Kwame Alexander, Newbery Award Winner 2015, is one of my new favorites. His writing is poetic and fun. His personality is huge. He is a way cool dude.
I had the pleasure of listening to Kwame in New York at the SCBWI mid-winter conference, and he was inspirational.
Kwame says that to write diverse books, we need to live diverse lives. That to write authentic books, we need to live authentic lives.
I'm not saying most of us don't do that, but I think we could all do more. When Kwame talks about diversity, he may not think about the fact that I live in Idaho, in Boise, where the level of racial diversity is sparse. However, I started thinking about the diversity I do experience every day.I look at my neighborhood. While it's all white, it has different kinds of diversity: a Jewish family on the corner whose adult son is autisitc, a next door neighbor raising her meth addicted daughter's child, political activists across the street who commit to their causes, a gay couple around the corner who are raising twin girls born of a surrogate. The public schools my kids have attended include immigrants and refugees from across the world, especially Bosnia, Sudan, Uganda, and Afghanistan.
But how can we increase the diversity we experience, whatever level we have in our daily lives? I think the best way is to stretch ourselves, go beyond our comfort zones, hang out with people we normally wouldn't be in contact with. I live very close to downtown Boise, which is where most of the homeless community congregates. And yes, they are a community. They interact like a large family, with the usual squabbles and infighting, but they are fiercely loyal when someone from "outside" tries to hurt or harass them. I help serve them meals at our church. I could do more. I could be at the shelters or even on the streets with them. I have been active in lobbying for LBGT rights in our state legislature, and through that I have met many transgender folks I never knew before. That has brought into my life some awesome people, as well as expanded the way I think about gender and the pronouns I use.
What are your comfort zones? Where could you expand yourself, expose yourself to more diversity? It doesn't have to be racial diversity, although that is a good place to start if it's not something you are routinely exposed to. It could be age diversity, or gender diversity. It could be volunteering to build homes at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (I grew up next to the rez)--the poorest place in the U.S. It could be traveling to another country to help victims of a disaster. Or it could be simply hanging out where the poor in your own community are and talking to them like real people.
Another fantastic way to increase the diversity in your world is, of course, reading diverse books! Read about people in other countries, in other times, of other races, religions, genders, and ages. Read authentic books.
Then proceed to write diversely and authentically.