Hey there readers, your friendly neighborhood Angel here, back from a bookish weekend in New York City! I attended the 2016 Kweli Children’s Book Writers Conference this past Saturday, and was surrounded by amazing writers and illustrators of colour who are bound to do amazing things for kidlit. Here’s hoping we get to see some of their names in future editions of Book Beat one day!
But onto the news, which has surprisingly been quiet the last few days. Ainehi Edoro’s piece for The Guardian ties into conversations I witnessed at Kweli: the creation and packaging of African fiction for wider audiences, and how we talk about African fiction and African writers.
Edoro highlights the cover copy of two novels that feature discussions on identity and race, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah:
In Mitchell’s novel, any talk of themes comes at the very end. In Adichie’s novel, the theme is front and center. Mitchell’s novel is “playful” and character driven. Adichie’s novel is about race. Readers are invited to encounter Mitchell as a literary artist situated within a long tradition of literary artists and Adichie as an informant on race. To reduce all the flirty, humorous beauty of Adichie’s novel to “a tender story about race” is just wrong and borderline patronizing. But it also demonstrates the inherent bias in the way readers are invited to encounter African novels.
It’s a sobering piece to be sure, and one that should definitely be highlighted as diversity conversations continue to develop. Especially since Rachel Dolezal–you remember, white lady who pretended to be black for over 9 years–just got a book deal to write about racial identity.
In book discovery news, Shakespeare might rival Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. A new First Folio was found at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, just as tributes for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death begin. The Folio collects 36 of the Bard’s plays, nearly half of which were not known while Shakespeare was alive, and was authenticated by Emma Smith, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Oxford.
Finally, we’ve got word of authors in both the children’s and adult literary worlds using their words to make a statement about LGBTQ+ rights. Jeff Kinney, Sarah Dessen, and Rick Riordan are just some of the big names in kidlit that are protesting North Carolina’s HB2, a law that would restrict the use of public washrooms based on the biological sex of a person on their birth certificate. Simply put, if this bill is passed, any person who is listed as a man or woman on their birth certificate must use the male or female bathroom, even if they do not identify with that gender, e.g. trans men/women, genderfluid individuals, etc. 269 authors have signed an open letter asking North Carolina governor Pat McCrory to repeal the bill, a decision that may very well affect the state’s future business with these authors.
Over in Mississippi, House Bill 1523 has authors like Jesmyn Ward and John Grisham calling out for a repeal, as the law would effectively allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against people based on the business/individual’s religious beliefs.
It’s heartening to see authors using their name, platform, and financial pull to support marginalized communities, especially when their audiences are young and can see the difference it makes. Excellent work, lit world, you do me proud.