Diversity in Teen Fiction (Or: On Crying in Class)

Bombay Talkie by Ameena MeerIt’s funny, over the course of two years, we’ve had tears in class several times. Critique can be rough — you’re close to the material, you’re close to your classmates, feedback might be harsher than you were expecting. It’s hard not to take it personally.

So I was pleased that I’d managed to avoid the tears myself. That is, until that first diversity in YA workshop last week. I’d prided myself on being the consummate professional, but when trying to explain to the awesome Andrea Davis Pinkney of Scholastic exactly why I’d started writing in the first place, there they were. The tears. I was shocked. I was appalled. I was embarrassed. But unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one who cried.

I started writing all those years ago to hope to create a representation of myself. I’ve always been an avid reader, apparently since the time I was four. I don’t remember not being able to read. I devoured books, Judy Blume, The Babysitters Club, Norma Klein, The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle (which both actually first came out when I was in high school). The list was endless. I never did get into Sweet Valley High, though, despite trying a few installments. I think I just couldn’t relate.

I was 17 when I found my first Indian protagonist in a book. It was Ameena Meer’s Bombay Talkie. And while Sabah wasn’t quite like me, she was close enough, a brown girl torn between two cultures. And I was absolutely thrilled when the author came to Rutgers to visit and I had a chance to speak with her and tell her about my own eventual writing ambitions. Playing off my name, she told me I’d be golden. That was Ameena’s last published novel, but it sprung a hope in me.

That’s the story I meant to share in class. But it was too hard to even start that conversation. I didn’t realize how deep this issue runs for me. But that two-day workshop was nothing short of cathartic — hearing what brought everyone to that table, knowing how we’d all be working together, although apart, to try to change things, to try to create the representations of ourselves and countless others whose voices remain unheard. If it meant a few tears, so be it.

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One Response to Diversity in Teen Fiction (Or: On Crying in Class)

  1. Linda C. says:

    Great post! That’s why I write as well, as a brown girl (Latina). I’d love to see more diversity in the children’s world.

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