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In Hammer of Witches fourteen-year-old bookmaker’s apprentice Baltasar, pursued by a secret witch-hunting arm of the Inquisition, joins Columbus’s expedition to escape and discovers secrets about his own past that his family had tried to keep hidden. In this BookTalk, Shana Mlawski shares her views on Christopher Columbus, working with students and what she’d wish for if she had three wishes.
Hammer of Witches deals with some hard topics (rape, abandonment, war, and torture). What do you hope readers take away from Hammer of Witches?
Shana Mlawski: When I was first outlining Hammer of Witches, I knew I wanted it to be an epic adventure about sorcerers in 1492 Spain, and that’s what it is. I didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to write about rape and torture!” It was more like, “Okay, it’s going to be about this wisecracking kid and a girl genie and a dragon and a golem and…”
But history is history. I’m not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world’s largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It’s a complex, fascinating era, but it’s a tragic era, as well. Ultimately, though, Hammer of Witches is an optimistic book. It’s about that moment when you accept that the world is more complicated than you were led to believe, and it’s at that moment you can start trying to make a difference.
Do you feel like schools glorify Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World? Do you think schools need to paint a more accurate portrayal of his journey to students?
SM: The fact that we use the word “discovery” shows how skewed our view of the voyages can be. I prefer “contact” and “conquest,” words that remind us we’re talking about two groups: the European explorers and the Taíno living in the Caribbean at the time. If you ask me, the Taíno side of the story needs to get much more play in classrooms and in the media.
I’d also prefer if teachers stopped asking whether Columbus is a hero or a monster, as if those are the only two options. When we answer “hero,” we disappear the Taíno from history or write off their struggle as unimportant. To argue the “monster” side, we often pretend the Taíno were passive (if noble and pure) victims. The story is so much more complicated than that, and so much more interesting. History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.
Baltasar befriends a genie in Hammer of Witches, who, unfortunately, can’t grant wishes. If you met a genie who could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for and why?
SM: Oh, I’m not going to fall for this one. I’ve seen and read enough “Monkey’s Paw”-type stories to get involved with a genie. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a post-apocalyptic library with my glasses broken and no one left alive to fix them.
How has working directly with middle and high school students impacted the kind of stories you want to share with YA readers?
SM: My teaching experience has definitely sharpened my desire to tell stories about characters from different backgrounds. When I was a young nerd-in-training, most of the available fantasy books were about white, Christian kids in the U.S., Britain, or U.K.-inspired settings (the big exception being Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series). Although I’m white, those monochrome stories never reflected my experience as a child growing up in the New York Metro area. When I started teaching and tried to recommend books to my students, I saw how little things had changed. A black boy wanting to read about a kid who looked like him usually had to go for a “problem” book about drug use or gang violence, even if he wanted a sword-and-sorcery adventure. A girl looking for a Latina protagonist could find a book about the immigrant experience but not one about, say, sexy vampires. That’s why I’m not sucking up when I say I love that Lee & Low and Tu Books exist, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the gang.
Did you have a favorite hero or heroine in a fantasy/sci-fi novel that inspires your writing?
SM: I don’t actively model my characters on heroes or heroines from other books, but that doesn’t mean inspiration doesn’t slip in from time to time. It does, but I usually don’t notice until long after I’ve finished writing the story. This time around, it occurred to me that the relationship between Baltasar and Catalina has a lot in common with the Taran/Eilonwy relationship in Lloyd Alexander’sChronicles of Prydain (although Bal has some Fflewddur Fflam in him, too). In any event, I’m cool with the connection, because Hammer of Witches is meant to be a play on Prydain-like stories. It’s what happens when you take that old quest story, brush off the dust, and stick it in the real world in 1492.
Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. She graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and received a master’s in education from Columbia University Teachers College. Hammer of Witches is her first novel.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. A biography of the legendary Native American Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), voted the Greatest Football Player and Greatest Athlete of the Half-Century by two AP polls, focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
Synopsis: The biography of the legendary Native American, Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
From the day he was born, Jim Thorpe’s parents knew he was special. As the light shone on the road to the family’s cabin, his mother gave Jim another name — Wa-tho-huck — “Bright Path.”
Jim’s athletic skills were evident early on, as he played outdoors and hunted with his father and twin brother. When the boys were sent to Indian boarding school, Jim struggled in academics but excelled in sports. Jim moved from school to school over the years, overcoming family tragedies, until his athletic genius was recognized by Coach Pop Warner at the Carlisle Indian School.
Awards and Honors:
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Honor, National Council for Social Studies
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Teachers’ Choices, International Reading Association (IRA)
Best of the Best List, Chicago Public Library, Children & YA Services
Storytelling World Resource Award, Storytelling World magazine
Check out thisinterview with author, Joseph Bruchac, about Native American literature.
Resources for teaching with Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path:
Draw attention to the use of similes in the book. For example: Jim took to it all like a catfish takes to a creek. It made him (Jim) feel like a fox caught in an iron trap. Epidemics of influenza swept through like prairie fires. Have students try to write their own similes for other events or actions in the story.
Ask students to explore the National Track & Field Hall of Fame (www.usatf.org ) or the Pro Football Hall of Fame (www.profootballhof.com ) and plan an imaginary trip there or enjoy a visual visit on the Web.
Have you used Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path? Let us know!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
It’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.
At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.
Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.
What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?
Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.
Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.
Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.
What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?
LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.
JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.
How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?
LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.
JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.
What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?
LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.
JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.
How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?
LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.
JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.
Recently, we sent a number of LEE & LOW staff members from different departments to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.” The workshop, jointly taught by a white leader and a leader of color, was a three-day intensive that covered everything from a history of race and racism to the power dynamics at play today in various systems. Participants were encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and identities, as well as to listen deeply as others shared.
We decided to do this workshop because even with LEE & LOW’s focus on diverse books, we felt that our staff would benefit from specific training in anti-racism concepts. “Even though Lee & Low’s mission is to address the lack of representation of marginalized groups through publishing diverse books, the workshop hammers home how deep institutional racism goes,” said publisher Jason Low. “The intimate setting also makes issues of racism more personal. Instead of reading about racism in the paper or online you are hearing firsthand experiences, from a person sitting three feet from where you are sitting.”
The recent problems found in books like A Fine Dessert and The Hired Girl, along with long-standing problems in publishing in general, indicate that now more than ever, publishing staffs need diversity training. While the burden of mistakes can be placed on the author and illustrator, in truth publishers share an equal part of the responsibility in making sure that the books they produce are accurate and do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.
Racial insensitivity and stereotypes making it past the editorial process are expensive mistakes–in terms of both cost and impact–but they are avoidable. Below is our staff’s reaction to the workshop, plus a follow-up meeting we held in-house. Our plan is to hold monthly meetings on racism and diversity moving forward. (Note: Answers have been condensed and edited for length.)
1. What did you learn that you did not know before attending the workshop?
Stacy Whitman, Editorial: I didn’t know some of the history before. For example, I knew about indentured servitude (I actually had a couple ancestors who were indentured), but I didn’t realize the way that indentured labor and slavery were wedged against each other, and the way whiteness was created out of that time period. I had known that church had been used as a way to keep slaves in line, and I had known about slave rebellions, but hadn’t realized how those pieces fit together with indentured servitude and creation of a status of whiteness.
Jessica Echeverria, Editorial: One of the biggest takeaways was how the deeply-entrenched history of racism in this country is never really taught in school. This was clear from some of the participants’ reaction in learning that race was a social construct. I think back to my own education growing up in Florida, and the topics of race and racism were not examined until I was in college. And even then, they were courses I elected to take and not required for all students. So yes, racism stems from ignorance, but we should be aware that this ignorance was purposeful.
Hannah Ehrlich, Marketing: One of the main things that the workshop showed me was that having open conversations about race is just really, really hard – and rarely do we white people get it right the first time. While I had thought about white privilege before, I hadn’t really thought much about the internalized superiority that white people have absorbed over generations and generations. Because of that, even when we want to be allies, often racial conversations end up with us in a defensive stance, trying to define why we are “good” white people instead of accepting our own complicity in an unfair system and spending our time listening. Conversations that center whiteness are the default, and it takes a lot of hard work to move past that. It was moving to see this play out over the course of three days, and definitely made me more aware of how, as a white person invested in racial justice, I can be a better ally by letting go of the need to define myself as “not racist.”
Louise May, Editorial: There was a good presentation of theories on the origins of institutional racism. I had not before seen the information put together this way. It was quite impactful.
Jill Eisenberg, Literacy & Sales: The workshop and follow-up discussions with my colleagues have encouraged me to examine how adults present history and historical people/groups to children. Much of the workshop was spent exposing the historical narrative of America as racist and capitalistic. I was particularly disturbed about the lack of recognition and respect Native peoples had (and have). Our presenters showed us that this explicit invisibility is even written into our Constitution (Article 1, Section 2).
Rebecca Garcia, Marketing: The facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.
Veronica Schneider, Literacy & Sales: Being in literacy & sales and working at a diverse children’s publisher, I think I was aware of my role as a gatekeeper. Reflecting in the workshop, however, showed me just how strong of a gatekeeper position I maintain. I choose what kind of information reaches others-from educators to children-as I develop questions and activities for our teacher guides and carefully align Lee & Low books to schools’ curricula. Conversations with educators may begin with them sharing their needs in terms of thematic units or student reading levels, but then I take that information and decide which books would ultimately work best for various academic and social-emotional reasons. Diversity is certainly an issue that is close to our hearts here at Lee & Low, but how we approach and communicate this information to others is different based on your department and on an individual basis.
Additionally, the systemic nature of racism is a powerful concept that although I was aware of, is all the more apparent once analyzed in depth. Tracing the roots of racism to highlight the gaping holes in our knowledge in history was both eye opening and frustrating. Why aren’t we being taught this in schools? Why aren’t we openly having these discussions?
Keilin Huang, Marketing: The idea of being a “gatekeeper” really resonated with me. The LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300+ likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300+ people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.
