Minutes ago, yes, minutes. The outcome of the Cybils 2009 shortlist distressed me enough to write about it now. Here's the good news:
From our database: * Total eligible books across all categories: 939 * Books read by at least 1 panelist: 931 which is 99.1% of the books * Books read by at least 2 panelists: 894 which is 95.2% of the books * Unread books: 8 which is 0.9% of the books Eight books. That's it. We only failed to read eight books--less than one percent of the nominated titles. One word: Wow.
Mama Lockdown is my fantasy character I created goofing around but today I'm posting her in protest. This is the kind of character I want to see more of, promoted and read by readers. I want black characters that today's black child can relate to.
I'm starting off the new year with a rant about an issue you're probably sick of hearing by now. Well, I'm sick of making it so somebody tell me why this continues to happen: 931 books read and of all the finalists by or about African Americans, the finalists are about slaves or civil rights.
What the frack! Is it any wonder why my nephews and countless other children of all colors are less than enthused about getting books with black characters because those books almost always are books about us blacks being hung, sprayed or chased by dogs? Come on. I don't want to speculate why black children's literature is routinely recognized only in historical narratives. At the moment I don't want to speculate if it's because publishers refuse to publish anything else by us or it's because non-poc readers only seem to accept us in limited roles. I know this much: we, black people for damn sure are sick of being pigeon-holed.
I spent hours over several days nominating quality books by people of color in all categories and predictably the end result is I read a final list with a white author recognized for writing about a slave girl and another that feels like the compulsory children's book token nod, a picture book about civil rights.
Look, I appreciate historical titles and I'm a civil rights baby so don't think these kinds of books don't matter to me. What has my panties in a bunch is that I want black kids reading about kids who look like them and the characters aren't oppressed or part of narratives that suggest we have no life or interests beyond civil rights. I'm an adult and I feel like these books are being rammed down their throats and mine. Why don't books like Troy Cle's The Marvelous Effect or Michelle Thomson's Keena Ford make these lists? Black authors have a really hard time even getting published and once they do they need to make lists like Cybils because mainstream readers follow these lists. We need allies. We need readers to see our full range of experiences and interests. We need more than black folks reading books by black folks or we won't get more publishing deals.
I am very impressed and do respect the hard work all the panelists did for Cybils. I get this is a labor of love so know that my outcry isn't a criticism of the individuals involved but a frustrated outcry about how black writers and readers are perceived.
What is keeping black authors from gaining recognition outside of the historical category? Tell me. Tell us. Tell us what it's going to take for the majority to stop insisting that we are weighted down by oppression even in our roles in literature.
Helen, I've been on the battlefield so long my head feels a little scrambled at times. Here are a few links related to why I am a literacy and diversity advocate:
I am working on my coming soon post. I am into August and plan on stopping there but I've only found about 10 debut books by authors of color. That includes picture book.
Notice I said debut authors of color not debut Black authors
And I have been searching hard. I am like a Bloodhound when it comes to finding novels with people of color or by authors of color
That low number proves that there is something wrong with the publishing industry.
Where's Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty at Publisher's Weekly
And Stay Out of Trouble:Narratives for Black Urban Children by Lelac Almagor at Horn Books. This raised more than a few arm hairs. I had quite a bit to say in this discussion. Almagor is a classic example of why I feel compelled to speak up.
A response from Sharon G. Flake to Almagor
A great series to follow is Writers Against Racism at Amy Bowllan's blog at School Library Journal.