’t your own? Should authors even attempt to write in voices that are not their own?

    • That’s a very touchy subject. Some people would have all writers write in all voices, while others would have only Own Voices stories available. I think it’s important to find middle ground. Listen to the people who really live in the identities that you want to write about. I tend to draw a lot from my own experience for my main characters, but have secondary characters that are inclusive of many different walks of life.

      • I guess it all comes back to empathy. If you can actually put yourself in other people’s shoes, you can turn them into real people on the page.

    • I love this question. I’m all over it. What a person looks like isn’t who they are. You may look at me and not see my Native American heritage, but it’s there. Even so, it is not necessarily all that I am.

      I have been luck to live in diverse areas all my life. I love Saint Louis, the media portrays this area like it’s a war zone, but despite our issues, I have always lived next door to asian immigrants, people from India, African Americans, and numerous bi-racial and multi-racial families.

      When you live a diverse life, with friends and colleagues, you write characters based off of those experiences. When I wrote about Cabrina in my children’s short story, “Dragonya,” I didn’t write the character and then paint her skin to fill a quota, she came to me as a little black girl very similar to one of my daughter’s best friends.

      Delving into someone else’s culture can be rough, but if you are knowledgeable and respectful it gives audiences a new sense of self and the world around them.

      • I imagine some writers are worried about tokenism, when they may unwittingly reinforce a stereotype based on good intentions. You’re saying these people should actually go out and talk to people outside of their bubble and the authenticity of their writing will improve? Outrageous!

    • I think it is important for writers to add diversity through characters that are different from them, but research and thoughtful conversation, (and most important) LISTENING to marginalized folks is CRUCIAL to avoid stereotypes, hurtful storylines, and characters that are one-dimensional, no more than their marginalization. Furthermore, we should remember that a uniform, nondiverse world isn’t terribly realistic. Additionally, maybe your main character shares most or all identities with you, but they aren’t the only ones in your book. Writing diversely can mean representation in other characters as well and creating a diverse world.

  10. That brings up another question. Representation seems to have taken a huge leap forward recently. You see it in movies such as Black Panther and Wonder Woman. Why is representation in art so important, and do you really see our society as having reached a watershed moment when it comes to it?

    • Representation has taken a step up lately, but only time will tell if this is a true turning point. Representation is crucial because it includes rather than excludes and it builds empathy. If it continues and if we begin to see more and more complex representations, hopefully we will see more unity and empathy in society as well.

      • I watched a movie recently about a hitman in a wheelchair. It wasn’t particularly good, but it really spoke to me, simply because of the subject matter. It’s sort of incredible, the power of representation.

          • What really sells is making sure that your disabled character is still relatable for the average person. I think a lot of authors are afraid to give minorities or disabled characters common flaws and they fall in the Mary Sue trap. So walking that fine line is very important.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about empathy. We need much more of that in the world, and inclusion helps create it.

    • I think we’ve reached a point in society that things are starting to open up. I don’t think it means things are going to be the way they should be from now on, but I can definitely see that things are changing.

    • Connecting with characters is all about how they reach you, and it is easier to connect with a story and its characters if it feel real to you. As in, if you could see yourself in that world or a similar role.

      I don’t know where we stand, honestly. I have been able to find numerous female characters, and pagan characters who suit me well since I was a little girl. And going back, my mom passed on books that she found really important to her and her mother.

      If we want to see a broader range of stories we need to encourage more minority authors to tell it their way and help promote them.

  11. Might as well get started. I’m sure Connie will catch up.

    Why is diversity important? Why not just let white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, neuro- typical, patriarchal, affluent, developed-world males dominate art and literature, continuing to mansplain their way through the ages?

    • Because that person you just described makes up such a small part of the world. There are so many more of us than that, and everyone deserves to see themselves represented.

    • That’s a not a loaded question… haha

      Diversity in writing is about reaching ALL readers, the ones who need something to relate to or find an example of a situation they are stuck in so they don’t feel alone.

    • OMG. I LOVE the sass in this question. 🙂 In all seriousness, diversity is important for many, many reasons. Some of the ones that come to mind are so that readers can see someone like themselves represented in the fiction they consume, so that readers who don’t share the same background or identity as a diverse character can also learn to identify with people different from them, and because diversity makes more interesting stories. The world is much less boring when characters aren’t all the same.

  12. Hi there! I’m Brian Koukol, and I’ll be your moderator for this panel on Diversity in Literature. The panel will be starting in fifteen minutes, at 2 PM.

    You don’t need to be logged in to view the discussion, but you do to post questions, so this would be a great time to register. You may have to manually refresh your browser in order to read new posts. I will open the discussion up to attendee questions near the end, but please allow our panelists the floor until then.

    Our panel today includes three fantastic authors: Adan Ramie, Connie B. Dowell, and Jessica Marie Baumgartner. We’ve got a few minutes before things kick off, so I’d like to ask our three panelists to let me know when they arrive. Some of them are just finishing up the world-building panel at the moment. Until then, feel free to peruse their websites through the links above.