A Big Boost for #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Since its incorporation at the end of the summer, #WeNeedDiverseBooks has initiated a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo. The organization’s initial goal of $100,000 was designed to fund an award in the name of the late children’s book author and activist Walter Dean Myers, promote diverse programming like the standing-room-only panel at BookCon, create educational kits, and host a diversity-oriented children’s book festival in Washington, D.C. in summer 2016.
Last week, #WeNeedDiverseBooks achieved its initial goal and listed additional stretch goals, among them one that I heavily promoted on this blog and at meetings — to fund the travel of authors of color to national conventions in order to present their work and network with teachers and librarians. Many diverse authors are published by small presses that cannot afford to send them to conferences, or by major houses that have chosen to allocated their marketing dollars elsewhere. Another stretch goal that a number of writers and publishing professionals have discussed — and one that I have also mentioned in several blog pieces — is the creation of paid internships for students and recent graduates of color who otherwise would have to pass up a career in publishing in favor of a more lucrative field.
This morning I received a message on Facebood from #WeNeedDiverseBooks co-organizer Ilene Wong (whose debut novel None of the Above is coming out in April under the name I.W. Gregorio) that said, “your wish has been granted.” Not only has the organization found broad and enthusiastic support both within and outside the publishing industry, but it has also received a windfall as a result of some insensitive remarks by prominent author Daniel Handler at last week’s National Book Awards ceremony. A chastened Handler donated $10,000 to #WeNeedDiverseBooks and for a 24-hour period offered to match up to $100,000 in donations, prompting many to “make him pay” for his mistake.
Although the controversy over Handler threatened to overshadow the celebration of Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming, the well-deserved winner of the National Book Award for Young Readers, I don’t think that will turn out to be the case. I am currently at the conference of the National Council of Teachers of English, and Woodson’s luncheon address was sold out. The line for her to sign Brown Girl Dreaming stretched the entire length of the exhibit hall. (For those who didn’t get in line in time, or who couldn’t be at the conference, signed copies of this and two other of Woodson’s books are part of the #CelebrateJackie perk for a $200 donation to #WeNeedDiverseBooks.)
Jacqueline Woodson is a board member of the organization and one of the panelists who spoke at the initial panel at BookCon. The windfall that #WeNeedDiverseBooks received last week will go a long way toward educating people young and old about diversity, the importance of diverse books, and the need for sensitivity and understanding — so that incidents like the one at the awards ceremony will be less likely to happen in the future.
[Update: An eloquent response from Woodson appeared on the op-ed page of The New York Times on Friday, November 28. You can read it here.]
Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson for her fine writing and for her grace in taking one for the team. And congratulations to the leaders of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, who are growing a solid organization that will impact the lives and work of diverse authors, young people considering writing and publishing careers, educators, and, ultimately, all of us.