While speaking at a predominately African-American high school a few years ago, I asked the students to name some of their favorite books. I expected the students to name novels by some of my favorite YA authors—perhaps Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, or Virginia Hamilton. Instead, the students named authors such as Eric Jerome Dickey and Zane.Don’t get me wrong—I like Eric Jerome Dickey a lot, and both he and Zane have worked hard to achieve their much deserved success. However, for some reason, I just didn’t feel comfortable discussing the works of Zane or EJ Dickey with a bunch of tenth graders.I found myself thinking about this again as I reviewed the statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. According to the CCBC, out of the approximately 5000 trade children’s books published in the United States in 2006, 87 were written by African Americans.87 out of 5000. That’s 2%, if you’re generous with the rounding.
2% isn’t a lot by any means, but if we could somehow highlight a few of these books—help readers to see that good book by good authors are out there—perhaps the publishing and book selling industry would take notice. Perhaps that 2% could grow to 3%. And then to 4%. And so on and so on.
Sometimes, being a writer means that you have to put your own books down so you can cheer for someone else. Sometimes, you have to be an advocate instead of an author.