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Atlanta’s Muslim community should join recent calls for book publishers to produce more novels with diverse plots and characters, a local author says. We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization co-founded by Pakistani-American author Aisha Saeed, calls on the American publishing industry to produce and promote literature that “reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
“…I was concerned when I saw how few diverse books were published in the United States and the presumption that diverse books don’t sell,” said Saeed, an attorney-turned-writer who recently authored Written in the Stars, a novel about a Pakistani teenager. “This didn’t make sense. Given that the U.S is growing increasingly diverse by the day, how could there not be a demand for diverse literature to reflect the world we live in?”
Last year, Saeed said, only seven percent of children’s books published in the United States contained diverse elements.
“Feeling frustrated, I took to Twitter to discuss my concerns and found a conversation taking place between several authors including Ellen Oh,” Saeed said. “We decided enough was enough. We had to stop talking about it and begin doing something. So began our three day hashtag campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks which went viral with hundreds of thousands of tweets from every inhabited continent on earth sharing why diversity in literature mattered. The outpouring of support told us unequivocally: The world wants diverse books. Diverse books matter.”
Hence came the organization We Need Diverse Books.
“No longer just a hashtag, we are now an incorporated nonprofit and are committed to changing the way diverse books are perceived and sold in the marketplace,” Saeed said. “We have many initiatives from publishing internships, to grants for unpublished writers, and more and all are in pursuit of helping to change the literary landscape of children’s literature to reflect the world we live in.”
Although the organization may seek to collaborate with Georgia school districts in the future, it does not currently do so. Instead, We Need More Diverse Books has focused its attention on the American publishing industry.
This cause should seem particularly important to American Muslims, Saeed said, because diverse books can help reduce negative stereotypes about Islam.
“Many children hear stereotypes and hateful propaganda about Muslims day in and day out on the media and never have the opportunity to actually meet or know a Muslim,” Saeed said. “Through reading a book the distances collapse and a child, even one who may be learning bigotry and racism at home, may be dissuaded by the connection they make with a character in a book. The more we can see the universal threads of humanity we all contain, the harder it is to hate. Books can accomplish this.”
Such books could also improve the self-esteem of young Muslim-Americans, the organization said.
“Books also are important mirrors for children as well to see a reflection of themselves,” she said. “Visibility in media matters, particularly to children. It tells them their lives and their stories matter. Books, even comics like Ms. Marvel featuring a Pakistani American teen Kamala Khan, help people see and realize they are part of the American fabric too.”
To that end, the organization hopes that American Muslims will support its cause by supporting the publication of diverse books.
“This means buying them,” Saeed said. “The only way an author has a future is based on the number of people buying their books. If you want more books by Muslims and about the Muslim American experience purchase them. There’s no other way for them to exist and every sale matters. Buy them for yourself, buy them as gifts, and try to buy them from your local bookstores, and support the bookstores that are supporting us. Little Shop of Stories, a Decatur bookstore, recently held a “story time” event based on a plot involving Ramadan and offered other Ramadan-related books for sale to their customers. A Barnes & Noble in Atlanta also featured a Ramadan-themed book display.
“Support these marketing efforts by purchasing the books,” Saeed said. “Talk them up to your friends, request your library stock the book if they don’t already, [and] write reviews for the books you loved.”
Readers interested in learning more about We Need More Diverse Books may visit its website here.
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