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We need (more) diverse authors

In the Age of Testing, it seems creativity is often left by the wayside. Professional development for teachers these days focuses on practices that supposedly raise test scores. Practice questions. Test-prep software. Data analysis. Incentives.

To make room for these practices, it seems that many high schools no longer teach creative writing. We teach reading and writing to prepare students for college (and tests), which means argument, research, and analysis. Yet, stories remain an object of study, so there’s no denying they’ve retained their cultural value even if we’ve stopped writing them in the classroom.

Just imagine if we stopped going nuts about test proficiency and instead aimed to inspire children to love and value stories so much that they want to create them.

I think there’s a tremendous loss in that many (possibly most) schools do not have this mindset.

Writing fiction is instructive in itself. Writing a story helps one understand plot. Creating a symbol helps one analyze symbolism. Proofreading a piece in hopes of publication motivates one to master Standard English conventions. Writing a story gives context and meaning to skills that are often taught devoid of either.

Beyond the lost opportunity for instruction, I think a more insidious effect is that we lose potential authors. And since test prep reigns supreme in the inner-city, where test scores tend to be low but racial and socioeconomic diversity tends to be high, this equates to the loss of potential authors of color.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing authors of color in the writing community today, both published and unpublished. Yet I don’t think anyone would claim that the publishing world — at any level — has arrived at a place where it accurately reflects the world we live in.

But if we push for more creative writing in schools — especially in schools with underrepresented populations — I think we will eventually see more diverse writers emerge. And more diverse writers will lead to more diverse stories in agents’ submission folders, in editors’ hands, and on bookshelves. And that, I believe, has far more potential to transform children’s lives than any standardized test.

Randy Ribay About Randy Ribay

Randy Ribay teaches high school English at an all-boys charter school in Philadelphia and is a regular reviewer for The Horn Book Guide. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Colorado and an Ed.M. in Language & Literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the author of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes (Merit Press, Oct 2015).

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Comments

  1. I can’t thank you enough for this. We’re working on some initiatives in KC to get more diverse kids reading, and a local library south of me has a teen group that meets to discuss the issue.

    There are plenty of diverse books on the market according to the CCBC survey. The problem is those books aren’t written by people of color.

    Yes we need more diverse authors, editors and agents. But for now – while we train the next generation, we need to address why the publishing climate is still so hostile to those already in the pipeline. Publishers can’t put out books by people of color then withhold any and all marketing support offered to their majority counterparts, then blame them for low sales.

    One of the most common complaints among illustrators is that they are often only approached to illustrator books by white authors as if to “validate” it, or pigeonholed to only ethnic topics (instead of being hired to illustrate a wide range of books and topics). And from authors – that they are often the focus of an editorial process that erases cultural beats in their narratives in favor of ones the editor recognizes.

    We need more diverse authors writing in voices children will recognize as their own – I contend there are already plenty available to be tapped:

    http://www.ACAIC.org

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