Side note: I just realized—thanks to a congratulatory email on LinkedIn, of all things—that I’ve now officially been at Lee & Low Books for 3 years, almost to the day (I believe I started on March 5, 2010, but my memory is fuzzy). YAY for Tu Books! Yay for diversity in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery for young readers!

And to celebrate that—diversity in books for young readers, that is—we’re starting a Twitter chat that we’ve dubbed #diverselit. Tomorrow—Thursday, March 7, 2013—will be our first #diverselit chat on Twitter, and I hope you’ll be able to join us, in which I and my coworker Hannah, who is Lee & Low’s marketing manager, will be talking about Diversity 101, which covers all those frequently asked questions such as:

  • Who can write what?
  • What does “POC” mean?
  • What is privilege and why does it matter?
  • Why is diversity in books for young people a problem, and why does it matter?

If you’re an expert, join in the conversation and give us your perspective. If you’re a newbie to all of this, come to learn. Everyone, come to discuss! I will be tweeting from Tu Books’ twitter, and Hannah will be tweeting from Lee & Low’s twitter, so be sure to follow us both.

If you don’t know how a Twitter chat works, check out this handy guide to hashtag chats. Not on Twitter? You can follow along by searching #diverselit on Twitter itself or on http://www.tweetchat.com, but to participate in the chat, you need a Twitter account, which is pretty easy to set up. Hope to chat with you tomorrow!

Nanowrimo resources: diversity in your Nano (writing cross-culturally)

Vieja Maquina de Escribir. / Old Writing Machine.
Courtesy Gonzalo Barrientos/Flickr

Are you starting off on your yearly Nanowrimo marathon? If so, perhaps you’re thinking about how to diversify your cast or settings. Preferably both, right? This month I’m working on at least one new diversity post, but I also thought perhaps a list of existing resources in one place would be useful. Most of these links, which I’ve been sharing via Twitter and Facebook as I find them, can also be found on the CBC Diversity Resources page, specifically on the resources for writers page, along with resources directed at other publishing professionals such as editors, sales and marketing, and booksellers. I’ve added a few more recent articles/sites that I’ve recently run into, as well.

This is kind of a hodgepodge of links, but I think it’ll help you have plenty to think about. If I run into anything more in the next couple of days, I’ll likely add it. Most of these links apply to writing cross-culturally, but as I like to remind people, this can mean anyone writing from a perspective not their own. I’ve talked to New York City-based writers who make assumptions about Iowans based on what they’ve seen on TV that I as a Midwesterner find unbelievable at best. I’ve known probably as many writers of color who want to write about different cultures that fascinate them as white writers who would like to write about people of color. In all of these cases, if you aren’t writing “what you know,” then research is involved. You have to know what questions to ask, what assumptions you’re making because of your own worldview that your character wouldn’t make. These resources will help you with that.

Though, beware, there’s a lot of info here. If you’re Nanoing, perhaps you might want to go with one at a time to leave yourself time to write!

Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes

Nnedi Okorafor examines Stephen King’s use of the “Magical Negro” trope and discusses how it can be avoided.

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Adichie’s transformative TED talk, The Dangers of a Single Story, shows us what happens when writers focus on only one kind of story, and how a multitude of voices from minority cultures need to be heard for that danger to pass away.

Appropriate Cultural Appropriation

When writing cross-culturally, we need to remember whether we’re acting as an invader, a tourist, or a guest. Nisi Shawl addresses how to watch out for stereotypes, bad dialects, and other problematic portrayals of people of color.

Transracial Writing for the Sincere

Nisi Shawl’s resources for those who want to get it right when they want to write cross-culturally; how to do your research.

Challenge, Counter, Controvert: Subverting Expectations

Uma Krishnaswami on challenging subverting expectations in our writing.


Describing characters of color in writing

N.K. Jemison on how to describe characters of color in your writing without resorting to cliches and stereotypes.

Part 1: http://nkjemisin.com/2009/04/ways-to-describe-characters-of-color/

Part 2: http://magicdistrict.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/describing-characters-of-color-pt-2/

Part 3: http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/

The Microaggressions Project

A Tumblr that seeks to provide a visual representation of the everyday of microaggressions, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt—acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult.


