As the father of two daughters of color, finding reading material and other media that both reflect back at them and reflect the wider, diverse world of which they are a part is important to me. The discussion around what kind of stories get told about what kind of characters and who gets to tell them is, sadly, not relegated to the realm of speculative fiction literature or literary fiction. The dismal state of affairs in the world of children’s literature was recently put in stark relief by the good people at Lee and Low Books, whose tagline is “About Everyone. For Everyone.”
Lee and Low was founded in 1991 by publishing industry veterans of color who wanted to address the the problem that children of color weren’t seeing themselves reflected in the books they read, and authors of color weren’t getting their stories told. Twenty years later, we’re still seeing the same glaring gaps. In 2010, genre editor Stacy Whitman aimed to address the same gaps in the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres that were sweeping the middle grade and young adult markets by founding Tu Books, which was quickly taken under the Lee and Low umbrella. After a debut season in which it published two titles, Tu Books has put out four titles a year, and last year introduced a competition for new genre novelists of color, the New Visions Award.
But beyond providing a venue for writers of color to tell stories about characters in whom young readers of color can see their reflections, Tu Books’ brand of genre multiculturalism goes further: works by and about people of color are for and should be read by everyone. If you like science fiction or fantasy, you’ll like these. If you’re a young person of color, you’ll find the stories about people like you by writers like you that you might not find elsewhere. If you’re not, you’ll read a good genre book that might, just might, expand your perspective. And isn’t that what speculative fiction has always been about?
The same year Tu Books published its first titles, YA speculative fiction authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon started Diversity in YA as a blog and book tour designed to push the discussion of diversity in young adult fiction along lines of race, gender, sexuality and disability. Recently, Lo broke down the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list along lines of characters and writers of color to find this:
As a reader, both in my adolescence and adulthood, I have sought out fiction that reflected my reality as a multiracial person of color or, in the case of speculative fiction, gave hope that people like me still existed in imaginary lands and possible futures. When I became a parent, it became even more important to me to be able to give my girls a rich, diverse, literary landscape in which their imaginations could grow. As a writer, all of this has combined to find me starting my first novel—not coincidentally, a speculative fiction middle grade novel featuring a multiracial girl protagonist. Just as we read to find ourselves reflected and validated in other people’s pages, so do we write to create the worlds and stories others may need to find.