A Year Later, #WeNeedDiverseBooks Has Left Its Mark On BookCon The Twitter campaign was born out of the controversy around the lack of diverse voices in the event's panels. This year, one organizer says, the first panel they booked was with that campaign.
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A Year Later, #WeNeedDiverseBooks Has Left Its Mark On BookCon

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A Year Later, #WeNeedDiverseBooks Has Left Its Mark On BookCon

A Year Later, #WeNeedDiverseBooks Has Left Its Mark On BookCon

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This is a big week for book publishing. The industry's annual convention is wrapping up today. And tomorrow, the publishing world opens its doors to the public with BookCon, where avid readers can mingle with their favorite authors. Last year, BookCon was panned for not featuring more authors of color. The controversy spawned a campaign called We Need Diverse Books. NPR's Lynn Neary looks at how the issue is being tackled this year.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: It wasn't just one thing that led to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, says one of its co-founders, Ellen Oh. Anger about the lack of diversity in publishing had been brewing for a long time. But when BookCon announced its guest list last year, Oh says it struck a nerve.

ELLEN OH: It was 30 authors that were all white. And the only diversity was the grumpy cat. And I think at that point, the anger and the disappointment of a lot of people just kind of overflowed, and we decided to really talk about why this was so important.

NEARY: The campaign, aimed at the lack of diversity in kids' books, urged people of all ages to tweet about why diverse books were so important to them. The response was enormous, says Oh.

OH: So these were clear reflections of the world that diversity was not just important to a small section of authors who had been talking about it for years, but it was actually important to the world.

NEARY: The reaction was immediate. The organizers of BookCon working with the campaign put together a panel on diversity in kids' books, which drew a standing-room-only crowd at last year's BookCon. And this year?

BRIEN MCDONALD: Well, I can tell you the first panel that we booked was with We Need Diverse Books.

NEARY: Brien McDonald is the show manager of BookCon. He says this year, there are several panels on diversity. McDonald says the organizers work closely with publishers to ensure that a wide range of authors would take part in the conference.

MCDONALD: There were some instances where, when we were planning panels - who's available, who fits with kind of the theme of this panel - where we would definitely stop and say, we need diversity included here. We have three white people. The fourth cannot be that way.

NEARY: Among the authors who will be taking part in BookCon is Daniel Jose Older. His panel will address the issue of diversity in science fiction. Older thinks the diverse books campaign did provoke a wider discussion in the publishing world, and he's seen some change in the past year. But he still thinks the industry has a long way to go.

DANIEL JOSE OLDER: And I think we have yet to see how deeply rooted that change is. So it's one thing to put the word diversity on banners and things like that. And then it's another to actually achieve equity and stop racist practices in publishing. Those are different things.

NEARY: That may be the case, but Ellen Oh is still looking forward to the day when the We Need Diverse Books campaign won't be needed.

OH: The part where we have to keep going after gatekeepers and reminding people about why it's good to read diversely and why it's good to introduce children to diversity, that part of it I hope, eventually, it becomes the norm and we don't have to do that anymore.

NEARY: That time may come someday, but Daniel Jose Older thinks it's still very much in the future. He believes the conversations that are now getting underway about race and publishing are just the beginning.

OLDER: But ultimately, the conversation about diversity is about the truth. We live in a very diverse world, and literature needs to reflect that. And that it hasn't is a failure. It's a literary and human failure. So the conversation is never going away, and it will only get louder.

NEARY: Older says there's one sure sign the conversation isn't over yet. It's the fact that authors of color are still the most outspoken about the need for more diversity in publishing. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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