Monika Schröder on Saraswati’s Way

Uma Krishnaswami on insider vs. outsider narratives (as she discusses Saraswati’s Way with Monika Schroder).

Don’t put my book in the African American section

N.K. Jemison’s response to the segregation of black writers (and often as a result, readers) in some libraries and bookstores.


Parenthetic Comma Phrases, Anyone?

Uma Krishnaswami on the use of parenthetic comma phrases to explain cultural details to the reader as if the reader were always an outsider to the culture. How else might these details be conveyed without alienating readers who come from that culture?

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Peggy McIntosh provides a classic list of privileges which a white middle class woman enjoys that many of other socioeconomic statuses or races do not. An example for writers seeking to write from a perspective not their own to muse on their own privileges, whether similar or different, so they can see their blind spots.


Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today

In the same vein as the above, science fiction writer John Scalzi talks about “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today” paired with his post on narrative usurpation, covering why he wrote “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today.”

“Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today”

Narrative Usurpation


Mitali Perkins on Writing Race

A Checklist for Writers


There’s no such thing as a good stereotype

N.K. Jemison on the “strong female character” stereotype that also connects with racial and cultural issues.


Interview Wednesday: Stacy Whitman of Tu Books, a Lee and Low Imprint

Uma Krishnaswami interviews Stacy Whitman about using cultural experts to read cross-cultural writing or to check details of a controversial or historical subject (even when the writer is of that culture).


Is my character ‘black enough’?

From my own blog (be sure to read the comments section).


My SCBWI Winter Conference 2012 talk on writing multicultural books

Notes from my SCBWI Winter Conference talk in which I quote from the book below (questions to ask to knowing what questions to ask)

A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience: Beneath the Surface

This book by Joseph Shaules is directed to potential US expats living abroad helping them to think about cultural differences and ways to adapt to their new countries and enjoy the journey. But when read from the perspective of a writer, the questions Shaules raises can be applied to world building and culture building in writing.


Beyond Orcs and Elves

My talk on the need for diversity in fantasy and science fiction (includes a resources for writers section in part 3).


The Language of the Night
This book is unavailable electronically and also out of print, but if you can find Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection used or at your library, published by HarperCollins in 1978 and 1989, two excellent essays for writers on diversity are “American SF and the Other” and “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”

“It’s Complicated” at CBC Diversity

As we’ve discussed on here before, diversity in children’s and YA books can be pretty controversial. Just reading the comments sections at any of the latest posts about diversity can make your head spin, between the people denying that white privilege exists and those saying that even if it does exist, it doesn’t matter, because “people of color don’t read.”

Those things aren’t true, but how do we dispel them? How do we address the multi-pronged issue of getting more diverse books out there?

The CBC Diversity Committee is working to help address this. This week on the CBC Diversity blog, the theme is “It’s Complicated.” Check out Nancy Mercado’s opening post:

The internet can often be a rough-and-tumble kind of place when it comes to complex and layered discussions, but we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community.

This will be a safe space for us in publishing—writers, editors, marketing folks, sales people, artists, anyone involved in getting books to kids—to discuss the issues.

Today, Cynthia Leitich Smith is talking about the fear of saying something wrong. Hop on over and join in on the conversation.



On a related note, here’s some recent coverage of this issue.

The Atlantic Wire: The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA

Huffington Post: Race On YA Covers: Survey Reports A Continued Lack Of Diversity

Jezebel: White Folks Star in 90% of 2011’s Young Adult Book Covers

John Scalzi: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

John Scalzi: “Lowest Difficulty Setting” Follow-Up

Sarah Ockler: Race in YA Lit: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, YA Authors [at SFWA]

Sarah Ockler: Race in YA Lit: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, YA Authors [at her own blog]

LTUE handouts now available (I think)

It has been more than a month since my computer worked well on a regular basis, and most of that time I was without a computer at home at all. It still isn’t working well–there are days when it will take 15 minutes just to type a paragraph—but at least it kind of works… ish. Dell sucks, is all I’ll say, and I promise never to buy anything else from them as long as I live.

At any rate, sorry for being out of touch, particularly those who were waiting for the handout from LTUE. If that was you, can you comment here so I can send it to you? Just be sure to put your email in the comment form, and I’ll be able to contact you.