2. How will you apply what you have learned from the workshop to your job at Lee & Low?
Stacy, Editorial: Editorially, I’m continuing to interrogate my biases and assumptions. Thinking about further ways I can include voices of color in the projects I work on, and continuing to seek out more authors of color. Thinking about how I contribute to systemic bias, and how I can counteract it.
Jessica, Editorial: Further inspired by the workshop, I plan to continue working on books that will hopefully fill in the gaps of what’s not being taught in school. I keep thinking about Texas and the new textbooks that have whitewashed parts of US history.
Hannah, Marketing: The workshop has definitely made me more aware of my own whiteness, and how that affects the dynamics among our staff, with our authors and illustrators, and with other people we work with. It has encouraged me to examine my own culture and the lens through which I see the world – what am I missing? What am I not getting? Because I work in marketing and publicity, a big part of my job involves communication, and it’s worth exploring how racial dynamics affect that communication. Are we using language that reinforces institutionalized racism? Am I being a good ally personally, and is Lee & Low being a good ally as a company? These are all things that are important for us to consider in our work.
Louise, Editorial: The workshop reinforced my commitment to the need to acquire diverse stories that accurately represent stories from an insider point of view.
Jill, Literacy Specialist: We at Lee & Low Books publish and offer many books by and about Native peoples. It is critical to show that Native peoples aren’t just “were,” but also “are.” Our students need to read stories about and by Native peoples in recent times, not just suspended in a simplistic time capsule whether a folktale without additional background knowledge and proper context or a “by the way” side blurb in a history textbook. As I work closely with schools and organizations serving children, I want to make sure that the books we do have get in front of students before they internalize and perpetuate racist views on American history. These topics need to start early and often.
Veronica, Literacy & Sales: When speaking to schools, educators, teachers, nonprofits, and other organizations, we need to make sure to not only consider their requests and needs but to be clear/open about the different ways in which our titles can enrich + open their world. I need to keep stressing the importance of windows + mirrors concept in my work. This means showing non-diverse (mostly white) schools that diverse books have a place there, too.
Keilin, Marketing: One of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching thousands of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.
3. What do you hope to continue to learn about and explore in post-workshop meetings with fellow Lee & Low staff?
Stacy, Editorial: How to know what I don’t know, and how to share that knowledge with others in a way that they’ll listen. I guess this has been my quest, editorially, all along, but the process of the workshop in particular was interesting because while it was emotionally draining, everyone in the room was listening. Everyone was participating (even the slightly weird woman who wouldn’t shut up) and working through their resistance. There was a range of resistance, of course, but the process worked to get people talking and listening.
This applies to how marketing is already thinking about audience with social media and other sales channels—who we need to discuss the importance of diversity with before introducing our books.
Jessica, Editorial: I’m excited to see how our discussion will produce new and valuable content for our readers.
Hannah, Marketing: I look forward to talking more in the future with staff members about challenges we face in our respective departments. How does editorial handle a historical manuscript that uses language we deem problematic? How does sales handle administrators who don’t think their students would be interested in diverse books? Discussing these challenges as a company will help make us stronger and more aware of the issues that we face in our work, and it will allow us to develop company-wide policies to address difficult questions.
Louise, Editorial: It would be interesting to discuss what we can do to move ourselves further to toward being a “Fully Inclusive” institution.
Veronica, Literacy & Sales: Increase the sharing of articles and books about racism. Come up with ways to address problems that are occurring in the news/present day and how Lee & Low can be part of the solution.
Has your company undergone staff diversity training? If so, we’d love to hear about what worked and what didn’t in the comments section below.
By now it’s no secret that publishing suffers from a major lack of diversity problem. Thanks to years of research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, we have ample data to confirm what many readers have always suspected: the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.
Countless panels, articles, and even conferences have been dedicated to exploring the causes and effects of this lack of diversity. Yet one key piece of the puzzle remained a question mark: diversity among publishing staff. While the lack of diversity among publishing staff was often spoken about, there was very little hard data about who exactly works in publishing.
At the beginning of 2015 we decided to conduct a survey to establish a baseline that would measure the amount of diversity among publishing staff. We believed in the power of hard numbers to illuminate a problem that can otherwise be dismissed or swept under the rug. We felt that having hard numbers released publicly would help publishers take ownership of the problem and increase accountability. We also felt that a baseline was needed to measure whether or not initiatives to increase diversity among publishing staff were actually working.
Our Diversity Baseline Survey took a year to complete. The results include responses from 8 review journals and 34 publishers of all sizes from across North America. Here are the results:
Methodology and Response Rate
The Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) was sent to 1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed. The response rate was 25.8 percent. This is on par with the average for online surveys and actually a bit higher than the norm, given the sensitive nature of the questions.
In 2015, Publishers Weekly included some staff diversity questions in their annual Salary and Compensation Survey. They deployed their survey to 5,800 subscribers and had a response rate of 7.3 percent. Therefore, the DBS should yield a much more comprehensive picture of diversity in the publishing community.
The DBS was deployed directly from each publisher or review journal. A link was sent to all staff from a member of each publisher’s or reviewer journal’s human resources or executive team, often with an introduction explaining why the company was participating. Some companies even wanted to add additional questions to their surveys. The results provided here are only for questions that appeared in every survey.
The surveys were completely anonymous, and companies did not have direct access to the results. All data was analyzed and aggregated by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and Nicole Catlin of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, to ensure anonymity for individual employees.
Although our response rate was good, we still wonder: who didn’t take the survey, and how might that influence the results? With a survey of this kind, there is most likely some degree of selection bias. In other words, people who self-identify as diverse may have been more likely to take the survey. If that was the case, it would mean that our results portray publishing as more diverse than it actually is.
No voluntary survey can ever be 100 percent accurate, and no survey that asks questions about personal identity can ever be anything but voluntary. Even so, the results of the DBS offer a strong snapshot of the makeup of the publishing industry.
Notes and Analysis: What the Numbers Tell Us
According to the survey, just under 80 percent of publishing staff and review journal staff are white. The rest are comprised of Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (7.2 percent), Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans (5.5 percent), Black/African Americans (3.5 percent), and biracial/multiracial people (2.7 percent). Native Americans (0.5 percent), and Middle Easterners (0.8 percent) of publishing staff.
While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented. This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places.
Creating the list of ethnicities for a survey such as this was a real challenge. The racial breakdown we offered was based on the US census, with a few adjustments. For our first survey, we felt that this was the best way to break things down because it presented familiar categories that respondents had seen before.
But no list can accurately depict the complexity of this question. Within each category, there are so many different groups, and people self-identify in a wide variety of ways. The census groups White Americans, European Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans together. The census is not quite sure what to do with Latino and Hispanic people, who may or may not identify as white. And it certainly does not know how to handle the differences among Asians, Pacific Islanders, and South Asians.
We received more than 50 write-in comments for this question from people who did not feel that any of the options offered adequately represented them. Some identified as Jewish or European instead of white. Many specified that they were South Asian and didn’t feel that the overall Asian category was specific enough. And several simply called themselves “Human” and wondered why we cared so much about this. One block of data was compromised when the survey link was shared with outside spammers, which made a portion of the surveys ineligible for inclusion. These incidents and answers are all telling because they allude to the wide scope of attitudes toward this issue and how deeply the question of race resonates with people, in both positive and negative ways.
The survey reveals that publishing is about 78.2 percent women or cis-women and 20.6 percent men or cis-men. These numbers may help explain why some feel that children’s book publishing skews toward female readers. Among executive and board member positions this disparity evened out a bit, with approximately 40 percent of executives and board members identifying as men or cis-men. This reflects the reality that males still ascend to positions of power more often, even in female-dominated industries.
The gender question also reveals that about 98.7 percent of publishing staff identify as cis men or women. This means that they identify with the genders they were assigned at birth. How does this compare with the general population? We don’t really know. For many reasons, we don’t have a good count of the percentage of the general population that is transgender. That being said, the small number of transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and other gender-fluid people in publishing points to the need for publishers to make sure that books on these topics are being examined for cultural and scientific accuracy by experts before they are published.
According to the survey, about 88.2 percent of publishing staff identify as straight or heterosexual. This may be the category in which publishing is most on par with the general population, though we can’t know for sure.
Beyond the labels we offered, many respondents added their own labels that they felt better represented them. Quite a few identified as “queer.” Others wanted to know why we were asking for such personal information at all. Overall, this question got one of the lowest response rates of the survey, an indication, perhaps, that many people did not feel comfortable sharing this information. We decided to include this question because we wanted to acknowledge this aspect of diversity, and if we didn’t include it, this segment of the workforce would remain uncounted and invisible.
The survey reveals that about 7.6 percent of publishing staff identify as having a disability. We defined disability broadly in the survey, so this does not give us an indication of the types of disabilities that are represented.
One interesting result: when broken down by department, design had a significantly higher average rate of disability (18 percent), followed by book reviewers (12 percent). Perhaps this is because there are more freelance design and reviewer jobs that can be done from home even when mobility is limited. Providing opportunities to people with disabilities may be an underappreciated benefit of creating more freelance positions in publishing.
The DBS results offer the opportunity to filter responses by department, giving a better picture of how diversity breaks out throughout an organization. More than one hundred thirty people wrote in comments for this question, listing departments or sub-departments beyond those listed in the survey. Because the survey was administered to companies ranging from just a few employees to several hundred or more, some departments or roles were left out. The next version of the survey will have an expanded list that is more inclusive to account for some of the staff who had to write in departments this time around.
An interesting result was the high response rate from editorial staff, who made up nearly 20 percent of survey respondents. This compares to less than 10 percent of respondents from marketing/publicity and 13.5 percent from sales. Since these ratios do not seem to match the overall breakdown by departments in publishing, we wonder if staff in some departments, such as editorial, were more likely than others to respond. If so, why? Are editorial staffs more on board with diversity initiatives than staff in other departments?
