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Diversity and inclusion in literature

Many authors have published standout books that help readers better understand different viewpoints and cultures.

By Melissa Haderlie
Branch Manager, Star Valley Branch Library

Being able to recognize one’s own self in literature is important. Not everyone comes from a dual parent home with 2.5 children, and a backyard to play in. If readers cannot relate to the characters or situations in a book how can they develop a love of reading or develop positive role models and patterns of behavior?

I will admit as a child growing up and as a young parent reading to my children, I never thought about this, but as I look back on the stories that I remember fondly I see the lack of diversity and inclusion. It makes me sad to think that several of my childhood friends were not represented in those stories.

The #OwnVoices movement started with frustrated authors who saw that major publishing companies were not allowing for the first person voice in contemporary literature. For the most part, civil rights stories were not being written by minorities, suffrage stories were not being written by women, LGBTQ stories were not being written from within their own communities, etc.

Another movement that works towards a similar goal is “We Need Diverse Books,” a non-profit organization which encourages books about all peoples and situations, without requiring the author to have lived through the experience. This group focuses primarily on children’s literature.

One of my favorite books highlighting diversity and #OwnVoices is the graphic novel memoir “I Was Their American Dream’’ by Malaka Gharib (2019). In this memoir Malaka, a Philipino/Egytian American girl, struggles to define what her culture is and how she will live it. Her parents, each raised in different countries and cultures have exposed her to both and have expectations for Malaka. This is a book all can identify with that have, or are now experiencing, “who am I moments.” The readers’ empathy for Malaka will help them to understand her cultural struggles and how to be more culturally aware and avoid microaggressions.

The Lincoln County Library System strives to ensure that we have a diverse collection including “OwnVoices” and works recommended by the “We Need Diverse Books” nonprofit. Many of these authors have received various awards, including from the American Library Association, for their work in the field of diversity and inclusion. We encourage you to check some out from your local library.

There are many authors who have published standout works representing their own experiences that help readers to see themselves in the literature they read or help them to empathize with someone whose viewpoint is different than their own.