Friday, July 29, 2016

On diversity in fantasy and books in general.


I have generally bad times when it comes to contemporary. I think maybe I always will, because when I escape to fantasy I feel more at home than when I read books set in this world. I like to read about adventures and escapades and more than what surrounds me, and this is both good- thrilling, enjoyable, compelling, knowing what I like- and bad- because in a good portion of fanasty there is a big lack of diversity. And this isn't okay because fantasy is supposed to be an escape. There are so few characters of colour, of gender identities besides male/female, of sexualities besides straight- and those are the characters I want. Those are the characters we need.


I've never read a character like me. I've never read a character who feels like I do. And that isn't okay. I want my reading experience to show me myself, and to show me others, and a lot of the time it feels like I'm seeing the same paper cutout characters, and their stories can be wonderful, thrilling, majestic, but the characters themselves just aren't what I want or what I need. 


So, how is it that I'm escaping to worlds in which so many of the characters make up majorities- and there are exceptions, of course. There are epic fantasy novels that have POC and lgbtiqa+ main characters, but the popular ones? The ones that get the biggest exposure and the most reviews and the ones that everyone talks about?


I do not believe I, or anyone else, should have to stick to one genre to find ourselves and others. If contemporary isn't my jam, I should still expect to find lgbtiqa+ characters in fantasy, or murder/mystery (without there being the victim), or in any genre at all. I should be able to see POC characters leading stories outside of one genre, and it shouldn't *be* a struggle to find these stories.


An important part of diversity in fiction is being able to see yourself, and that is so important. It's important for people who are discovering/learning about/living their sexualities and for people with disabilities and for all the people who aren't represented, who should be represented. And it's also incredibly important for the people who read about experiences beyond their own and grow to be more compassionate, to have a previously unreached comprehension and to see the world from a viewpoint that isn't their own. There are so many important factors to reading diverse books, and there is such a call for it, such a need for it, and yet I still step into fantasy and find myself with characters who make majority groups. I find myself in a world unlike my own, and yet... it runs with the same norms, the expectations and rules of this society.


And these stories, they can be epic, thrilling, gorgeous and I can love them, but sometimes it seems like that's all I'm getting. And I don't want that to be all I ever read.


I feel like it can be hard to talk about the things we need, want, think are lacking. And when I wrote this post, I was afraid. I am proud of this post, and I beileve in everything I've written here, but the reason it's hard is because of backlash and bullying and being attacked for saying that some books are good, yes, but they aren't nearly good enough. But I have the power, in this corner of the blogverse/world, to speak up. And like hell am I going to ignore that power.

12 comments:

  1. I wish I can say the same thing. I think my brain is just not cut out for worlds beyond my imagination, but I keep trying.

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    1. Well, I don't think having diverse characters in books- characters who are a representation of the millions of unique people in the world- is something I'd call a world beyond imagination, since really it's about trying to have the people the world represented in the worlds we read about, which should already be happening- it shouldn't be something we have to fight for. Because it's just so important to read books and see yourself and see others and not feel alone when you read them, to learn about cultures and identities aside from your own, and to see a character who encapsulates you. It's so important, and so joyful a moment when it happens, and I'll always want it, and fight for it, to be a part of my reading experience.

      I don't think it necessarily is just in antasy, either, even though that's what I mostly talked about here. It needs to happen more in contemporary, and murder/mystery, and sci-fi and every genre in between. So even if fantasy isn't your jam, you can still have the experience in any other book. xx

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  2. This is a fantastic post. So much truth in here, and it would be perfect to see diversity in all genres of fiction. (So with you on the lack of interest in contemporary too!) Things are getting better with diversity in books, and hopefully that will extend to every genre quickly.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much, Charlene! I'm so thrilled you think so. I was so nervous and passionate when I was writing it, but this is definitely a direction I want my blog to continue in. I want to talk about the things I'm concerned about and don't like and want more of, and this is a start I'm really proud of.

      To see diversity in every genre, and to not have to look for it because it isn't hard to find, it would be a dream. It IS the dream. I definitely don't want to have to resort to contemporary because it just isn't in the other genres I'm reading, and I really want that to change.

      Things definitely are getting better, and there's a lot of talking about this topic, but I hope it spreads like anything because I feel like it's mainly in contemporary that the change is prevalent, so I definitely agree that I want this to extend to every genre! xx

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing this post Romi! You've probably noticed how I've been reading more adult SFF because I'm just more likely to find diversity in adult fantasy than YA. Though there is still ongoing mainstream bias in the adult SFF world too but I find that adult SFF is more used to playing with different norms and expectations whereas YA does often reverts back to the same ones but not in a self-reflective way. I still adore YA fantasy but agree wholeheartedly that it shouldn't be a struggle to find those books in a genre we love.

