Diversity is the Future
Earlier this week, my friend Ellen Oh told me about the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and I was extremely excited. In my work as a librarian, one of the things I hear again and again from library patrons is that they don’t want the only novels they read about people of color to be confined to the historical fiction section. History is important, but people want to see themselves in the present – in mysteries, contemporaries, and romances – and in the future – science fiction, dystopia, etc. – too. None of us are just our past.
One of my favorite books right now is Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, a contemporary YA about a ballerina whose best friend was kidnapped when they were younger. He suddenly resurfaces, bringing up old secrets. The main character is black, and that point isn’t glossed over, but it also isn’t the central issue of the story. It’s a fantastic example of realistic teens making mistakes and learning about navigating the perils of the real world.
As a science fiction writer, it’s also incredibly important to me to see books where the future is portrayed as being as diverse as it’s likely to be. Every year, more people marry, make friends, or adopt across racial boundaries, so it seems shortsighted to me to portray the all-white future we’ve seen in many science fiction books of the past. Alaya Dawn Johnson and Nnedi Okorafor are two writers bringing us that diverse future. I’m a huge fan of Okorafor, and I’m really looking forward to reading Johnson’s The Summer Prince, because I’ve enjoyed many of her short stories. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker is another fantastic example, though I hope our future doesn’t turn out to be as bleak as the one he portrays.
Then there are fantasy novels like Ellen Oh’s own Prophecy, Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, Malinda Lo’s Huntress, Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, and Ursula LeGuin’s classic Earthsea novels.
We need more diverse books. We need them because no one should be confined to reading about people who look like them in only one genre. We need them not just because it’s something we ought to do to be inclusive, but because readers demand them. We need them because diverse books are our future.