An author of color recently attended a conference in her local area and discovered that she was the only author of color, and that not a single LGBTQIA+ author or disabled author had been invited. These are her thoughts. At her request, we have published this piece anonymously. YA Interrobang is aware of the author’s identity.
There has been a lot said about We Need Diverse Books. There was a conversation on Twitter in June about how book bloggers can be more supportive of these diverse books and of diverse authors. But there’s still another area that needs improvement, one that is visible to more than just the writing and blogging communities. We also need diverse book panels.
This summer, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with two book events in my local area. In one, the keynote speaker was a woman of color, and there was representation of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and even age among the featured authors. The list of speakers and panelists reflected a truly diverse group. But the other was far different.
It was jarring to glance around the exhibit hall and realize I was the only non-white person sitting behind the tables. Never mind that the event drew in people of all races and classes. Never mind that my local area is only about half white. Never mind that my particular ethnicity represents less than five percent of the city’s total population. I was the only author of color at this event. Moreover, there were no authors with disabilities present, no LGBTQIA authors present, no authors with non-Judeo-Christian beliefs present.
In short, I was the only one waving the diversity banner. I didn’t have to be. There are scores of diverse authors—some with big names, some starting out, some in between—who likely would have been happy to be part of this event. A quick glance at the We Need Diverse Books website is evidence of that. So as much as I was grateful for my place at the table, I hated that I was there alone.
It didn’t damper my excitement, though. I was delighted to be there, to talk about my books, to meet readers and fellow authors. I met some amazing people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was fantastic…until some time after the event, when another featured author posted to social media a picture of the panel I was on and tagged everyone in the photo—except me.
“Oh, it was probably an oversight,” I said to myself. “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional.”
But it stung. It burned and only further called attention the fact that although I was invited to sit among them at the event, I was still different. I was still “other,” and I wasn’t accepted because of it. Not being tagged in that picture was tantamount to being erased, as though my contribution to the panel was meaningless. And yet, I hated myself because my initial reaction to being the only author not tagged in that photo was to make up an excuse for the offender.
So what’s the big deal? Maybe it really was an oversight. Maybe it was an innocuous error. I will never know the truth. That it happened at all is unfortunate. That it happened to a person of color seems rather insensitive. But that it happened to the only POC author at the event? That felt like a cut direct.
Diverse authors shouldn’t have to fight for their place on the featured list and then turn around and be grateful for it. We shouldn’t be slighted or made to feel “less than” because we are not white, able-bodied, and heteronormative. And we shouldn’t be expected to smile and be supportive of authors who, through their actions, have shown they want nothing to do with us. But we should be asking organizers why we are afterthoughts, and we need to call out those who snub us.
It is true we need diverse books. We need them now more than ever. And we need diverse book blogs. But we need diverse book panels, too, and I challenge everyone—organizers, readers, and fellow authors alike—to recognize when there is an opportunity to be more inclusive. We need to demand organizers invite more POC authors, more LGBTQIA authors, and more disabled authors to participate on panels and be keynote speakers. We should embrace and promote books by diverse authors. And we should be aware of cliquish tendencies, check them at the door, and make sure our actions match our words when we say we support diverse books and the authors who write them.