BookCon and We Need Diverse Books are teaming up in 2015 for two panels highlighting diversity in literature. The panels, organized by ReedPop, the producer of BookCon, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, will include prominent authors of color such as Jacqueline Woodson and Sherman Alexie. One of the panels will focus on children’s literature, while another will center on diversity in science fiction and fantasy.
The inaugural BookCon in 2014 drew fire for its overwhelming whiteness; the initial lineup was hammered for having more feline speakers (Grumpy Cat) than authors of color. Authors and activists began to respond on Twitter using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks, prompting BookCon to reach out to activists to create a panel on diversity in publishing for the 2014 convention.
In the months since BookCon 2014, the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has blossomed into a full-fledged nonprofit advocating for diversity in the publishing industry. In October, the group launched an Indiegogo campaign that nearly doubled its goal of raising $100,000 by Dec. 10. The proceeds will go toward efforts to promote equal representation in literature, such as providing books that reflect diversity to disadvantaged classrooms, supporting authors of color and establishing an internship program to help young people from diverse backgrounds who are interested in pursuing a career in publishing.
Meanwhile, diversity in the publishing industry has continued to generate controversy throughout the year, especially in recent weeks following racist comments made by Daniel Handler during the National Book Awards ceremony in November. Handler’s eventual apology included a pledge to donate to the We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign, and the incident rekindled the conversation about the literary field’s deeply rooted problems with race.
BookCon’s commitment to continue working with We Need Diverse Books is encouraging, and the expansion of their coverage into two panels on separate genres speaks to an awareness that diversity is not a discrete and monolithic issue but one that applies to every corner of literature.
It’s important, however, not to lose sight of what the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement was originally protesting -- the exclusion of non-white authors from non-diversity-focused panels at BookCon. In addition to continuing a much-needed discussion about diverse literature, events like BookCon should include authors of color in all of its conversations about the industry. We hope that as BookCon continues to announce panelists and featured speakers, authors from diverse backgrounds are not spotlighted only in discussions specifically about race and diversity, but in conversations about every aspect of the industry.