Highlights Foundation workshop on creating an authentic cultural voice

I’m going to be at this, and you should go too! Check out the call for applications below.


Call for Applicants: Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice

April 26-29, 2012

A program from the Highlights Foundation


Our children live in a world of diverse voices and experiences. They deserve to live in a book that authentically represents their world.

Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice

Join award-winning authors Donna Jo Napoli and Mitali Perkins, as well as editors Alvina Ling and Stacy Whitman, and special guest Kathryn Erskine for an intensive four-day workshop. Your mentors will work with you to discover your true cultural voice through impeccable research, imagination, empathy, and experience. Our goal is to gather a community of open-minded children’s book authors who wish to think deeply about questions such as:

  • Who has the right to write multiculturally?
  • How do we bring humility to our research?
  • What audience are we writing for?


If you are interested in being a part of this amazing opportunity, please fill out the application and submit it, with your responses to the essay questions, in addition to your writing sample. Applications for our scholarships are available by e-mailing Jo Lloyd at jo.lloyd@highlightsfoundation.org, or calling, toll-free, (877) 512-8365.

Beyond Orcs and Elves, part 3

And finally, part 3. Read parts 1 and 2 here and here.

So now let’s talk about writing cross-culturally!

Writing Cross-culturally

A few months ago, I answered a reader’s question on my website, in which she asked, basically, “Is my character ‘black enough’?” which prompted a wide variety of responses, some voices expressing why the question itself hurt the readers, most particularly that the question comes with baggage that implies there’s only one way to be black. But much as it might be a painful process, with perhaps many mistakes made along the way, I think it’s important for us to be talking about writing cross-culturally. White writers have started to examine their privilege, have started to critically think about why they don’t include more diversity in their writing. So they start out with some incorrect ideas and a LOT of questions—and the way they ask the questions might not always be the best way to phrase something. Not to mention—getting back to that Le Guin quote that everyone has someone who is Other to themselves—that maybe black writers might be interested in Japanese culture, and East Asians might be interested in  Indian culture, and all those intercultural interests that are so healthy for everyone to have.

It’s not the responsibility of your average POC on the street to explain Racism 101 to anyone who asks, and sometimes those responding have heard it ALL before. But there are ways for people who want to include a wider variety of people/cultures/ethnicities/races in their writing to figure out how to do so. In fantasy, sometimes it’s especially easy, because often our worldbuilding involves MAKING STUFF UP! If it’s not set in the real world nor directly influenced by it, why would everyone need to be white?

But then what about setting stuff in the real world, or in a world inspired by a specific culture, say, ancient China? That’s where research comes in. And as any writer knows, research means a number of different sources of information.


  • Read! Get educated!

I know I’m going out of order here, but this really is one of the most important things  someone who’s just starting out thinking about writing cross-culturally can do. And I don’t mean just walking up to a person on the street or a random work acquaintance and saying “so, tell me about you people.” If you don’t already know and trust someone from the culture you want to write about, ask yourself why that is—both that you want to write about it, and that you don’t know anyone. Then figure out how to fix the second part of that sentence. Find museums and cultural centers if you don’t know someone from that culture and ask them to point you in the right direction. It’s their job, at least, to field such questions, and it’s a better solution than asking the only black/Native American/Asian person you know. And besides, you can’t assume that if someone’s Asian, for example, that they’re from the culture you want to write about (BIG difference between Chinese/Japanese/Korean/other Asian cultures) or that they’d have any more experience than you do with it if they’ve lived here in the US their whole lives. They might. But they might not.

So USE YOUR LIBRARY. (Aside: Our libraries are under constant threat of budget cuts right now because of the economy. If you want to be able to keep using it as a resource—and you really should—make sure to also think about advocating for it in your communities/counties/states.)


  • Examine your privilege before you walk this road

Normally at this point, I read parts of “Things I don’t have to think about today” by John Scalzi, an SFF author and the current president of SFWA. Rather than reproduce his blog post, I’d rather you go read it here in its entirety. It’s one author’s musings on his privilege, which I think will be a nice springboard thought exercise for anyone thinking about their own privilege—and most of us have privilege of some form, even if we’re from a poor background, even if we have health challenges, and so forth.