Here are the numbers:
Board Members and Executive Positions
Without a doubt, board members and those in executive positions make up the highest level of decision makers on the corporate ladder. Board members and executive positions are: 86 percent white, 59 percent cis-women, 89 percent heterosexual, and 96 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Editorial is the next most important department when it comes to the in-house staff closest to generating actual books. Editorial staff is: 82 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 86 percent heterosexual, and 92 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Marketing and Publicity
These are the departments that promote the books. Staff members in marketing and publicity are: 77 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 87 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Members of the sales team are the ones out there pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to sell front list and back list titles. Sales people are: 83 percent white, 77 percent cis-women, 90 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Reviewers often have a direct influence on what readers buy. Reviewers are: 89 percent white, 87 percent cis-women, 91 percent heterosexual, and 88 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Does the lack of diverse books closely correlate to the lack of diverse staff? The percentages, while not exact, are proportional to how the majority of books look nowadays—predominately white. Cultural fit would seem to be relevant here. Or at least in publishing’s case, what is at work is the tendency—conscious or unconscious—for executives, editors, marketers, sales people, and reviewers to work with, develop, and recommend books by and about people who are like them.
So, we have our baseline numbers. What are the next moves? In future posts we will discuss initiatives already in place that will hopefully move the needle toward more diversity. We will also look at a similar publishing diversity survey that was conducted in 2014 in the United Kingdom. And we will be working on designing DBS version 2.0, which we hope will include the publishers who either didn’t hear about the survey or opted out the first time.
We also hope that the DBS will lead to more “Diversity 102” conversations about what publishers can do, including improving retention and staff training. How can company cultures be more welcoming for diverse staff? Do diverse staff members feel comfortable voicing their opinions? Are systems in place to make sure all staff are trained and well versed in diversity issues?
Publishing is not alone when it comes to having a lack of diversity problem. All media, including film, television, and theater, are having similar conversations about diversity. It is plain to see that our society as a whole has a problem. We believe we are at a crucial time right now. We all have to decide if the country in which we live is better off if we conduct our lives separately or together. The diversity problem is not the responsibility of diverse people to solve. It is a problem for everyone to solve. Now that the Diversity Baseline Survey is completed, the real work toward changing the status quo begins. It is not going to be easy. Knowing where we stand and establishing a baseline was the first step. Knowing the baseline numbers gives us a way to measure progress going forward, but only our actions can change things for the better.
Since its release, the Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) has become the most visited blog post we have ever produced. The DBS has been widely read and written about, and has opened up a renewed interest in how to improve staff diversity in the publishing industry. In our first piece, Behind the Scenes of Publishing’s First Diversity Baseline Survey, we covered the methodology and obstacles we faced conducting the survey. In this piece we will shed light on what happens next—and what’s already happening to improve the numbers.
We surveyed a handful of the publishers and reviewer journals that participated in the DBS and asked them what initiatives they are planning or already have in place to make diversity a priority in their organizations. Here are some of the responses we received back:
Kiera Parrott, Reviews Director, School Library Journal and Library Journal: Participating in the survey was the first concrete and actionable thing I could do to be part of the solution. Even though I had a fair guess on the demographic makeup of our reviewers (most of them were recruited from ALSC committees, and that group is rather homogenous), I wanted actual numbers. My hope was that the statistics would help me pinpoint exactly where we needed to grow and develop.
The next steps after the survey have been 1) intentionally recruiting more diverse reviewers, and 2) developing diversity/cultural literacy training for our existing reviewers. Sometime in mid-2016, I’m launching a special course just for SLJ reviewers on diversity and cultural literacy. We anticipate this course beginning sometime in late Spring/early Summer.
Editorial note: Kiera also gives a much more detailed report on her progress diversifying her reviewer pool in an interview she gave at the Reading While White blog.
Jason Low, Publisher, Lee & Low Books: While many are aware of our 25-year mission to publish award-winning diverse books, we currently have several other initiatives in place.
To start, since the DBS was all about staff diversity, Lee & Low can firmly state that we practice what we preach. Lee & Low hires diversely and as a result our staff is very diverse. Overall 69% of our staff identifies as people of color (PoC). Departmentally the company breaks down like this: editorial: 50% PoC; marketing/publicity: 75% PoC; sales: 50% PoC; Operations: 100% PoC. We have fluent Spanish speakers in editorial, marketing/publicity, and sales.
Staff Diversity Training: Last year we sent a number of LEE & LOW staff members from different departments to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. We decided to do this workshop because even with LEE & LOW’s focus on diverse books, we felt that our staff would benefit from specific training in anti-racism concepts.
Author Award Contests: We sponsor two author awards for unpublished writers of color. Our New Voices Award is in its 17th year. The New Voices Award has launched the careers of 14 authors of color (with the work of three more authors currently in development), and we have given honor awards to another 11 authors. In 2013, we launched the New Visions Award, an award for unpublished authors of color who write middle grade and young adult novels.
Diversity in Publishing Internship: To address the lack of opportunities for diverse staff in publishing, we converted our paid internship program to one that is for diverse candidates only. Our internship program is designed to give candidates the kind of publishing experience and exposure they would need to consider a career in publishing.
Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship: In partnership with the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, we have established a scholarship to increase diversity at the graduate school level. The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship provides opportunities for students of color to enroll in the most prestigious children’s literature graduate program in the United States.
Angus Killick, Vice President/Associate Publisher, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Monique Patterson, Editorial Director, Romance and Executive Editor, St. Martin’s Press: Macmillan established a Diversity & Inclusion Council this year aimed at promoting a broader representation of differences—gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, gender identity and expression, family status, economic background and status, geographical background, and perspective in the workforce and the books we produce. The Council steers Macmillan’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and 1) determines priorities for programs and activities aimed at enhancing diversity in our books and authors and in our recruitment and retention efforts; 2) oversees sub-committees established to focus on individual priorities; 3) measures the results of our initiatives; and 4) reports back to the larger organization.
We’ve formed a number of sub-committees and each is involved in projects. For example, the Outreach Committee is creating a Publishing Ambassador Kit, so any employee can visit a middle or high school and talk about careers in publishing—not just in editorial, but in marketing, production, finance, IT. The Recruiting and Retention committee worked with We Need Diverse Books to expand our Intern pool this past summer and has expanded recruiting efforts to schools outside the tri-state area. The Acquisition and Marketing Committee is developing strategies for editors and imprints to broaden submissions both from the one-on-one meetings of editors and agents and from outreach to organizations such as the Asian American Writers Workshop or historically black colleges and their writing programs. Also, our Council is looking into participating in events such as the Harlem Book Fair and the LGBTQ Graphic Novels event. We have also reached out to the AAP and Young to Publishing to find ways to expand on what already exists. Macmillan joined other publishers in September in a baseline survey on our workforce and added several questions of its own to measure awareness and attitudes about Diversity and Inclusion.
We are in the early stages of exploring what will increase and sustain diversity in our books, our readership, and our workforce. We have much to learn, but look forward to continuing our efforts.
Vicky Smith, Children’s & Teen Editor, Kirkus Reviews: I’m not sure you can call an intention an initiative, but we are working hard to describe race and ethnicity accurately when we see it in the books that we review, as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. We hope that by including that information in our reviews our readers will be able to make the most responsible purchasing decisions for their homes and libraries. I am also actively recruiting reviewers of diversity (for lack of a better term), who will provide a variety of lenses into the literature.
Paige Mcinerney, Vice President Human Resources, Penguin Random House: Our commitment to fostering diversity is reflected in our day-to-day workplace conduct, as well as by how we continue to find, develop, and publish a wide range of authors from many different cultural backgrounds, across all genres, for diverse audiences of readers everywhere.
At Penguin Random House, we have a robust, paid Internship Program. In recruitment for this program, we actively work with several diversity partners with whom we have longstanding and productive relationships. These include, among others, The Posse Foundation, Prep for Prep, and beginning in 2016, the United Negro College Fund in partnership with the Association of American Publishers. We work with these groups on all internship recruitment and also commit to filling a percentage of our internship openings with qualified candidates from these organizations.
Some of our divisions have employee groups that meet regularly to discuss how to maximize the potential of our diversity-related books, and how to make sure that their division is working toward as much inclusiveness as possible.
This spring, Penguin Young Readers is sponsoring (in a partnership with We Need Diverse Books) a writing contest that will award a publishing contract to a previously unpublished author who self-identifies as a person of color or non-Caucasian.
Karen Lotz, President and Publisher, Candlewick Press: As an independent publisher, we’ve always understood that it’s our authors and illustrators who set us apart. Our roster of creators includes new and established talents from all backgrounds who themselves are committed to ensuring that ALL readers will be able to see themselves and the people they love reflected in the pages of—and on the covers of—the books they read. On the corporate level, from the covers of the Candlewick advertising catalog to our featured titles at conventions and shows, we consistently and consciously make choices to feature characters from many different backgrounds; we choose to illustrate characters of different backgrounds not just in the ‘issues’ books but across the board, to better depict society as a whole. We hope this creates an open and inviting atmosphere where authors and artists from diverse populations will feel welcome to publish. We understand, furthermore, that the economic support and financial offers we make to artists and authors and the quality we invest in producing each and every title are important to attract all authors and artists, certainly including those from diverse backgrounds.
And finally, we are very proud of the recognition our books have come to receive from outside groups, including recent NAACP Image and Honor Awards; Stonewall Awards and Honors; Pura Belpré Awards and Honors; and Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors. We are particularly grateful this year to the Coretta Scott King Committee for their bestowal of the John Steptoe New Talent Award to Ekua Holmes for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, because at Candlewick we really work very hard to try to discover new talent and give brand-new creators of children’s books a graceful and rewarding entry into the world of children’s publishing.
