Books, Diversity, Racism

The Thursday Book Beat: Help Marley Dias Gather #1000BlackGirlBooks

Happy February, readers! There’s lots happening in publishing this week–let’s get started!

My memories of elementary school reading lists are dominated by To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, and Shiloh, and it doesn’t take a genius to see what they all have in common: white main characters. When faced with a similar reading list at her school, Marley Dias wasn’t having any of it. She started a campaign to collect 1,000 books with black girls as main characters for a library, and the response has been nothing less than astonishing. She’s already reached half of the target number of books.

Kelly Jensen raised over $3000 towards buying books for Marley, and she noted that it only took $2500 to buy almost every available book with a black girl protagonist. The lack of literature reflecting Marley and other black girls’ experiences is yet another example of the systemic problems that publishing needs to address. Here’s hoping that as Marley grows up, there will be more than 1,000 books in circulation telling black girls’ stories.

Speaking of the intrinsic and systemic racism found in publishing today, romance reviewers and readers were witness to a tense conversation about the lack of diversity in major review outlets. On Kirkus, reviewer Bobbi Dumas discussed some of her reading resolutions, including looking for more diverse romance on her own time. According to Dumas, Kirkus and NPR–the two outlets she writes for–don’t really assign books with non-white protagonists for review, hence her resolution.

Dumas later addressed comments on that post in another Kirkus piece, fuelling further frustration with both Dumas’ alleged treatment of romance writers of colour/books with POC characters. Courtney Milan explained some of those frustrations in her own piece, calling out Kirkus for not doing more to bring books with POC to the attention of their reviewers.

But they’re just reviews, you might say, and conversations on diversity might just be preaching to the choir in publishing. Kirkus is a major reference for librarians, and its influence and reach mean that a Kirkus review could help get books with POC characters into the hands of readers who might never have found them otherwise. Every little step and forum counts in publishing, and having seen the result of the Lee & Low diversity baseline surveys last week, it’s clear that there’s much more work to be done.

Ricky WhittleHollywood’s starting to dig into that work, if recent TV news is anything to go by. Ricky Whittle, known to viewers as Lincoln from The 100, was just cast as Shadow Moonin STARZ’s adaptation of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Whittle’s casting was greeted with welcome surprise among fans, and Gaiman himself applauded the news:

I’m thrilled that Ricky has been cast as Shadow. His auditions were remarkable. The process of taking a world out of the pages of a book, and putting it onto the screen has begun. American Gods is, at its heart, a book about immigrants, and it seems perfectly appropriate that Shadow will, like so much else, be Coming to America. I’m delighted Ricky will get to embody Shadow. Now the fun starts.

I’ve really enjoyed Whittle’s work on The 100, another book-to-TV hit, and while I hope this doesn’t mean his character will have to depart the show, I wish him much success as Shadow Moon!