This morning on Facebook a friend shared, critically, this story at the Guardian about a crank objecting to the pleasure others’ find in diverse literature:
Campbell had said that “there are so few books for queer black boys, but there are just too few books for all our marginalised young people”. Rosoff, author of How I Live Now and other bestselling titles, responded that “there are not too few books for marginalised young people. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them”, and that “you don’t have to read about a queer black boy to read a book about a marginalised child”.
“The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what ‘needs’ to be represented,” wrote Rosoff. “You don’t read Crime and Punishment to find out about Russian criminals. Or Alice in Wonderland to know about rabbits. Good literature expands your mind. It doesn’t have the ‘job’ of being a mirror.”
On the commute to work I couldn’t stop thinking about this notion that advocates of diversity are being “too literal,” and that what we expect is “a mirror” in literature that maps one-to-one against our own personal life experiences. I kept thinking about how, elsewhere in the Guardian piece, the Ms. Rosoff is quoted as saying (in response to social media pushback:
I really hate this idea that we need agendas in books. A great book has a philosophical, spiritual, intellectual agenda that speaks to many many people – not just gay black boys. I’m sorry, but write a pamphlet about it. That’s not what books are for.
This framing of increasingly-diverse participation in the world of literature and public speech as agenda-driven and somehow antithetical to “Good literature [that] expands your mind” is a tired, reactionary position. And it tells us far more about the speaker than it does about the individuals who are busily creating an ever-more-diverse literature that fully represents our human experience is all of its’ myriad universal-yet-specific particulars. Continue reading