Saturday, February 7, 2015

Stacy Whitman on Writing for a Diverse Audience

Stacy Whitman is a founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books. They publish middle grade and YA novels that "spark your imagination, move your spirit, and keep you turning the pages."

She shared seven essential pieces of knowledge for writing for a diverse audience—which is the same thing as the audience, given that 51 percent of children living in the United States today are people of color.

"This doesn't mean you have to write diverse characters if you're not comfortable doing it," she said. "But the audience is there."

Stacy grew up on a farm "out in the middle of nowhere," and didn't have a lot of friends who didn't look like her, and she wanted to reassure people new to the discussion that it's OK not to know stuff.

"If you're new to this, do a lot of listening."

And know that the goal is to write characters who seem like real people, even if they live in a fantasy world. It's not about "saving" anyone who can save themselves.

A first piece of advice was to avoid "microaggressions" against people with less power. Microagressions are little cuts, not necessarily maliciously intended, that erode the self-esteem of your reader. Some examples: 
    • A wise Latino who imparts wisdom to a white character.
    • Racial slurs that are used for realism but aren’t counteracted in the text.
    • Assuming that all Latinos are part of the same culture.
    • Stereotypes of reservation life like drunkenness and crime. Or warpaint.
    • Black friends who speak African American vernacular that doesn’t ring true.
    • Asians—a last name being used as a first name.
    • In disability or mental illness, jokes about OCD.
    • The only depiction of disability is a person in a wheelchair when there are different ways of experiencing disability.
    • “That’s so gay” for LGBTQ people.
      Another pitfall is setting "white" as the default race, and only describing people's skin color and other characteristics if they aren't white. This trains readers to assume that white is the norm. Treat all characters equally, not some as "other."

      She recommended some excellent resources for listening to and learning from the ongoing diversity discussion. A sampling:


      1. Great to see that info being shared with writers. Here's more, specific to beta readers:

      2. I believe the issue is that some Caucasians aren't comfortable in their own skin. Afraid of talking about race because they won't wish to be seen as ignorant or racist. The ones who are comfortable about who they are tend to speak freely about race, understanding where white privilege.Might watch "If Black people said things white people say" on You Tube for a little more clarity.
        I enjoyed the workshop very much.