  • Get to know people outside your own “community”

This one’s fairly self-explanatory. Reaching beyond our everyday patterns to befriend people who are different than us helps us to see a bigger picture and understand others’ perspectives, even if we don’t share them.

  • Learn the line between “respect” and “appropriation”

Note to especially examine appropriation of Native American and other First Nations/Aboriginal cultures, whose voice has been suppressed/oppressed ever since Columbus over 500 years ago. I hear from a lot of people who want to use Native American beliefs (or often, what they believe are Native American beliefs, from a 70s-media-influenced point of view, conflating all Native American people into one spiritual-close-to-nature pot). But most Native Americans would probably rather see fantasy from other Native Americans because of their sensitivity to cultural appropriation from outsiders.

How do you know, then, whether you’re using a culture of inspiration appropriately? Nisi Shawl has a lot of great thoughts on cultural appropriation in her articles Appropriate Cultural Appropriation and Transracial Writing for the Sincere. I think the most important one from Appropriate Cultural Appropriation is the idea of the difference between Invaders, Tourists, and Guests. She says:

During the same panel which inspired Goto’s poem, audience member Diantha Day Sprouse categorized those who borrow others’ cultural tropes as “Invaders,” “Tourists,” and “Guests.” Invaders arrive without warning, take whatever they want for use in whatever way they see fit. They destroy without thinking anything that appears to them to be valueless. They stay as long as they like, leave at their own convenience. Theirs is a position of entitlement without allegiance.

Tourists are expected. They’re generally a nuisance, but at least they pay their way. They can be accommodated. Tourists may be ignorant, but they can be intelligent as well, and are therefore educable.

Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal.

I think those are important distinctions. You may start as a Tourist, but learn enough and you might be invited as a Guest. But it’s an invitation that comes from the host—you can’t demand an invitation. But I think the occasional outsider writing as Tourist, as long as you’re learning, is an important part of this step of the process we’re in, working to build awareness and bring out more SFF books for young readers that feature POC.

But go read BOTH articles! Both have more to say than I can express here without just repeating what she already said so well.

And I really don’t have much more to say on how to write cross-culturally. Really, what I’d like you to take away from this for your writing is to consider who the readers are, where they come from, the issues involved in reaching all readers and potential readers, and then for you to become advocates for diversity in whatever way is appropriate for your writing. But let me leave you with this thought on appropriation from Ursula K. Le Guin from that same book, The Language of the Night:

“If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate or deify it; but in either case, you have denied its spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And thus you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.”

And for those wanting more reading, check out these links:

Resources For Writers: Writing About Another Culture

Nisi Shawl’s Writing the Other—both a workshop and a book. More info at http://www.sfwa.org/members/shawl/other/

“Appropriate Cultural Appropriation” by Nisi Shawl http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10087

“Transracial Writing for the Sincere” by Nisi Shawl http://www.sfwa.org/2009/12/transracial-writing-for-the-sincere/

Le Guin, Ursula K. “American SF and the Other,” The Language of the Night. New York: HarperCollins, 1979/1989.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” The Language of the Night. New York: HarperCollins, 1979/1989.

“Being Poor” by John Scalzi http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf


“Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today” by John Scalzi http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/10/18/things-i-dont-have-to-think-about-today/ paired with his next post on narrative usurpation, covering why he wrote the previous post, at http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/10/18/narrative-usurpation-quick-thoughts-on-the-previous-post

Teen blogger Ari’s Reading in Color blog, which reviews only books by and about people of color: http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/ She’ll give you plenty of places to start reading if you’re just starting out—and really anytime you might be stuck and wanting more to read.


Color Online focuses on women POC writers and books for POC teen girls, including a local library one of the bloggers runs for teens in her area. They often run reading challenges to get their fellow bloggers reading and thinking about POC in children’s/YA books, though they don’t limit themselves to children’s books. http://coloronline.blogspot.com/

Doret runs The Happy Nappy Bookseller, where she reviews books about POC and raises awareness, sometimes doing features on particular themes. http://thehappynappybookseller.blogspot.com/

And the obligatory last slide for more info about me—which of course you already know if you’re here!