Why We Must Celebrate Black Authors
Last year during award season, celebrated author Stephen King tweeted “...I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” He continued, “those judging creative excellence should be blind to questions of race, gender or sexual orientation.”
King’s comment was and still is an epic failure. He misses two important facts. One is that diversity matters and it especially matters because racialized identities are often excluded in storytelling. Second, quality is weakened when we exclude these diverse voices and experiences.
After he was ripped for that tweet, King published an op-ed in the Washington Post walking back his comment. Well, I guess you can call it that. He acknowledged his privilege in this “diversity discussion”, as a man who is “white, male, old and rich.” He and many others in the publishing world fail to recognize that when we don’t tell the stories that reflect the diverse identities within our society, we erase these identities and silence voices.
As a child, I read all the Disney books about princesses that didn’t look like me. I wanted to be little orphan Annie, because there were no little Black girls’ journeys to connect with. I don’t recall reading any books that had characters that presented a narrative I could identify with or aspire to be.
In school, there was the rare occasion I learned about Black people in English literature. Even then, it was literature that presented stereotypes of what it means to be Black. For non-Black students, this type of literature narrowed their understanding of what it means to be Black. We see this played out every day in media and politics.
By celebrating and supporting Black authors and publishers, we can enable more authentic storytelling that reflect Black experiences, identities, and voices. Books written by Black authors are more likely to avoid stereotypes, biases, and less likely to exploit Black bodies. They are also able to tackle Black issues with awareness and authenticity.
Supporting Black authors means creating opportunities for them to tell their stories. We can start by reading these books in our homes, our classrooms and libraries and reflecting on who is telling the story. How is the story being told? How are the characters depicted?
Black History Month is a time for everyone to learn and grow from Black culture. It’s the perfect time to learn about Black authors, playwrights, and poets. Check out this list of 32 books to read for Black History Month and please share.