Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tu Publishing - Bringing multicultural awareness to the masses

As a white female, I never thought much about the ethnicity of the characters in the books I read. (Although, interestingly, I do love a book with a strong female lead.) Obviously in the books where race really matters, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Invisible Man, it was a consideration. But if I'm just reading a book, I don't really care about the race of my main character. I'll just picture them as the author describes them, usually with a few modifications of my own (for example, no matter how hard I try, I can never remember to make Remus Lupin look run-down. He always looks too handsome in my head.), but I don't think about the bigger issue of race.

Then, a few months ago, I read about Justine Larbalestier's YA novel Liar. I would never assume that everyone reading this blog is familiar with the situation, so I'll sum up here. Basically, the protagonist in the novel is described as "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." The cover that the publisher came up with was this:

Uhm, right. Because that chick totally looks black.

Another interesting issue, apart from the fact that this was an inaccurate depiction of the protagonist, is that the character is a pathological liar, and you apparently spend the whole book wondering what is true and what isn't (for the record, I can't wait to read this). So, if the reader sees a white person on the front cover, but inside the book the character describes herself as black, but she's a liar...woah. Fortunately, thanks to some amazingly powerful blog entries by the author and others in the blogging world, the publisher changed the cover, and you can now buy this at stores everywhere:

Better. But the interesting thing about this whole issue is that this character's race isn't really an important plot point (not having read the book yet, I can't confirm this, but I'm almost positive). So this was the first time that I started thinking about race in books when race wasn't really an issue. Then I started thinking...

What if I was a minority, with so many of the books I read featuring white main characters? Would I think about it? Would it bother me?

That is why the new publishing company, Tu Publishing, is so great. They are a house geared specifically toward books that are fantasy or sci-fi YA novels with multicultural main characters. Amazing. Not only do I think this could encourage more people to incorporate multicultural characters into their novel, but it could also mean that books with minority characters have a better shot of getting published.

Unfortunately, Tu Publishing hasn't started quite yet. They need some help getting off the ground (namely, money). If you want to help their effort, visit their Web site, and make a donation.

And to learn more about writing outside of your cultural group, read these blog entries by Justine Larbalestier (who's white, so there's no excuse for you...or me).


  1. The story of Liar came to my attention after the cover issue. I read it and loved it and yes, you spend most of the novel wondering if you are being lied to, but it's brilliant. Micah's race isn't all that important and it's not a plot point. She's actually biracial with a black father and a French mother, so the current cover nearly on point.

    As person of color and a writer, I sometimes think about what people will think of the characters I create. I have lots of different races in my novels. The one I'm currently querying has a while male lead and a black female lead who will eventually be lovers. My book is not about race so I spend little to no time pointing a finger at their races. I can't worry about if people will think that my characters should be black because I'm black. I just have to write the story that I want to write.

    Great post!

  2. BEAUTIFUL post. Thank you so much Heather! You did a heck of a better job than I did!

  3. @Karen: Thank you so much for your insightful comments! I think it's great when multicultural characters are just characters, and their race doesn't have to be an issue. Although race is important, it isn't always everything. I think people forget that when we don't see multicultural characters or biracial relationships happening casually, without making a big deal of it.

    @Heather: Thanks! That's very sweet of you to say! But since you really are the one who brought it to my attention, I don't think it's fair to say I did better than you!

  4. DIversity is so important in YA/MG literature. I mean, who doesn't like to read about people who are similar to them when they're growing up. I think part of the problem (at least for us) is that we tend to write about people who we can relate to, unfortunately we happen to be white. We do have lots of multicultural secondary characters, but we're still a little intimidated to try to write from a black, asian, etc POV. What if we totally mucked it up and ended up offending people? But then you read books like The Help that are SO amazing. Great post.

  5. I always add some diversity to my writing. It comes naturally to me, I suppose because of where I grew up.
    I also never really consider race when I'm reading because I'm just so into everything, and my imagination takes over. This also happens with the rest of the character description...sometimes the character I imagine in my head is nothing like the one that's been written on paper!
    Great post!


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