This same commitment to creating a welcoming environment extends to our staffing. In recruiting, we make every effort to reach out to educational institutions and organizations whose goal is to cater to diverse populations. We have a special art resource coordinator on staff whose role is exclusively dedicated to seeking new talent from art schools and programs; she communicates wherever she goes that Candlewick welcomes artists from diverse backgrounds and with diverse interests. Throughout their careers, we support and encourage all of our staff to continue their participation in diversity studies, panels, and educational programs, including the CBC’s diversity program efforts and other local and national opportunities, including WNDB initiatives. We support our authors when they wish to do the same. We also work very closely with First Book and Jumpstart, as well as other literacy organizations whose goals include getting high-quality and appropriately representational books into the hands of all children—regardless of their families’ compositions, backgrounds, or economic situations.
Marina Tristán, Assistant Director, Arte Público Press: We obviously work to promote Latino books and authors, but we also try to promote books by other minority writers and publishers via our social media pages and in conversations with teachers and librarians.
In regard to hiring, we don’t honestly have any initiatives per se in place, but we do have a very diverse staff—mostly Latino/Hispanic—because we feel it’s important to employ a bilingual/bicultural staff.
Learning from the UK
There’s no way for us to predict how the United States publishing industry will tackle the diversity problem and how successful these initiatives will be. But looking at efforts similar to our own is a useful exercise. The DBS has precedence in a publishing diversity study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2014. The United Kingdom study had a scope larger than the DBS. In the UK they surveyed 66 publishing companies of all sizes, 49 literary agencies, and 536 authors. They spoke with authors, publishing professionals, and Human Resources heads. Earlier this year, we wrote about 6 key findings from that study. Recently we reached out to Danuta Kean, one of the planners of the survey, and asked her about the status of their research.
“After the United Kingdom Survey concluded the findings were launched at the London Book Fair with a major press conference that was attended by over 100 people,” Danuta said. “Coverage in the national and trade press was extensive. All the major publishers expressed shock, but feedback among BAME authors and staff was very good: the report was true to their experiences and there was relief that it was being addressed in a hard-hitting manner. It has put diversity on the agenda.
“Spread the Word [the organization which created the study] has now met with HarperCollins and Penguin Random House and is establishing schemes to improve the situation with them. HarperCollins is the best: John Athanasiou, its head of people, has been a driver for change and asked me to present to the main board. He has also established a company-wide diversity forum and had a conference for staff to address issues raised in the report. The diversity firm, Equip, ran a poorly attended workshop at which I spoke. The feedback and enthusiasm was good, but I question the drive to bring about lasting change.
“Goldsmiths University held a diversity in the media day at which I presented our findings. Discussions have been held at three literary festivals, on national and digital radio, and diversity hashtags have been promoted on Twitter—the latest is #diversitydecember. Spread the Word also hosted a training and awareness day for BAME people interested in publishing and writing. More initiatives and meetings are planned for next year, and we raising funding for follow-up research.”
While the time and the scope of the survey did not allow us to document all inclusion initiatives, we encourage publishers, reviewers, and others to add commentary to the comments section below. What is your company or organization doing to address this problem?
World Water Day is March 22nd. It’s an internationally recognized day to celebrate water and those who labor in water, started by the United Nations in 1992. The first World Water Day was celebrated in 1993.
Explore the importance of water with LEE & LOW’s Water Collection:
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life by Jan Reynolds – On the island of Bali in Southeast Asia, rice farmers follow the cycles of the water and the soil in order to plant rice.
Giving Thanks, written by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Eric Printup – For as long as anyone can remember, Mohawk parents have taught their children to start each day by giving thanks to Mother Earth. The Thanksgiving Address has been adapted for children by Chief Jake Swamp.
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol, written by Alejandro Martinez and illustrated by Fernando Olivera – In this Zapotec legend, Lucia Zenteno walks into a village in Central Mexico. Some of the villagers say that her long, dark hair blocks out the sun; others say that it outshines the sun. The frightened villagers banish Lucia and the river goes with her.
The Mangrove Tree, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth – People in the small village of Hargigo in Eritrea were unable to grow enough food for themselves and their animals. With the help of Dr. Gordan Sato, a scientist, they plant mangrove trees and transform their impoverished village into a self-sufficient one.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people after they’ve witnessed a shocking or traumatic event. People experience shock after traumatic events, but those who don’t recover from the initial shock are more likely to develop PTSD. After a distressing or upsetting event, it’s important to seek support.
While literature cannot take the place of a support group or therapy, it can help us process grief and trauma. Teens are not immune to PTSD, and several YA novels explore this disorder in different ways: through fantasy, dystopia, or realistic fiction. Some are from the perspective of the person suffering, while others explore what it’s like to be a family member or friend.
Here is a list of four young adult books that deal with PTSD:
Trail of the Deadby Joseph Bruchac – In the follow-up to Killer of Enemies, Apache teenager Lozen protects her family and friends as they travel in search of refuge in a post-apocalyptic world. Though Lozen has only taken the lives of others to protect herself and her family, the killings take a toll on her spirit and Lozen finds herself with what her people call “enemy sickness,” another name for PTSD. With the support of her friends and family, she is healed in a ceremony that reflects the traditional healing of her Apache ancestors.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Hayley Kincaid and her father have moved around a lot in the past five years due to his job working on the road. They return to his hometown so that Hayley can have a shot at a normal life. However, after her father’s tours in Iraq, he developed PTSD. Hayley isn’t sure if being in her father’s hometown will help with his PTSD, or push him over the edge.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce – Evvy and
Rosethorn are sent to the island of Starns to help residents with a dormant volcano. While there, Evvy has flashes of a war from which she recently escaped.
Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers – After his dreams of attending college fall through, Perry, a teenager from Harlem, decides to volunteer for the service and joins the Vietnam War. Perry and his platoon are sent to the front lines and come face-to-face with the horrors of war. Perry begins to questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments and why the U.S. is in Vietnam at all.
This year’s Tony Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, June 12, 2016. We posted our first infographic and study on the Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards in 2013. In 2014, we did a brief follow-up post. In 2015-2016, there was such a pronounced uptick of diverse productions on Broadway that we felt it was worth updating our infographic and taking another look at diversity in the theater industry.
This year, Broadway megahit Hamilton—which almost exclusively stars actors of color—broke Tony records with a whopping 16 nominations. Add to that nominations for The Color Purple, Eclipsed, and Shuffle Along, and we’re in a year where conceivably all the main acting Tonys could go to people of color. But is this year’s diversity a sign of lasting change, or an anomaly? To find out, we touched base again with award-winning writer, actor, and director Christine Toy Johnson to get her take on the current state of diversity in theater. Welcome, Christine!
With the critical and commercial success of Hamilton, do you feel that this play will have a “rising tide lifts all boats” effect on theater and will result in more opportunities for diverse actors and actresses?
Of course that’s the great hope. The thought that has been repeated and repeated year after year—that audiences will not buy tickets to see a show in which the lead storytellers are not household names or who are people of color, or that audiences won’t buy tickets to see a show that is about people of a cultural background other than their own—is now irrelevant. Try to buy a ticket to Hamilton.
Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of our challenges, by a long shot. I think that we, as a nation, are at this profound crossroads of sorts. On one hand our society has become more inclusive than ever in our laws and policies. On the other hand, it has become more divisive than ever with fear based hate rhetoric making it clear that many view inclusion as a threat to the status quo, instead of an opportunity to expand and enrich the status quo. Even in the most subtle and subconscious ways, I think that this trickles down into every corner of our lives, including how we make art, how it’s perceived, and how it’s produced. I think we should celebrate this season with a cautious optimism, and use it as inspiration to keep working toward raising that tide and lifting those boats!
Here’s a link to a piece I wrote about Hamilton that expands on some of my thoughts on the show’s impact.
While years of vigilance and activism has been a contributing factor in more diverse casting, what has been your take on why so many productions in 2016 were diverse?
I think it’s been the perfect storm of programming and casting that happened to converge this season. From most reports, next season does not look nearly as diverse. So though I’d love to think this season is so diverse because the tide has changed for good, I think it’s diverse because the tide has turned for some creative teams and/or this is the year they’re getting their shot and we’re lucky enough to see the fruits of their labor right now.
Obviously, diverse decision makers are key to hiring and casting more diverse casts. Has there been an increase in diversity among directors, playwrights, and producers in theater? Are there new creators breaking into Broadway who we should be aware of?
It pains me that some people have assumed that the lack of diversity and inclusion on Broadway is due to the lack of directors, playwrights, and actors of color, or to the lack of female directors, playwrights, and actors. We exist! But the truth is, it has not been an even playing field. Of course this is multi-layered, as is every other issue we’re discussing here. Taking a chance on someone who hasn’t had an opportunity to have a big commercial success yet is of course full of great financial risk. But I think this becomes a vicious circle. How do you get the opportunity to have a commercial success if you aren’t allowed the opportunity in the first place?
I also think that on a deeper level we are running up against a problem of narrowed perceptions, which lead to what certain producers expect writers of color to be writing about. And if we don’t fit their expectation or profile for us then we’re just not part of their equation. And while there might be a half dozen (or more) shows per season that fail that are written by/directed by/starring all Caucasian teams, there is never an assumption that the reason they failed was because there was a Caucasian team behind it or a Caucasian story line. But if the numbers are poor for a show featuring a non-Caucasian cast/writer/director, many will be quick to make an assumption that these kinds of stories/writers/directors/actors just don’t sell tickets and aren’t worth the risk.
There are so many writers of color who deserve to break through in a bigger way than they already have: Timothy Huang, Adam Gwon, Nikkole Salter, Leah Nanako Winkler, Jason Ma, Lloyd Suh, to name just a few. As for Asian American producers, I know there are several who are doing great stuff on Broadway, especially Lily Fan and Jhett Tolentino.
Following Hollywood’s #Oscarssowhite controversy, do you know if there are any efforts underway to recruit more people of color to join the various organizations that are eligible to vote on Tony Award nominees? (Note: this year, according to our research, the Tony Awards Nominating Committee was 86% white and 70% male).
