During the last two residencies at Hamline discussions and presentations have taken place about the need for more diversity in children’s and YA literature and what we writers can do about it. This interview with student leader Judi Marcin reveals details about an innovative Hamline MFAC program that has evolved out of those discussions.
Tell us about this new diversity PRIDE program at Hamline. How would you define members of the group?
First of all, thanks for putting the spotlight on MFAC Pride. Our group is very much a collaborative effort. MFAC pride is all-inclusive. It is not simply about raising awareness of the issues facing writers of color, queer writers and the diverse community at large, but also issues of diversity within children’s literature. We want to bring our allies from these communities into the discussion as well, so that as a team of concerned individuals we are pushing for literature that reflects all our experiences, not simply a select few. We have received tremendous support from the faculty of the MFAC program, MFAC alumni, and the Hamline Creative Writing Program.
How did it get started?
It started with an email from a fellow classmate about how to improve diversity. That grew to a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and later a website. But we knew we needed a purpose, not to just raise awareness, but to do something to impact our community directly. Thanks to faculty and students, our visibility continues to increase. I would be remiss if I did not mention the national We Need Diverse Books Campaign, a grassroots’ group interested in bringing attention to the lack of diversity in children’s literature. By experiencing the stories of others, often different from our own, we can foster empathy and compassion for the struggles so many face due to ignorance and bigotry. It is something I believe any writer of conscience should follow.
How will your efforts help address the lack of diversity in kids and YA books today?
We hope to encourage readers and writers to explore books and topics that they may have never considered before. Our monthly recommended reading list encourages people to read a picture book, middle grade and young adult book written by writers of diversity. This not only increases awareness of these authors and works, but hopefully encourages individuals to raise their voice by raising a dollar towards MFAC pride. When anyone from the Hamline community posts a selfie or picture on social media with one of our recommended reads, $1 will donated on their behalf to MFAC Pride for each book shared. All three books in one month = $5. How easy is that? And by buying the book or requesting it from your local library, we are sending a message to the publishing community, bookstores and libraries that people do read diverse books and that there is an essential place for these books in our schools and in our communities.
During every Hamline residency we will continue to sponsor a book program. Ten copies of a chosen title will be given away to students of the MFAC program each January and July to spread the word about diverse writers and their books with hopes that those books will then be shared with others. Buttons and other fundraisers, such as a used book sale of donated books from the Hamline reading list and other children’s/YA books, are ways we hope to fund our efforts.
One of the group’s current projects is getting LGBTQ books out to new readers. How is this going?
We have established a partnership with the St. Paul Public Library, working with librarians and staff to figure out where our funds can best be used. Right now we have raised over $600 and are happy to accept donations of any amount. Some of the ways we are looking to partner with the library include purchasing diverse books for book-give-a-ways and contests, sponsoring author events, and participating in diversity-centered events such as African American History Month, Women’s History Month and Gay Pride Month. More than anything, we want to raise awareness about the diverse kid/YA lit books already published and get those books into the hands of teens and young readers. We also want kids from all backgrounds to meet real authors and learn that being a writer can be a viable and important career.
How do you see Hamline Pride growing in the future as current student leaders like yourself graduate?
I hope that MFAC pride is an ongoing group that becomes integrated into the MFAC program. I would hope that alumni, students and faculty continue to sustain this and that once some of us graduate that new current students will take on the lead as student members and alumni like myself will continue to participate in residencies and local Twin City events.
It is also important that we continue to work towards making an impact in places like the AWP conference, literary journals and social media. Facebook, Twitter and Squarespace make it possible to maintain contact within our Hamline community. Following and participating in discussions on social media is critical in maintaining visibility and progress of both children’s literature and issues of diversity.
Hamine Pride’s recommended reads for October:
- Picture Book—Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
- Middle Grade: Drama by Raina Telgemeier
- Young Adult: Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Judi also suggests these sites that focus on diversity in children’s/YA books:
* Judi also lists other favorite diversity links on the www.mfacsquarespace.com website.
Thanks, Claire and Judi, for this important interview and for highlighting the program. It's a great idea.