The concept of diversity in literature is an obscure phenomenon, unless the adult doesn’t mind indulging in young adult literature. If you doubt my initial premise for this article, try going to your favorite search engine and search the topic “diversity in adult literature”, take a mental note of the results, then take out the word “adult” and see what your results are. If the hits are anything like what I got, you will get an almost exhaustive list of websites, blogs, articles and podcasts on the topic of diversity in children’s literature, but the same does not hold true for those beyond school age.
This bewildered me, because even though the majority of my followers are ages 16 to 45, most of them would not be following me if they have no interest in reading works that are inclusive by nature. And I tend to target markets that comprise books, fiction, writers, eBooks, reading, diversity in literature, and social inclusion.
So far, millennials, people of color, and women lead the pack for those who best represent my readers. The question then came to mind whether diversity in adult literature matters less to an older demographic as compared to those interested in children’s literature? Is the perspective and expectation of what constitutes good literature so different for our children than for those who raised them?
One answer to these questions came to mind quickly when I thought about the readers for elementary students I see in classrooms every day. I am impressed with the number of books representing children of color. But I work in predominately black or Muslim schools. And, when it comes to books on sex identity, I saw none. Is that because someone decided it’s not an appropriate topic for students that age? But what about those students who have identified as a member of the opposite sex since they became self-aware? Are we unknowingly creating a monster in the closet for those children, who like all the rest, want to read about characters who look and act like them, but who will not be able to find a book that speaks to them?
However, adults have a more freedom of choice when it comes to topics in literature they wish to engage in. But when I tried to get some statistical data for analysis on diversity in adult literature, there was none to be found. I can find data on the representation of diverse employees working for publishing companies who sell children’s books, and the story the numbers tell is a bleak one. What our children read in school is pretty much recommended by book publishers, librarians, and educators. Publishers are predominately white, male, and heterosexual. So they are an influential demographic for making the decisions as to what is appropriate literature for our children.
Which means that when it comes to diversity in adult literature, the prospects are also bleak, because I found no gatekeepers monitoring that demographic. Teachers are influencing the market for children’s literature based on their demand for books that represent their demographic. The CBCC is the primary driver for monitoring diversity in literature in the children’s market. There is no agency to influence the adult market, aside from consumer demand, which can be fickle sometimes. It’s up to the publishers to decipher what that demand is. But if they are polling the wrong demographic based on their own personal perspectives of who comprises their readership and what they want to read, they are missing out on an opportunity to capture diverse markets that are not being tapped, inside and outside of the United States. Emerging markets like Ghana, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Malaysia and so many more.