Tony voters are largely made up of the elected leaderships of various arms of the industry (i.e. Dramatist Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, SDC, etc., as well as many producers and presenters) and I do believe that there is an ongoing effort to diversify those memberships. But it goes beyond that, since we are talking about the Tony nominators and voters coming from within those ranks. In other words, yes, it’s great to increase the diversity of these memberships, but it’s not a simple solution to increasing the make up of Tony voters or Tony nominators.
More diverse casting and storylines will result in more diverse theater audiences. Seems to us this is an opportunity for the theater industry to grow. Do the powers that be really get it or is 2016 an anomaly when it comes to the spike in diverse productions?
We have been having this same discussion for more than a decade, citing the same philosophies and reasoning. I can only hope that the numbers this year help to reinforce the idea. Time will tell.
CHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, director, and advocate for inclusion. Member: Dramatists Guild Council, Actors’ Equity Association Council (and national chair of the union’s EEOC), Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project (founder), Executive Board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, founding steering committee member of AAPAC. She is also an alumna of the BMI Workshop and a member of ASCAP, AEA, and SAG-AFTRA.
A new year means a new chance to get to all the things you didn’t get to last year. And by “things,” what we really mean is BOOKS. We also know that reading diversely doesn’t happen by accident; it takes a concerted effort to read a wide range of books.
So, we thought we’d help on both counts by offering up a list of the diverse authors we’re resolving to read in 2015. Some are new, and some have just been on our list for years. This is the year we plan to get to them – perhaps this will be your year, too?
Ink and Ashes is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner! This debut novel follows a Japanese American teen named Claire Takata. After finding a letter from her deceased father, she opens a door to the past that she should have left closed.
Everyone’s talking about Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse about her childhood in the American South and in Brooklyn that recently won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. But have you read it yet?
Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel follows Oscar, an overweight, ghetto Dominican American nerd as he dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkein. This book is filled with Dominican history, magical realism, science-fiction and comic book references.
In this debut novel, Kristen, has a seemingly ideal life. She’s just been voted homecoming queen and is a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college. Everything unravels when Kristen and her boyfriend decide to take it to the next level, and Kristen finds out she’s intersex. Somehow her secret is leaked to the whole school.
This novel covers the Parsley Massacre of 1937 in Dominican Republic. Anabelle Desir and her lover Sebastien, decide they will get married at the end of the cane season and return to Haiti. When the Generalissimo Trujillo calls for an ethnic cleansing of the country’s Haitians, Anabelle and Sebastien struggle to survive.
Lewis “Shoe” Blake, a boy growing in the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in upsate New York in 1975, isn’t used to white people like George Haddonfield being nice to him. Lewis is also the target of the bully Eddie Reininger. Will George still be Lewis’s friend when he finds out the truth of how Lewis actually lives?
Masako Katori lives with her dead-beat husband in the suburbs of Tokyo, where she makes boxed lunches in a factory. After violently strangling her husband, she uses the help of coworkers to cover her crime.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is set in a fantasy Asian-inspired world, inspired an anime of the same name. Balsa is a body guard who is hired by Prince Chagum’s mother to protect him from his father, the emperor, who wants him dead. A strange spirit possesses Prince Chagum that may be a threat to the kingdom.
American-born Sunny is an albino girl living in Nigeria. Although she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, Sunny discovers her latent magical abilities and joins 3 other students to learn how to control her powers. Sunny and her friends have to capture a career criminal who uses magic as well.
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents say that they will let her wear her hair how she wants, choose what she will study and be when she grows up, but they will choose her husband. When Naila breaks this rule by falling in love with a boy named Saif, her parents take her to Pakistan to reconnect her with her roots. But Naila’s parents’ plans have changed, and they’ve arranged a marriage for her.
Everyone thinks George is a boy, but George knows that she’s a girl. After her teacher announces that the class play is Charlotte’s Web, George hatches a plan with her best Kelly, so that everyone can know who she is once and for all.
Fortunately there are awards and grants out there help writers of color achieve their publication dreams.
We’ve created a list of awards and grants to help you get started!
New Voices Award – Established in 2000, is for the unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript.
New Visions Award – Modeled after LEE & LOW’s New Voices Award, this award is for Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Mystery middle grade or YA novels.
SCBWI Emerging Voices Grant – This award is given to two unpublished writers or illustrators from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children.
SLF Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds Grants – These grants are new works and works in progress. The Diverse Writers Grant focuses on writers from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds, and the Diverse Worlds Grant is for stories that best present a diverse world, regardless of the author’s background.
Those who worked in Silicon Valley knew the industry had a diversity problem. But exactly how big the problem was, was anyone’s guess. That’s when Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, stepped up and asked a key question: Where are the numbers? She argued that in an industry obsessed with analytics and data, there was no baseline for evaluating the diversity problem and thus no way to track improvement. She wanted to know how many women were working at tech companies, especially in engineering. And she offered Pinterest’s numbers to start.
Then something revolutionary happened—more tech companies came on board and offered their numbers. Soon it wasn’t just small and mid-size companies, it was Apple, Google, and Facebook. In all, more than two hundred tech companies of all sizes have now publicly released statistics about diversity among staff—a bold display of transparency. In response, several companies have stepped forward with solutions, Google has offered to pay for 1,000 women to take coding classes, and Intel has committed $300 million to diversifying its workforce in three to five years. While Silicon Valley has many of the same diversity problems as everyone else, it is addressing the problem in very real and practical ways from which other industries (like publishing) can learn a lot. We spoke to three tech industry professionals and a diversity expert for their thoughts:
Kimberly Bryant is Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color (ages 7–17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts.
Rosalind Hudnell, Vice President Human Resources, Chief Diversity Officer, Intel Corporation, was recognized in Black Enterprise magazine’s 2011 list of “Top Executives in Diversity.” This recognition places Rosalind in an elite group of diversity officers and vice presidents that are considered to be the nation’s highest-ranking and most influential executives leading corporate diversity initiatives.
Leah Smiley is President and Founder of The Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. With 15 years of corporate human resources experiences and more than 10 years of experience in diversity, Smiley has served over 400 members and thousands of non-members through the Society for Diversity since 2009. She also has extensive training and consulting experience in every sector, allowing her to obtain publicity in traditional, and social, media outlets throughout the world.
Tracy Chou is a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, currently on the monetization team; she was previously at Quora, also as an early engineer there. With initiatives in the workplace and the community, Tracy works actively to promote diversity in the tech industry and has pushed for greater transparency and discussion on the topic with a Github project crowdsourcing data on women in software engineering. She was named Forbes Tech 30 under 30 in 2014 and recently profiled in Vogue for her work.
THE PIPELINE SOLUTION
Jason Low: Let’s start with Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls CODE. Kimberly, why don’t more parents and teachers encourage girls to pursue and excel in STEM subjects and careers? Where does this gender bias come from and why does it persist?
Kimberly Bryant: There are many issues why parents of students from underrepresented communities don’t encourage their girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers. Some of the reasons are culturally based and rooted in the perception of the industry as a male dominated and female “unfriendly” field. These parents are more apt to direct their girls into career fields that are perceived as safer or more welcoming to women (such as medicine, healthcare, teaching, etc). So the stereotypes influence parental guidance. These communities of parents are also unaware of the opportunities, which exist in a more broader section of STEM fields. In this case the lack of exposure to STEM careers is a large driver in parents lack of focus on these opportunities for their girls.
In terms of educators the issues seem to be a bit different. There is still quite a bit of implicit bias exhibited by educators throughout the K–12 pipeline and beyond which reveals itself in some educators becoming the defacto “gate keepers” to a career path in tech for girls. These educators whether willingly or unwillingly carry perceived biases into the classroom which manifest in both explicit and implicit messages which tell female students that they are not equipped to pursue more rigorous STEM study. We’ve heard many cases where girls are discouraged from pursuing classes in technology and science and instead steered into a less rigorous curriculum path. This gender bias is present throughout our society so it also reveals itself in this way in the classroom. There is a perception that one is “born” with talent innately to pursue rigorous study in the field rather than fluidity in STEM subject matter being a learned skill.
JL: I noticed that there is a NY chapter of Black Girls CODE. I read that BGC has worked with 3,000 girls so far and has a goal of working with a million girls. In order to make a dent in the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in technology will it be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in every major city? What will it take to replicate the Black Girls CODE model across the country?
KB: We do believe it will be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in multiple cities across the US in order to reach our goal of teaching one million girls of color to code by 2040. In fact we try to model our organization as the “girl scouts of technology” with this very idea in mind—our organization must become widely available and synonymous with girls of color in tech in urban, rural, and suburban communities across the nation in order to reach this goal. It’s a daunting task to say the least but definitely achievable as we continue to seek support for our growing list of chapter across the country and internationally as well. It will take many additional partners stepping up to support this work across multiple sectors including philanthropic entities, government, and corporate partners to make this reach possible. Yet even if we reach this goal we will only reach a fraction of the girls from underrepresented communities that will compose our population demographics by the year 2040, which highlights the fact that this is not a problem that one organization alone can solve. We stress the need for coding to be taught in all schools in addition to the work that organizations such as Black Girls CODE is doing in the non-profit sector.
JL: There have been a number of recent articles that show that 41% of women leave technology mid career as opposed to 17% of men. This is an equally troubling trend given that organizations like yours are working so hard to make qualified women available for the industry to hire. What are some basic solutions to retain the future pipeline of women coming into the industry?
