We DO need diverse books.

Watching the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag scrolling up the screen on Twitter. Hundreds and thousands of people a minute adding their voice to the conversation on diversity in writing. We need diverse books, writers, characters and more.

I needed to see this today. The genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy that I enjoy reading and write in have taken a step backwards on diversity in recent weeks. There’s been a lot of progress in these genres, where women and writers of colour have often been excluded. The representation of people who are not straight white males has been improving in awards, and to some extent, on the bookshelves. But there’s a lot more to do.

But SF’s award season has brought a saddening kickback from some SWM authors. In the Hugo awards a clique of writers including Larry Correia, Theodore Beale and Brad Torgerson block voted themselves on to the award shortlists. They’ve pretty much destroyed any credibility they had in the process, but it’s still an annoyance. SF novelist John C Wright has flounced out of the Science Fiction Writers of America in an open letter that claimed the organisation no longer represented his “interests”. Wright, Beale and Correia weave a lot of cant around their agenda. But the truth is, they’re lashing out out against an SF community that is becoming much more diverse, and which they feel deeply threatened by.

Perhaps more toxic is yet another all male shortlist at the Gemmell awards. The awards achieve this dismally skewed list of writers by drawing the most absurdly narrow definition of fantasy writing they possibly can. They are in effect creating a ghetto for white male fantasy writers that does everything it possibly can to exclude any other perspective. This is often defended by the argument that the Gemmell’s are a popular award voted by 70,000 fans. But that’s not a justification for a total lack of diversity, it’s just evidence of the long term commercial shaping by publishers that have turned fantasy writing in to a play-pit for adolescent white male power fantasies.

So to see such an outpouring of support for #WeNeedDiverseBooks is wonderful, and very timely proof that in fact the diverse audience is far more abundant – and vastly less served – than the Straight White Male audience. There are great publishers like Angry Robot Books, who never make any noise about the fact they have  one of the most diverse lists in SF publishing. They just do it because its the right thing to do both ethically AND commercially. To publishers,  retailers and award giving bodies who aren’t quite so enlightened I say – your loss.

Follow the We Need Diverse Books campaign on Tumblr

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

One thought on “We DO need diverse books.

  1. I agree that diversity needs to be a huge part of science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes I read because I want to see myself in a story, and sometimes I read because I want to understand other people.
    As a straight white male I want everyone writing stories. I want to read them because they let me connect and understand things that no other media can can let me understand. It want you to tell me the story of what it’s like to be you.
    But I ask you to please, try to be better than the people that were here before you. Don’t simply attack because people disagree with you. Don’t assume that because someone disagrees with you that they are evil or can’t be convinced to be better and most important don’t drive out the people that most need to hear the message because they don’t agree with it. the only way to have true diversity is to include everyone, including the people who we don’t like and who have made mistakes in the past.


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