Five Questions with Marieke Nijkamp of DiversifYA

Marieke Nijkamp

Marieke is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and proud-to-be geek. She wants to grow up to be a time traveler, holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages.

In the midnight hours of the day she writes young adult stories (ranging from contemporary to fantasy) as well as the occasional middle grade adventure, and all her stories have a sprinkling of wonder to them. Website ~ Twitter

1. What is DiversifYA?

DiversifYA is an inclusive community where people share experiences and stories, all sorts of diversity and all marginalized experiences, in the hope that all of us who write will realize the world is much bigger than our little patch of earth. That we are diversity, that diversity is reality, and that one day our stories will reflect that.

2. What do you see as the solution? Is the burden on editors, marketers, or authors?

I believe it's a burden on all of us. Authors, editors, readers, marketers, agents, booksellers... basically, anyone involved in books. It's on authors to consider why their stories, if not diverse, are straight, white, able-bodied, middle class. After all, none of us live in completely homogeneous communities, so why should our characters? There's the, frankly rather disgusting, belief that books about marginalized characters are only for people with the same marginalized experience, whereas books with white/straight/able-bodied characters are somehow "neutral" and for all. We need to keep challenging that.

It's on the industry to actively seek out diversity, be willing to take risks, and recognize the privilege of the system. It's on librarians and booksellers to recognize that the readers are there and they to deserve to find themselves reflected in stories. It's on readers and on all of us to buy the books. Buy the books. Order them for your library. Spread the word. Support the authors. Tell bookstores, librarians, publishers that you want more. There is no louder message than that of actual sales.

This is also one of the reasons why We Need Diverse Books, of which I am proud to be one of the VPs, recently incorporated to become a non-profit. We were fortunate enough -- right place, right time -- to be able to amplify this diversity discussion, and we are set on creating real change, by offering book selling kits of bookstores and librarians, by organizing the US's first Diversity Festival, and by many, many more activities we'll be rolling out over the coming months.

3. A lot of people equate diversity with race specifically. How would you define it?

I would define diversity as including (but not limited to) LGBTQ*, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, social, and religious minorities. We absolutely need more racial diversity in our books, but we also need more bisexual characters, characters in wheelchairs, genderqueer characters, indigenous characters, and so on. And I truly believe that in this discussion we are stronger if we stand together, and be as inclusive as possible.

4. You recently spoke on a diversity-themed panel at BEA. What was that like?

Oh my goodness, it was the most magical experience! BookCon itself was overwhelming enough, but to see people line up for our panel an hour before it started and filling the room to the extent where we had to turn people away because we simply couldn't fit them in... it was beyond anything I'd dared hope for. And at the same time, being able to share a stage with so many AMAZING writers and diversity activists was a fantastic experience. And the energy in the room... Oh, I wish I could've bottled it for the darker days :) It was truly spectacular!

5. What would you say to an author who wants to add diversity but is worried about inadvertently offending people with the disability/of the race/in the community s/he is writing about?

You are going to offend someone. Deal with it. Learn from it. And do better next time.

Truth is, I see this comment a lot, and while I understand where people are coming from, I think we need to acknowledge that being able to say things like that is a privilege. Because frankly, it's not just about offending. Sure, I've read portrayals of queer or disabled characters that made me want to hurl a book across the room, but those are not the worst scenarios. It's a lot trickier having to deal with the real life consequences of bad portrayals. Having to explain to people that yes, you actually do have feelings, despite the fact that 90% of popular media portrays autistics as emotionless and that's their own frame of reference.

So if I can be blunt? Do your job. Do your research, and research extensively. Not just by reading the theories, but by talking to actual people, by asking them to read portrayals if you're worried about them. By reading first-person accounts. And by acknowledging that one experience is still not going to be more than one experience. You can't expect us to speak on behalf on our entire group anymore than you can. Someone else may, and most likely will, feel differently. But you can try hard and do your best.

And even then, you will offend someone.

Deal with it.

Learn from it.

And do better next time.

About the Author :

Jen Malone is a middle grade and young adult author jenwho spent a year traveling the world solo (favorite spot: Nepal), met her husband on the highway, and went into labor on Stevie Nick's tour bus. She's repped by the fantabulous Holly Root at The Waxman Leavell Literary Agency and her debut AT YOUR SERVICE is available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIx with more titles soon to be released. 

Connect with Jen . . .
Website ~ Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Goodreads

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