KB: When we look at the issue of diversity in tech today the issue is often described as a “pipeline” problem. In most cases when this terminology is used it directs the focus to the K–12 sector as representing the tech pipeline. I believe this is an incorrect description of the tech pipeline. If we describe the tech pipeline as more circular and encompassing in this analogy it would incorporate the K–12 segment, post-graduate students, and career women in technology. In this description of a much broader pipeline I believe it becomes very clear that we have leaks in every conceivable segment of this pipeline. With attrition rates for both women and minorities at such high levels it really is indicative of a much more endemic issue in tech culture and structure than simply an early pipeline issue. So although the work of orgs such as Black Girls CODE can go far in terms of front-loading the pipeline, we are preparing these students to go on to careers in technology. If the companies that meet them when they begin their careers are not culturally sensitive to valuing and supporting the career growth and needs for a diverse pool of employees then we will continue to see the high attrition numbers described above. There is a need for some serious analysis and transformation of corporate culture to create more nurturing environments for women and people of color if we truly want to see the diversity numbers improve. One key facet of this transformation specifically is to see broader representation of women and minorities across all levels of the corporation (from the board room to entry level) and then a transformation in corporate culture to a more diverse and culturally sensitive environment.
THE DIVERSITY INVESTMENT
JL: Next up is Rosalind Hudnell. Rosalind, for many years, technology leaders would always state that the industry was a true meritocracy and that the applicants of color and women candidates were simply not out there to hire. Being that Intel is now leading the charge to diversify its workforce, what kinds of programs, partnerships, and/scholarships will Intel be investing in to develop future diverse applicants who will be interviewing for jobs in technology in 3-5 years?
Rosalind Hudnell: Intel has a long-standing history of diversity and full inclusion work and we’ve learned a great deal over the last decade. We intend to apply these learnings in a more intentional way to achieve our diversity goals in hiring, but also in retaining and growing our people, especially women and under-represented program. Research shows that there is a significant dropout between year 1 and year 2 of engineering programs. When we learned this, we launched our Stay With It engineering program. We believe that we can shift students to staying with these careers if we share more of why these careers matter and make a difference while also providing an environment that inspires and gives practical hands on experience with role models and mentors. People connect with what they see and believe for themselves.
JL: $300 million is a substantial investment on Intel’s part toward diversity. What are the advantages of having a more diverse workforce? How will having more equal representation in Intel’s ranks result in better products and a more successful company?
RH: The business case for diversity and inclusion has been widely researched and proven. We believe that full inclusion, without artificial barriers or bias, is critical to Intel’s long-term business success and essential to achieving our vision of creating the world’s best smart and connected technology. Doing so will help us better reflect our customers, consumers and global marketplace. Creating an inclusive culture that consistently leverages the full range of all our employees’ perspectives and capabilities is critical to innovation and achieving our business objectives.
CONFRONTING THE LACK OF DIVERSITY
JL: Now some questions for Leah Smiley. Leah, past and current diversity efforts have mostly been driven by people of color and have largely excluded white people. Last year, you wrote some observations/advice regarding Google’s diversity efforts. “Make current staff part of the solution” was one of your tips. Please expound upon this for us.
Leah Smiley: It’s important to include current staff when transforming the cultural fabric of an organization. But I admonish you to proceed with caution because the knee-jerk reaction can be worse than inaction.
Often times, an organization will gather all of the diverse people and take a lot of pictures for marketing purposes, or they will promote a person from an under-represented group to the role of Chief Diversity Officer. These are examples of knee-jerk reactions—and should be avoided at all costs.
A better approach would be to: (1) clearly define the purpose of the diversity officer role (i.e., how does it correspond to organizational goals); (2) seek to fill the position with smart people who have the skills to accomplish intended results—regardless of race/gender/etc.; (3) create high-profile and high-potential diversity councils or employee resource groups to support the diversity officer role.
Diversity discussions must be led by all people and they can’t exclude divergent thoughts or beliefs. Education and training can always supplement any person who fulfills the role, but there is no substitute for credibility. Placing smart people in the Chief Diversity Officer role (regardless of their differences or similarities) allows the organization to effect genuine change without sacrificing professional integrity.
JL: Addressing inequality issues is often times referred to as necessary but “messy work”. What are some of the most ideal factors that can make diversity work (a) successful (b) sustainable, and (c) lasting?
LS: I once presented an employee benefits presentation where I was tasked with delivering the bad news: your benefits are changing, your cost are going up and you’re not getting a raise. I did so many of these talks in the past that I could deliver a great message with my eyes closed. But one tech group didn’t receive my message too well. Although they were highly compensated, in comparison to every other meeting I facilitated, these employees went bananas! I didn’t know where I went wrong. When I talked to my boss afterwards, he schooled me about ignoring the elephant in the room. The bigger issue was that the company was in financial trouble, and the benefits were just one of many that had recently changed for the worse. In my arrogance, I proceeded with a “business as usual” attitude, and things went very wrong quickly.
In the same way, addressing “inequality” can be messy if you are not dealing with the bigger issues, which may include, but are not limited to:
(1) Perceptions of management (i.e., Is management too lax? Is the management team akin to the “good ‘ole boys club”?)
(2) Communication (i.e., Was this person hired because he is black or because he is the best qualified for the job? Why was the Office of Diversity created in the first place?)
(3) Informal rules (i.e., Is hiring based on “who you know” or is there a formal process? Is discipline informal or are there written policies?)
DIVERSITY ACTIVISM MEANS EVERYONE
JL: The last question is for Tracy Chou. Tracy, your initiative to create a gender baseline for the Silicon Valley’s workforce was an important first step toward improving representation. One question: Pinterest’s diversity numbers among tech workers has grown from 13% to 20%. This news, along with Intel’s recent announcement of committing $300 million dollars toward diversifying their workforce is great news for diversity. What do you think the future looks like for addressing this issue and are you encouraged?
Tracy Chou: The first part of addressing this issue, which is already underway, is heightened awareness and sensitivity to it. We still have a long way to go on this front, though. In the immediate future, we’re still working towards broad-based awareness, a more nuanced understanding of pipeline and retention issues, cutting across gender, race, and other lines, to drive a deep commitment to change. It’s not enough for PR to pay lip service to change and throw some money around. It’s everyone’s job to care and to ensure that change is effected at all levels. To that end, the next part of addressing this issue is an orientation towards outcomes; we need to try different approaches, learn which ones work and which ones doesn’t, and iterate. This will all go much faster if we are honest with each other and willing to work together. In the same way that publishing statistics on current demographics has been critical to establish a broad baseline and thus our starting point, continued transparency on the various strategies and tactics being deployed, and their efficacy, is important for us as an industry to figure out the right direction to go and how to accelerate our movement in that direction.
I’m generally very encouraged by the heightened discourse on diversity issues in the past year; it’s starting to reach prominence even in mainstream media. I see momentum and I am hopeful we can capitalize on it.
Special thanks to all who contributed. More to come.
March is Women’s History Month! It’s never a bad time to learn about the contributions that women have made and continue to make. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a list that features some of our favorite historical ladies and great fiction for children and older readers!
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone – this award-winning book follows the life of Melba Liston, a trailblazing trombonist, composer and arranger and one of the unsung heroes of the Jazz age.
The Legend of Freedom Hill – Rosabel, who is African American, and Sophie, who is Jewish, become friends. When Rosabel’s mother, a runaway slave gets captured by a slave catcher, Rosabel and Sophie put their heads together to free her.
Cat Girl’s Day Off – Natalie must use her Talent talking to cats to stop a high profile celebrity kidnapping.
Rattlesnake Mesa – After EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live with her father on a Navajo reservation, and then to an Indian boarding school.
Ink and Ashes – Claire opens the door to her deceased father’s path and finds a family secret that could kill her.
Killer of Enemies – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities, magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family.
Rose Eagle – In this prequel to Killer of Enemies, we join Rose Eagle as she goes on a quest to find healing for her people.
Tofu Quilt – Yeung Ying, a young girl who grows up in 1960s Hong Kong, aspires to become a writer, against the conventions of society and family members.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that over the past few years we’ve released a series of infographics about the diversity gap in different industries including publishing, film, television, theater, and politics. Our infographic studies were designed to give people who were unfamiliar with issues of race and gender a sense of how deep the diversity problem goes in the United States and how entrenched these issues are in every facet of media. Our latest infographic, The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley, is our first study that reports on a bigger question: What comes after the numbers are established? Once we acknowledge the diversity gap, what can we do to close it?
The tech industry presents a unique model for this. After Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou asked, “Where are our numbers?” hundreds of companies, both large and small, chose to release the diversity statistics of their staffs in a transparent way. Although the numbers showed a lack of diversity, after they were revealed there was a flurry of activity across the industry to address the problem. We were encouraged to see the brightest and the best minds in technology confronting a decades-old problem with pragmatism, budgets, and goals.
Given this, we were inspired to create our own baseline survey in the hopes that it could serve as a catalyst for the same kind of movement within the publishing industry. The Diversity Baseline Survey we’ve proposed would be the first of its kind for US publishers. It involves creating statistics that do not yet exist by measuring staff diversity among publishers and review journals in four areas: gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability.
There is precedence for a survey like this, not only from the tech industry, but also from the publishing industry in the United Kingdom. Both industries ran surveys as recently as 2014. Even large publishing houses, such as Hachette UK, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House UK, were among the publishers who participated in the British survey. Hopefully, this is a good sign that these companies might extend their participation to the US version of the survey.
In the past, publishers have usually put the responsibility on readers for the lack of diverse representation in books. The extremely dated adage that “diverse books do not sell” has become a belief that has reached mythical proportions. While it’s important for readers to support diverse books with their dollars and voices, it’s equally important for publishers to self-reflect on how they can do better on their end. We must acknowledge that one factor contributing to the lack of diverse books is the lack of diversity among the people who edit, market, review, and sell the books. Surveying our staffs and reporting on our findings would give us a starting point, not to point fingers or assign blame (especially since most media industries face similar problems) but to bring clarity to the problem so we can understand it better, attempt to correct it, and measure whether or not we are improving.
Publishers, the onus is on us to move forward. Many publishers have said that they support We Need Diverse Books and the movement for more diverse books, but words are not the same as action. If we are serious about increasing the number and quality of diverse books, it is essential for us to be transparent about our own challenges. By surveying our staffs and sharing our numbers, we can work together to put in place sustainable programs that will increase diversity among publishing staffs in the long-term.
