Today’s post is a guest article by Avril Somerville, the author of a recently published memoir in essays and verse, A Journey Of Life On Purpose; Creativity, Love, Womanhood, Community, Race, and Identity, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. To learn more about Avril or her book, find her at Life As An Art Form.
Diversity of books will always matter, but only so much as we value or choose to read them. Seeing our reflection in someone else’s story can validate our sense of purpose and be even rehabilitative for low self-esteem. Learning more about ourselves through this gift of language from a total stranger is not only inspiring but can make us feel more capable and empowered, possibly enough to write our own narrative. (If you don’t, who will?)
Reading someone else’s story, even when it is a work of fiction, allows us to get out of our own heads. We appreciate knowing that we are hardly alone in perspective or outlook on a particular issue or situation. When I use the word diversity, I am referring to the many layers and nuances of what we call identity – whether we’re speaking of race, culture, ethnicity, age, sexuality, where we live, ability, gender, faith practices, and/or the myriad lifestyle permutations that might come to mind. It makes perfect sense, then, to not only have at one’s disposal a plethora of books in various genres to choose from at any given time, but to insist that our personal libraries also contain a host of literature that reflects the world in which we live.
For instance, I am a woman of color in America, who happens to be born outside of the United States. I am an immigrant artist and first-generation college graduate, a writer who unequivocally identifies herself as Black―a heterosexual woman of faith, categorized as middle class―I grew up as anything but middle class, by way of the Commonwealth of Dominica and the South Bronx―who is also a married mother of three in an environment that is decidedly suburban and supposedly ‘diverse’, a marked departure from my upbringing. I am the sum of all these things, yet I appreciate the story of another woman with whom it is unlikely that I share everything in common; her story should be equally important to me. While her story will not be a predictor of behavior for those with whom she shares a more similar experience, it can give me insight into her inner landscape and how she might see the world.
“Each of us struggles daily with the pressures of conformity and the loneliness of difference from which those choices seem to offer escape.”
― Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals
The objective of diversity in books is not simply to achieve balanced representation in literature, but rather, to develop empathy for others whose stories have traditionally been neglected from public discourse. We can wax poetically for days on end about the necessity for diverse books in a classroom―one can easily see how accomplishing this alone would have a positive effect on a child during his formative years of self-development; literature, however, has a bigger role to play. Written language has the potential to bring these omitted stories forward and ascribe value to the humanity of a person beyond what we can see, the convenient labels they’ve been formerly assigned, and ultimately transform the perceptions we’ve allowed to become normative in our interactions and treatment of them.
While the creation and publication of diverse books matters, it matters even more that the “gatekeepers” of households and industry insist on these books as relevant and necessary tools for instruction and progress―readers, parents and caregivers, librarians, teachers, script-writers, award-giving organizations, faith institutions, readers, parents and caregivers (this bears repeating). Ultimately, the individuals represented by these groups have the final say as to whose stories get discovered, read, seen, and even celebrated.
“What we can’t acknowledge, we can’t address.”
― Marilyn Sanders Mobley, The Paradox of Diversity
Moreover, diversity in books matter if we are to ever understand the context for what currently ails us – racism, sexual violence, marginalization of any kind, and the unrighteous indignation of everything we do not understand and/or fear.
Our prejudgment of others is not steeped in apathy alone, but in cursory understandings of others, and sound bites that are easy to repeat rather than research. In essence, we closed the books when the bell rang. All plants have a root; and all roots, in order to yield fruit, once had fertile ground. Understanding that landscape is paramount to how we will move forward authentically with each other in the real world and off the page.