We Need Diverse Books Because…


A major campaign for diversity in literature is happening right now! You can join the discussion by using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc. It’s a great initiative drawing attention to the lack of diversity across many genres and drawing even more attention to those books acknowledging if not celebrating diversity across race, religion, sexual identity and more!

I’ve been following the discussion and several comments have got me thinking… One of the comments was about labels and the necessity for explicit statements that eschew any ambiguity be it religious, sexual or otherwise. This was considered particularly important in YA where many young people struggle with defining their identity and finding that sense of self. Seeing statements like “I am not gay. I am bisexual.” from a favourite character can have an extremely powerful and positive affect on readers who identify with that character. Similarly, explicit statements regarding religious affiliation and even ethnic identity seem to be considered a generally powerful, positive thing wanted if not needed by readers, particularly teen readers.

Affirmations like these are great and I absolutely agree that having characters be unafraid to categorically state who they are can offer the reader a transformative experience. But this made me think about my own writing and characters.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of labels. I don’t like the idea of being pigeon-holed, of only being able to be one thing or defined by the characteristics of a certain label to the exclusion of others. In my own life, I’m all for fluidity and actively avoid labels whenever possible, at the same time understanding that labels often make life easier for others to understand me so I will use them in those circumstances when I feel they may minimize confusion or feelings of discomfort.

Growing up, I would’ve loved to read books about characters who were fluid – in their gender, in their religious beliefs, in their subculture because that’s what I was. In a way, the conversation about the need for labels makes me uncomfortable even as an adult because I still feel like the black sheep, like the odd one out who doesn’t want to be just one thing.

In the same way other authors are writing for teens to give them the confidence to make explicit calls on identity, I’d like to think I’m writing for those readers who either don’t like or don’t care about labels, readers for whom labels are meaningless or best avoided because being fluid, being changeable and anti-categorization is okay too.

Oh gosh, is ‘fluid’ a label? Maybe living life label-free isn’t really possible but I like to write about characters who aren’t pre-occupied with labels, who couldn’t care less whether they fit a certain letter of an acronym or not. I want to write about characters who are happy being who they are without feeling the need to be classified or forced to conform based on an extrinsic set of characteristics.

And this is why we need diverse books because everyone is different and everyone has a story to tell…

How do you feel about labels? Are they important or a non-issue for you?

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  • Ronovan W. Hester

    I agree. I write feelings and thoughts. I rarely even think about labels, color, ethnicity, or anything else as I write. Good article. Good thoughts.

    • Love what you say about writing feelings and thoughts without being concerned with the rest.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! 🙂

      • Ronovan W. Hester

        You are very welcome, and it was a joy.

  • I think it’s hard to be fluid if you don’t know the things you’re fluid between, if that makes sense.
    To be fluid you first need to define something rigid that you’re not.

    I think that labels are important in an early stage of self identity because it gives handles to explain your identity before you have fully developed your own vocabulary to explain what you mean.

    Great piece and I agree that sticking people in rigid bounds is never good, everyone is always outside of those bounds at some place.

    • Hm… interesting.

      How about fluid simply as being ‘not only one thing all the time’ without having to take the definition any further? Or how about a definition without negatives, so fluid as being ‘anything I want to be when I want to be it’ ? I really don’t like having to make categorical choices about what I am or am not, because I think that can change and evolve.

      Or maybe I’m just being contrary… :/

      • I think you might have misunderstood me. I meant that without understanding categories it’s hard to be fluid because fluidity depends on other (more) rigid boundaries.

        I’m not saying that you have to define yourself as one thing or another or have to explain it here and now. But for others to understand what fluidity is they need to understand the scope of the fluidity.

        You don’t turn into a liquid, so you’re not fluid that way, and neither do you change colour so you’re not fluid like that.
        You are fluid in your sexuality, in your identity, in other things. But to explain the fluidity you will need an audience that understands the boundaries of the original “set”, the boundaries that you flow over.
        That is what I meant. I didn’t mean that YOU need to define it, just that for someone to understand what you mean you need an audience who does know the original definitions.

        • Ah okay. I did misunderstand you. Now we’re totally on the same page 🙂