Here are some ways you can help:
Sign the petition. We consider transparency in the publishing industry both a social and economic justice cause. If you agree, stand up and be counted. Your name in support of this effort will be used to convince publishers to join this effort.
Place a comment in the comment field of School Library Journal’s article about the survey. Public commentary about this issue from educators, librarians, reviewers, editors, authors, and illustrators helps put a face to this problem. Many of the gatekeepers/decision makers do not understand the problem, but words can make a difference and change people’s minds.
Ask your publishers to sign on. If you are an author or illustrator, contact your editors and other publishing contacts and encourage them to participate in the survey. Your voice in support of this effort can make a difference.
Subscribe to Lee & Low’s blog or social media channels. Understanding the issues is important, but the complexity surrounding issues of race and gender can be daunting. We discuss these issues on a daily basis. Learn through reading and engagement in a safe place to ask questions and stay current on the issues.
I haven’t read a historical romance featuring Native American protagonists in a long time, so I snapped this up from the library. When I was younger, I used to eat these up. Ride the Wind, Nakoa’s Woman, Only Earth and Sky Last Forever – if it featured Native Americans, it ended up on my wish list. There were so many of them published in the 80s and 90s, and then – nothing! Regencies took over, I read more fantasy and comic books, and that was the end of that reading phase of my life.
I enjoyed Running Wolf, but I did have some problems with it, mainly due to the power disparity between Running Wolf and Snow Raven. After she is captured in a raid, she is taken to Running Wolf’s village. As his captive and a hated Crow, his Sioux clan does not treat her well. She is beaten and stripped naked, and after Running Wolf gives her to his mother, Ebbing Water, she is ill-treated and only given food and a blanket because of Running Wolf’s intervention. His mother hates Snow Raven because she is a Crow, and a Crow warrior killed her husband. She is instantly suspicious of her son’s motives. Why has he brought this captive to their village? While he claims that he captured Snow Raven so she would have a servant to make her life easier after he moves into his own tepee, even Running Wolf knows that he’s not being honest with himself.
Snow Raven is fierce and independent, and when she’s taken captive, she thinks about taking her own life. She doesn’t want to die, however, and she thinks that her father, Chief Six Elks, will eventually rescue her. Then she realizes what an impossible task that will be for her people. All of their horses were stolen by the Sioux, winter will soon settle over the Plains, and preparations need to be taken for the winter. How will they even hunt without their horses? This does pose an almost insurmountable challenge for her village, because they depend so heavily on the horse to help with hunting, protection, and moving the village as the weather changes.
Once she’s given to Ebbing Water, she understands the position she’s in. Snow Raven has to work for everything, and still she’s given only meager servings of food and nothing to clothe herself with. She didn’t expect to be treated well, and her own people probably would have killed a captive Sioux, but she’s not willing to just give up. After her mother died, Snow Raven began to pursue tasks typically undertaken by boys. Though her father didn’t encourage her, she was taught to hunt, ride, and shoot a bow like a man. These skills are put to good use, as she is able to trap small game, and because of Running Wolf, she is allowed to keep the hides.
I liked Snow Raven, because she is tough and determined to survive. She’s also capable and brave. Running Wolf, on the other hand, I had a harder time with. He is a war chief, and he believes that his duty to his people trumps everything else. These feelings for this Crow captive? They are fleeting and a test of his ability to be a future leader. As a war chief, he’s not supposed to be selfish and keep things for himself. Whenever he thinks of Snow Raven, he becomes jealous and possessive. He only gives her to his mother because it would be unseemly for him to keep her for himself. So, instead of just keeping her, and keeping her safe, he puts Snow Raven in so many needlessly dangerous situations. His mother hates her because she is Crow, and she would be more than happy to cut her throat. Many of his tribesmen are accusing Snow Raven of being a witch and casting a spell over him, and his erratic behavior towards her doesn’t help matters. I thought he was the exact opposite of what he wanted to be: by pretending that Snow Raven didn’t mean anything to him, he came across as selfish and unfeeling to me. While I’m sure he pacified some of his people, he alienated me, the reader, and I just wanted Snow Raven to steal a horse and run far, far away.
My opinion of him improved later in the book, but if I hadn’t liked Snow Raven so much, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Running Wolf. It’s grimmer and a little grittier than I was expecting, and I didn’t find it particularly romantic. I did find it engrossing and hard to put down, but if you are looking for sunshine and rainbows, I don’t think you are going to find it here.
Review copy obtained from my local library
Running Wolf is a valiant Sioux warrior. During his first raid as war chief, he captures a surprising Crow enemy—a woman! This spirited fighter is unlike any he’s ever met. Her beauty and audacity are entrancing, but threaten his iron resolve…
Snow Raven must focus on freeing herself, not on the man who keeps her captive. But as she falls deeper under Running Wolf’s spell, she realizes he is her warrior—and she’ll risk everything for him!
This year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.
In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for aspiring writers. This month, we’re talking about what “voice” means to an author.
When discussing the various elements of writing craft, “voice” seems to be the most difficult to pin down. You can’t plot it on a chart or even clearly define what the word means, and yet it is one of the most important elements of a story. Editors (and readers) are always looking for strong, distinct voices. It is an invisible string that echoes throughout a story and pulls the reader in. And when an author or character’s voice is nonexistent or inconsistent, it is the first thing we notice.
Voice builds trust between the author, characters, and readers. To develop a strong voice that will ring true, an author needs to understand both the story and him/herself as a writer. What is the tone of the story? Who are your characters? If a key feature—gender, age, cultural background—of the main character changes, would the voice change? It should! There are many ways to approach “voice,” and below, Linda Boyden and Paula Yoo share their techniques.
The Blue Roses was my first published book. I had written many picture book manuscripts prior to it, most of which are still gathering dust and mold, but now I see how that process was vital for me to evolve as a writer. I developed the voice of this main character, Rosalie, by experimenting.
I wrote many versions of the book. I considered writing it inthird person, having one of the adult
characters do the narrating for about a nano-second; in my heart I knew this was Rosalie’s story and no one else’s, but that didn’t stop me from more experimenting. I tried having her voice be that of a child, but Papa’s death would have been too harsh an experience for a child to deal with objectively. Instead, Rosalie narrates as her adult self, after having had enough time to smooth the edges of her loss. So experiment until you understand the heart of your character; that’s where you’ll find their true voice.
For me, voice comes out of nowhere. I can’t predict when I will find the “voice” of my story. Voice is not only the way my main character narrates the story (his/her style of speaking, their point of view, their personality) but also in the tone of the entire story (humorous, tragic, touching). Sometimes I find my “voice” AFTER I do a ton of research and preparation, such as figuring out the story beats and plot twists and the character’s emotional journey/arc. Sometimes the voice finds ME first—I’ll just start writing a story from the point of view of a character that has taken over me because he/she has something important and unique to say. Ultimately, I think “voice” for me comes from my heart. What moves me emotionally when I write? What about a story or character makes me laugh or cry? For me, “Voice” is the heart of my story—what emotions do I want to bring out in not only in my readers but also in myself? You can write a book that has the most original and surprising plot, the most compelling and fascinating characters, and a unique setting. But if there is no EMOTION, then that book falls flat. That’s where “Voice” comes in—“Voice” determines the emotion behind the story. I wish I could give a more specific answer with facts and evidence, but when it comes to writing from the heart, there is no formula.
The most frequent question readers ask about An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is "Why hasn't this book been written before?" I'm flattered by that question, because it's the one I ask about texts that deeply move me; at the same time the information, argument, or story is new to me, it seems [...]
Artists working across boundaries must demonstrate profound respect for and deep knowledge of the Other. This means a thoroughly open-minded attitude—and much labor in terms of research and questioning one’s own assumptions.
This post was originally posted October 8, 2012. We offer some thoughts on reframing the Columbus Day holiday:
Have you ever stopped to think about the implications of celebrating Columbus Day?
While most of us probably grew up associating the holiday with classroom rhymes and mnemonic devices (“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” etc.), days off from school, or sales at the mall, it’s important to remember what really happened in October of 1492. Columbus Day occupies a dubious spot in our nation’s calendar, ostensibly commemorating both the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent destruction and enslavement of countless indigenous people.
Check out this video created by Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan in 2009. In order to garner support for a movement to “reconsider Columbus Day,” Germosen and Whelan collaborated with indigenous organizations and community activists, giving voice to the horrific and painful stories behind the mythology of the holiday.
In fact, there’s been a push to eliminate Columbus Day altogether and replace it with a federal holiday in honor of Native Americans. Several states, such as Alaska, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or have replaced it with a day honoring indigenous people.
For example, since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated the second Monday of every October as Native American Day. In California, Berkeley replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, and in 1998, legislation calling for Native American Day to be celebrated as an official California state holiday on the fourth Friday of every September was also passed. Hawaii also celebrates Discoverers’ Day instead of Columbus Day in order to recognize the Polynesian discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Many tribal governments have also reclaimed the day as Native American Day, or, like the Navajo Nation, have replaced it with a holiday honoring their own tribe.
Here are two books we found that, like the alternatives listed above, aim to dispel the myths around Columbus Day:
A Coyote Columbus Story, written by Thomas King, a Canadian novelist and broadcaster of Cherokee and Greek descent, and illustrated by Kent Monkman, a Canadian multimedia artist of Cree ancestry. It tells the story using the figure of Coyote, a traditional trickster character who, in King’s retelling, is a girl who loves to play ball!
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow & Bob Peterson. This collection of essays, articles, poems, teaching ideas, and primary source materials helps educators teach students how to think critically and creatively about the consequences of the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent.
What are some other ways you can think of to observe Columbus Day? Do you have any favorite books or resources that tell the story of Columbus from a Native American perspective? Let us know in the comments below!
