By Richard Ho
I’m proud to be a diverse author.
I just worry that I’m not being a very good one.
To clarify: I’m not talking about the fear of being a bad writer. (Though what writer doesn’t fear that?) My worry is that I’m falling short of the expectations that come with being a POC author.
In this era of #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, I feel a responsibility to write stories that authentically reflect the experiences of the under-represented groups I identify with. I say groups, because the pressure I feel is twofold: not only am I Asian, but I’m also an Orthodox Jew.
The fact that I’m Chinese is obvious to anyone who looks at my headshot. The fact that I converted to Judaism over a decade ago, and have been keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath ever since, is probably more of a surprise. (It’s hard to see, but I am wearing a yarmulke in that picture!)
Being Chinese and being Jewish are both foundational pieces of my identity. And while some aspects of my religious observance occasionally present minor challenges in my life as an author (for one, conferences on Saturdays aren’t really an option for me), I can’t think of too many communities that would be more tolerant and understanding of my circumstances. As an example, the organizers of KidLitCon in Providence (where I’ll be appearing on a panel next month) were extremely accommodating, making every effort to schedule the panel on Friday so that I could participate!
So given the warm welcome I’ve already experienced in my brief time as a member of this community, the challenge for me is not finding acceptance. The challenge is finding my voice.
Do I identify as an Asian-American author? A Jewish author? The even rarer designation of Chinese-Jewish author? Do I have an obligation to write stories that speak exclusively to any or all of those perspectives? Through which prism should I focus my creative efforts?
Should I make those distinctions at all?
That’s the thing about prisms: they have many sides.
My first two sold books are about the Curiosity rover and a lost package, respectively. From a diversity standpoint, they admittedly don’t move the needle. (No one is clamoring for greater representation of robotic cars or cardboard boxes in publishing, as far as I know.) I do have stories in the works that speak to a Chinese or Jewish perspective—and some to both simultaneously. But they are all part of a wider tapestry of stories that cannot be grouped under a single umbrella.
And ultimately, I hope that’s okay. I hope it’s possible to be a diverse author, while maintaining diversity in interests, tastes, and creative output.
Yes, we absolutely need more books that are diverse in race, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, and every other marginalized group in modern society. And as diverse authors, we should embrace our unique platform to put more of those authentic stories into the world. But we should also allow ourselves the recognition that a given reader might find a wide range of stories appealing—and not necessarily just the ones that reflect them. I know I do.
As a POC author, I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position, to have the opportunity to make books. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly. I hope to use that opportunity to create stories that reflect every aspect of my multi-faceted identity—as well as stories that transcend identity. I want to write for Chinese audiences, Jewish audiences, and all audiences in general. And I plan to champion diversity in all of its forms, both in the stories I consume and the ones I create.
I’m an Asian author. I’m a Jewish author.
I’m an author.
And boy, do I have stories to tell.
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!