The conversation on diversity in literature focuses on children’s books and young adult books. One of the most prevalent promoters of diverse literature is the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Their mission:
A beautiful, simple and necessary mission statement. If children see themselves in literature from an early age, they can grow up knowing their stories and their lives have value. They can be the writers of the next generation’s literature.
But what about diversity in literature for adults?
I’m currently applying to get my MFA in fiction and a professor noted while reading my statement of purpose, that it sounded as if I write YA literature. She cautioned that YA lit would not be received well by graduate programs.
I don’t write YA lit. But my focus is writing mainly speculative fiction as social commentary. Because of my belief in diversity across genre and age, it was assumed my audience is young adults. This presupposes a few principles I disagree with:
- writing for young adults is not real literature (and won’t be taken seriously)
- real adult literature isn’t classified as Diverse
It’s almost as if there’s an inherent difference between Diverse YA Lit (where you can find books in numerous lists on goodreads and beyond), and adult literature that happens to have diverse elements. What my professor seemed to be telling me was that Diverse (capital D) YA lit put the social issues before the story–flaunting the diversity for brownie points. Where diverse (lowercase d) adult literature is expected to be subtle.
Can adult literature be Diverse and still be taken seriously?
Yes. And its about time we claimed these novels and texts as Diverse.
Here’s a brief list of Diverse adult literature (some speculative, some literary fiction):
- The Fox Woman (Kij Johnson)
- Voodoo Dreams (Jewell Parker Rhodes)
- The Lady Matador’s Hotel (Cristina Garcia)
- Dreaming in Cuban (Cristina Garcia) *National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
- The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy) *winner of the Man Booker Prize
- An Untamed State (Roxane Gay) *Nominated for NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction
In addition, pick up anything by:
- Octavia Butler
- Nalo Hopkinson
- Tananarive Due
- N.K. Jemisin
- Khaled Hosseini
This is by no means an exhaustive list. What other books or authors can you recommend? What books are we not actively claiming as featuring diversity?