Linda Boyden was the second (and since there have been many more) person that I had gotten to know in the online kid lit community who invited me to stay before meeting me. It was in October of 2012 and … Continue reading →
November is Native American Heritage Month! Native American Heritage Month evolved from the efforts of various individuals at the turn of the 20th century who tried to get a day of recognition for Native Americans. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution that appointed November as Native American Heritage Month. You can learn more about Native American Heritage Month here.
For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with these great books by Native writers:
Quiet Hero by S.D. Nelson – Ira Hayes grew up on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. When he was in his late teens, World War II raged, and Ira Hayes joined the Marine corps. Eventually they were sent to the tiny Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where a chance event and an extraordinary photograph catapulted Ira to national awareness and transformed his life forever.
Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson – Crazy Horse, whose childhood nickname was “Curly,” defies traditional custom and risks his own life by running away, up to the hills, to seek a vision.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson – While Jim Thorpe struggled at school, he excelled at sports. He later went on to win several Olympic medals.
Home to Medicine Mountain by Chiori Santiago, illustrated by Judith Lowry – Two Native American brothers are sent to a strict, government-run boarding school. There, they are forced to speak English and to unlearn their Native American ways. Inspired by their dreams of home and the memories of their grandmother’s stories, the boys embark on an adventurous journey from the harsh residential school to their home in Susanville, California.
Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk, illustrated by Christy Hale – John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.
Kiki’s Journey by Kristy Orona-Ramirez, illustrated by Jonathan Warm Day – Kiki is a city girl that calls Los Angeles her home. Her family left the Taos Pueblo reservation when she was a baby, so it doesn’t feel like home. How will it feel to revisit the reservation?
Stories for Teens
Rattlesnake Mesa by EdNah New Rider Weber, photographs by Richela Renkun – When EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live on a Navajo reservation with a father she barely knows. Once EdNah finds herself getting used to her new life, she is sent to a strict government-run Indian boarding school.
Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – When Luke King’s father, a black ops infiltrator, goes missing, Luke realizes his life will never be the same again. Luke sets out to search for his father, all the while trying to avoid the attention of the school’s mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters, who seem much too interested in his own personal secret
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.
Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac – Several years before Killer of Enemies, the Lakota are forced to mine ore for the Ones, their overlords. Rose Eagle’s aunt has a vision of Rose as a healer. She sends Rose on a quest to find healing for their people.
What other books by Native American authors and illustrators do you recommend?
Ten years before the events in Killer of Enemies, before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.
In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.
Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.
November is Native American Heritage Month, which is as good a time as any to discuss the slight issue we have with observance months. Native American Heritage Month and Black History Month, for example, were established to celebrate cultures that otherwise went ignored, stereotyped, or otherwise underappreciated. Educators often use these months as a reason to pull titles by/about a particular culture off the shelf to share with students.
While we can generate a recommended reading list just as well as the next publisher, the problem we find with Native American Heritage Month is that it puts Native American books—and people—in a box. The observance month can easily lead to the bad habit of featuring these books and culture for one month out of the entire year. Ask yourself: Have we ever taken this approach with books that feature white protagonists?
On the other hand, observance months can definitely do some good: they remind educators to highlight the achievements of particular cultures, and can make students from those cultures feel acknowledged and appreciated. But wouldn’t it be better if that feeling and effort could be maintained all twelve months of the year?
brochure/all inclusive reading poster
For us, featuring diverse books throughout the year is second nature. Our approach is to dig deeper and go beyond just one month. We identify the various ways our books can apply to everyday, universal experiences and communicate this as widely as possible. We developed a ten-step process for becoming a more inclusive reader, part of a brochure that folds out to a poster (see right).
Educators stuck in the heritage month mindset can instead use the recommended book lists for those months as a jumping-off point to permanently diversify their collections. If you use particular books during a heritage month, ask yourself: What other themes does this book touch upon? How can I connect it to other parts of the curriculum or use it to teach additional skills?
Our book Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac is often included in roundups and recommendations for Native American Heritage Month. The book is a biography of Walking Coyote, who brought the buffalo herds of the American West back from the brink of extinction. While this book is certainly a good fit for Native American Heritage Month, it can also be used to teach about many other things, such as:
• Environmental conservation
• Nonfiction and biography
• Core values like perseverance and respect
Now here’s a challenge for you: Take the books used this month to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and brainstorm ways that they can be used throughout the year. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
No one can discuss American history without talking about the prevalence of slavery. When the Europeans attempted to colonize America in its early days, Indians and Africans were enslaved because they were “different from them”. The excerpt below from American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction follows the dark past of colonial America and how slavery proceeded to root itself deeply into history:
America held promises of wealth and freedom for Europeans; in time, slavery became the key to the fulfillment of both. Those who ventured to the lands that became the United States of America arrived determined to extract wealth from the soil, and they soon began to rely on systems of unpaid labor to accomplish these goals. Some also came with dreams of acquiring freedoms denied them in Europe, and paradoxically slavery helped to make those freedoms possible as well. As European immigrants to the colonies initiated a system of slavery, they chose to enslave only those who were different from them—Indians and Africans. A developing racist ideology marked both Indians and Africans as heathens or savages, inferior to white Europeans and therefore suited for enslavement. When continued enslavement of Indians proved difficult or against colonists’ self-interest, Africans and their descendants alone constituted the category of slave, and their ancestry and color came to be virtually synonymous with slave.
Although Europeans primarily enslaved Africans and their descendants, in the early 1600s in both northern and southern colonies, Africans were not locked into the same sort of lifetime slavery that they later occupied. Their status in some of the early colonies was sometimes ambiguous, but by the time of the American Revolution, every English colony in America—from Virginia, where the English began their colonization project, to Massachusetts, where Puritans made claims for religious freedom—had people who were considered lifetime slaves. To understand how the enslavement of Africans came about, it is necessary to know something of the broader context of European settlement in America.
In the winter of 1606, the Virginia Company, owned by a group of merchants and wealthy gentry, sent 144 English men and boys on three ships to the East Coast of the North American continent. English explorers had established the colony of Roanoke in Carolina in 1585, but when a ship arrived to replenish supplies two years later, the colony was nowhere to be found. The would-be colonists had either died or become incorporated into Indian groups. The English failed in their first attempt to establish a permanent colony in North America. Now they were trying again, searching for a place that would sustain and enrich them.
By the time the English ships got to the site of the new colony in April 1607, only 105 men and boys were left. Despite the presence of thousands of Algonquian-speaking Indians in the area, the leader of the English group planted a cross and named the territory on behalf of James, the new king of England. They established the Jamestown Settlement as a profit-making venture of the Virginia Company, but the colony got off to a bad start. The settlers were poorly suited to the rigors of colonization. To add to their troubles, the colony was located in an unhealthy site on the edge of a swamp. The new arrivals were often ill, plagued by typhoid and dysentery from lack of proper hygiene. Human waste spilled into the water supply, the water was too salty for consumption at times, and mosquitoes and bugs were rampant. No one planted foodstuffs. The colonists entered winter unprepared and only gifts of food from the Powhatan Indians saved them.
In the winter of 1609/10, a period that colonist John Smith called the “starving time,” several of the colonists resorted to cannibalism. According to Smith, some of the colonists dug up the body of an Indian man they had killed, boiled him with roots and herbs, and ate him. One man chopped up his wife and ate her. John Smith feared that the colony would disappear much as Roanoke had, so he established a militarized regime, divided the men into work gangs with threats of severe discipline, and told them that they would either work or starve. Smith’s dramatic strategy worked. The original settlers did not all die, and more colonists, including women and children, arrived from England to help build the struggling colony.
The first dozen years of the Jamestown Colony saw hunger, disease, and violent conflicts with the Native People, but it also saw the beginnings of a cash crop that could generate wealth for the investors in the Virginia Company back in England, as well as for planters within the colony. In 1617, the colonist John Rolfe brought a new variety of tobacco from the West Indies to Jamestown. In tobacco the colonists found the saleable commodity for which they had been searching, and they shipped their first cargo to England later that year. The crop, however, made huge demands on the soil. Cultivation required large amounts of land because it quickly drained soil of its nutrients. This meant that colonists kept spreading out generating immense friction with the Powhatan Indians who had long occupied and used the land. Tobacco was also a labor-intensive crop, and clearing land for new fields every few years required a great deal of labor. The colony needed people who would do the work.
Into this unsettled situation came twenty Africans in 1619. According to one census there were already some Africans in the Jamestown colony, but August 1619, when a Dutch warship moored at Point Comfort on the James River, marks the first documented arrival of Africans in the colony. John Rolfe wrote, “About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.” According to Rolfe, “the Governor and Cape Marchant bought [them] for victuals at the easiest rates they could.” Colonists who did not have much excess food thought it worthwhile to trade food for laborers.
The Africans occupied a status of “unfreeness”; officials of the colony had purchased them, yet they were not perpetual slaves in the way that Africans would later be in the colony. For the most part, they worked alongside the Europeans who had been brought into the colony as indentured servants, and who were expected to work usually for a period of seven years to pay off the cost of their passage from England, Scotland, Wales, the Netherlands, or elsewhere in Europe. For the first several decades of its existence, European indentured servants constituted the majority of workers in the Jamestown Colony. Living conditions were as harsh for them as it was for the Africans as noted in the desperate pleas of a young English indentured servant who begged his parents to get him back to England.
In March 1623, Richard Frethorne wrote from near Jamestown to his mother and father in England begging them to find a way to get him back to England. He was hungry, feared coming down with scurvy or the bloody flux, and described graphically the poor conditions under which he and others in the colony lived. He was worse off, he said, than the beggars who came to his family’s door in England. Frethorne’s letter is a rare document from either white or black servants in seventeenth-century Virginia, but it certainly reflects the conditions under which most of them lived. The Africans, captured inland, taken to the coast, put on ships, taken to the Caribbean, and captured again by another nation’s ships, were even farther removed from any hope of redemption than Frethorne. Even if they could have written, they would have had no way of sending an appeal for help. As it happens, Frethorne was not successful either. His letter made it to London but remained in the offices of the Virginia Company. His parents probably never heard his appeal.