    On a different note, it shouldn't be a struggle for writers to pitch those books either. I saw Nnedi Okorafor tweet about how she writes what she wants to read, but she also said that writers are readers too and sometimes, we just want to read those stories and not be the only ones writing them.

    That point about those books creating compassion for all readers - regardless of where you come from - is spot on. It reminds me of a quote by Ambelin Kwaymullina:
    "We need diverse books because a lack of diversity is a failure of our humanity. Literature without diversity presents a false image of what it is to be human. It masks – and therefore contributes to – the continuation of existing inequities, and it widens the gulfs of understanding that are already swallowing our compassion for each other."
    https://web.archive.org/web/20150919153426/http://www.welovethisbook.com/features/why-diversity-matters-an-aussie-perspective

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    1. Oh, thank you, Glaiza! Thank you for reading it! That's definitely something I think about, because in some genres I'm less likely to read or in adult, which I don't actively read, I feel like it might be less of a fight to get the stories about the characters that I want to be reading. I wish that wasn't so, because I don't want to read contemporary to find what I want, and I don't want to be forced to read genres or in age brackets I'm not wholly interested in (most of the time) just to get the things that should be in every book. I really hope that changes. What you said about YA reverting is definitely something I feel like there's a lot of truth in, and I don't really understand why that's the case.

      Oh, that's a really interesting and relatable point. I guess it can get to the point where you're writing the stories you're passionate about, but you're also not reading any others which is so hard.

      Aah, thank you for sharing that quote! I'll definitely check out that article. xx

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  4. You already know how I feel about this topic, and this post, but here I am anyway *sunglasses emoji* or maybe 8) (closest one I could do)

    I am 109% over not seeing diverse characters and representation in genres of YA other than contemporary. I feel like this is changing, ever so slowly, but the super popular series seem to be exempt from it, and remain white and straight and cis and able-bodied and neurotypical.

    I just want these stories to be MORE than they are right now, to be representative of the world we ACTUALLY live in. For everyone to be able to see themselves in books - both set in the real world and those of imaginations.

    I just want these stories.

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    1. I do, and yet I thank you for coming, sweetie. You know how much your comments and thoughts mean to me, so thank youuuuu!

      Definitely. And I don't really understand how that's something we're still asking for, when it is just so necessary and obvious that it's necessary? It shouldn't ever have been something we needed to ask for. It should have just been there for us to find and have and treasure, but not fight for.

      I agree. I really struggle, sometimes, with how much more I want from books, and the fact that sure, I can enjoy this book, but I can also regret the fact that there's so much more I needed from it. So much more that so many people needed for it, and there just isn't any reason for it not to be present. Diversity is just a part of life- people are different to other people- and yet... it so often doesn't come through.

      I want those stories, too. I want them so badly. xx

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  5. Romi, I love contemporary as much as fantasy but the lack of diversity occurs across all genres in my opinion. That being said, you're right; contemporary authors are doing a much better job of addressing this issue - I guess because it's something that has been brought to the forefront and there's a need for these issues to be addressed in a realistic way - than fantasy authors.

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    1. Oh, I agree that the lack of diversity is across all genres- I just think, in my experience, that contemporary is where it's easiest to find stories about characters who are diverse. There aren't a whole heap of books, at least not that I've read, that are YA fantasy featuring LGBTIQA+ characters, and sure, there aren't a whole lot of those in contemporary, but it's growing, there. And in fantasy I don't think it's growing, so much.

      I really hope that fantasy authors and publishers and authors across all other genres start pressing for these characters we need and want. It's so important and it's well past time for it to happen. Especially since I escape to fantasy, and yet it's as if I'm escaping to a world with fairies or magic or any number of fantastical elements, but they are led by the same characters I might meet in any other story, and that can be really hard to deal with.
      xx

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  6. I agree that diversity should be found in every genre. It just seems certain themes or ideas break through better in certain genres. Or like how New Adult is still mostly a contemporary romance age category only.
    I do think diverse fantasy books are out there, but they probably are harder to find. I hope you'll find more of those books were you can recognize yourself! And hopefully we eventually will see diverse books in all genres.

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    1. It's really difficult when I want to be able to read about all these stories, and I have to limit myself because of that. I don't think it should be that way at all, and the fact it is- that contemporary is often more accessible for me, when it comes to queer characters, than my favourite fantasy? It makes me sad.

      Oh, there're out there alright! And the fact they are, it's wonderful. But there do need to me more, so it isn't hard to find. I want it to be easy! I hope so, too, Lola. I really do. xx

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Have a beautiful day.x