Diversity in Literature

Some thoughts by Steve Heron OAM

What is diversity?

It is the state of being diverse. Der.

Diversity: Variety, difference.

Diversity in literature circles usually refers to stories featuring significant characters who identify as LGBTQ+, are people of colour, have disabilities, or are part of any other oppressed and/or underrepresented group. This includes anyone who has been colonised or stereotyped.

What is stereotyping?

Stereotyping is about someone trying to have power over other people they don’t understand or are afraid of, in order to normalise or pigeonhole.

This includes typecasting, pigeonholing, standardising, categorising, labelling. Normalising.

It could be said that diversity in literature is about unnormalizing or unstereotyping.

Some people might say, “Diversity has gone so far nowadays that it doesn’t recognise normal people.” Who or what is normal anyway?

Let’s have a look at normalising. What is it? Normalising is conforming someone to a standard, usual, typical or expected state or condition. Normalising is labelling someone as ‘different.’

I believe diversity in literature nowadays is attempting to go further to help us realise that all people are normal and that all people are different. After all, I think the purpose of diversity in literature is to enable all people, especially the underrepresented to be accepted, to be normal.

It is similar to the argument about using the word ‘disabled’. It has been suggested to use ‘otherabled’. Doesn’t this stereotype and suggest that those who are ‘abled’ are the norm? Imagine if we classed everyone who is talented as ‘gifted’ and those that aren’t as ‘disgifted’ or ‘ungifted’, but to try to include them we call them ‘othergifted’. Everyone, EVERYONE is gifted. We all have different gifts, diverse gifts.

Why is diversity in literature important?

Diversity is not about telling the stories of people that are not normal. Diversity is about telling the stories of unrepresented people so that they and others realise they are normal … accepted … appreciated … respected … gifted … not judged.

Diversity in writing means understanding that each individual is unique as well as recognising and celebrating differences. These differences include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical or mental abilities, religious beliefs, or ideologies.

Honouring diversity in our writing can be achieved by:

  • Broad research
  • Inclusive language
  • Better understanding
  • Balancing the power
  • Acknowledging that no one is superior
  • Fostering respect
  • Championing sensitivity
  • Endorsing cultural relevance

 “Everyone has the right to feel safe and be respected.”

Diversity in writing is about helping the reader to come to a view that everything and everyone is normal but everything and everyone shouldn’t be normalised.

So, diversity in writing is about not normalising (as in stereotyping)but normalising (as in accepting). Our language can be strange at times.

Diversity is about balancing the power by understanding and respecting people so that they are not made to feel abnormal.

“No one should be allowed to get ahead be denigrating another.”

One day the phrase ‘diversity in literature’ may not need to exist.

Maximus – Snippet from CBCA WA April Newsletter

“Steve Heron’s talk about his book Maximus caught me off guard. His explanation about an angry young boy finding a friend in a magpie was really touching and I found myself thinking about equity versus equality for students with these issues.”

Thank you Beck Borona for your wonderful words after my presentation at the CBCA WAs A Night With The Stars in March.

I am looking forward to presenting at the Big Sky Readers And Writers Festival in Geraldton 13-16 June.

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Sayings, quotes, snippets from you books, blogs, thoughts, journal and musings.

Maximus Review From CBCA Reading Time Newsletter

Mitch is a Year Six student and everything sucks. He writes poems about how everything sucks, in fact. He is being bullied at school, and he’s no longer close to Ryan, a good friend. He sucks at footy in some ways, and while he is good at the game in other ways, it’s the sucky part that sticks with him. Stuff is happening with his parents – they are always fighting, and in particular his Dad seems to get angry at every little thing. He doesn’t understand why his Dad is like this, and he can tell that his Mum wants to help him, but his Dad isn’t open to that help. So when Mitch inadvertently injures Jason, the boy bullying him, things come to a head at school. It’s the accumulation of the different things happening at home and at school, but Mitch knows he’s in the wrong and apologies to Jason. It’s then that Mitch begins to open up to his school chaplain and admit he needs help. Through all this, in his backyard he has Maximus, a magpie with whom he makes friends. It’s almost as if the backyard becomes his oasis in a world where things are just all wrong for him. This is a book about allowing kids to feel all the things that it’s not “cool” to feel – being bullied, being worried for your parents, and not understanding why you’re feeling like everything is going wrong. It’s also a book about asking for help, and about being unafraid to have these feelings of loss, and anger – at your friends or your parents. Mitch is given some excellent advice and coping mechanisms, and the author presents this in a way that young readers are going to love – if Mitch can write a poem about how everything sucks, and it’s essentially a list of all the things that suck… and it makes him feel better, then young readers can too if they need to. The resolution of his parents’ issues is particularly important too, because like Mitch, his Dad final recognises he needs help and starts talking to a counsellor, which makes a difference to their home life immediately. Young readers will see that adults need the same sort of help they might too, and that for young and old it’s okay to ask for it. There are lovely friendships, and even an examination of ANZACs and what it means to Australians to honour that history in Maximus. I liked that the author acknowledged refugees in the book as well, by having a young Asian classmate of Mitch’s relate how her family was affected by war as well, and her experiences as a refugee. I almost think there are so many important issues the author tackles in this, that it might be a better read, if some were saved for a second book. I can’t finish without mentioning the lovely illustrations, which will resonate with young readers as they will see their own messy rooms, backyards and family dinners in them too! 

Reviewed by Verushka Byron

Latest Maximus Review from ReadPlus

Max-img1.pngYou never quite know where the help or support you need is going to come from. This is exactly what happened to Mitch, as far as Mitch was concerned life sucked and that was just how it was. Through an incredible friendship with the most unlikely character Mitch was able to start seeing life in a different way. He was able to look at things through new eyes, and experience things in a different way. This allowed Mitch to start to enjoy life in a way he hadn’t for a long time.
Mitch is a very believable character with family problems that could be happening in any home. This book showed Mitch that there are things that happen that he doesn’t understand but still impact on his life, and he learnt the importance of talking about problems with someone to help work through them.
This is a well-written book and I would highly recommend this book to children aged 10+. Resources on the publisher’s website include: Maximus class activity, teacher’s notes and curriculum notes.
Karen Colliver