Ask a Librarian with Fifi Abu
At the April 8th Color of Children's Literature Conference in New York, Cynthia Leitich Smith spoke about her experiences breaking into the writing world as a native author over 20 years ago. The general attitude in publishing was "We already have one." in response to the thought of signing a Native American author. One was enough. Perhaps one was almost too many. And that one author was generally male. There is a quota, apparently, on POC taking seats at the white publishing table. Hearing other authors and illustrators of color speak on April 8th made it clear that despite all of the lip service about diversity, the old rules are still in place. And there is something that feels very calculated and staged going on as the call from publishers for submissions from POC occurs. I've seen agents make graceless cattle calls on social media "Hey, does anyone know any Muslim illustrators?" Widely casting their net while loudly broadcasting the fact that despite the constant inboxing of queries and connections to everyone in the entire publishing industry, no one knows an actual Muslim. Admitting to the world that publishing is such an exclusively caucasian world that no one in it can even make a referral. Because of external pressure, publishers are attempting to make a gesture toward diversity. But due to the exclusionary nature of the industry, the people who have been invisible are not people that publishers have relationships with.
I had a recent experience with an art director who was interested in discussing my Muslim-themed work. He was trying to place me in an imprint that deals exclusively with POC. That was the only place he could see me having value. The only place I belong. I politely listened to everything that he had to say, but inside I was shouting "I can do other things! I can draw cats going dancing! I've got a dog who bakes cakes! I've got a book about mothers!" It was clear that I was only being considered because the publisher would be able to check a box. I was useful for one type of book and one imprint, but not as a general author/illustrator. I would prefer to be be seen as a whole person, not as a two-dimensional marketing ploy. I love the idea of diverse books being created by a wide range of diverse people. But even more, I love the idea of the white publishing world seeing POC as a valuable part of the general talent pool.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children's Book Academy graduate. She is pleased to announce that she has been elected to the 2019 Caldecott Committee.
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