On the Need for Diverse Books

Last week, I wrote about how important Octavia Butler’s work is to me. Every time I tell people how much I like Octavia Butler, someone inevitably says, “You should read Nnedi Okorafor!” or, “Have you read any of Tananarive Due’s works?”

And I always want to ask them:

“Are you recommending them because you think their writing style / subject matter / perspective is similar enough to Butler’s to merit the comparison? Or are you just naming them because they’re another black woman who writes SF?”

The assumption that their shared ethnicity and gender must mean their writing will be similar is both disturbing and anachronistic.

Butler was an inspiration and influence for many of the black women who followed her in the SF field. But the significant differences in all their backgrounds pretty much guarantees that each of their voices is going to be unique, their writing styles and preoccupations different.

Just because I like one doesn’t automatically mean I’ll like the others.

That being said—there’s some merit in these recommendations. One of the things I appreciate most about Butler’s work is that it exposes me to perspectives that I don’t normally experience in my day-to-day life as a middle class cisgender white male.

It stands to reason that other black women SF writers will also expose me to perspectives very different from my own, even if their individual styles and obsessions are different from each other.

But if what I’m looking for are new and different perspectives to open my eyes to other kinds of experience, then people’s recommendations shouldn’t stop at the list of black women SF writers. Writers of any ethnicity, even if male, would serve this need. Women writers, even if they’re not black, would serve this need. Writers with non-cisgender identities of any ethnicity—even if white—would serve this need.

Yes, I’ve read some of Tananarive Due’s works and I found the experience rewarding. I’m about to get started on Nnedi Okorafor’s work and I’m excited to do so. I’m eager for the opportunity to see the world through her eyes.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. I want diverse books. And the more, the better.

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