Monday, July 13, 2009

Can I get a review?: Color Me Brown

Okay, I’d say it’s partly because it's Monday, but that isn’t it. I’m in a funk today because when I edited our Summer Madness giveaway, I had to do a few searches to find a review for the addition I was including. And finding reviews was a challenge for every book we’re giving away. Why so few reviews?

I have to step up my own review game. If I want to read more reviews of books by women of color, it’s clear I’m going to have to write them. I love literature across a broad spectrum but I feel compelled to do more to create what I want.

Today I visited Readergrlz and like most mainstream book sites, it is predominantly white. Race is an issue because it defines the dominant culture; race sets the standard and that means the dominant culture calls me the minority. In our politically correct spaces you get a sprinkle of color but I feel invisible in these spaces. I want to achieve what Readergrlz does: positively impacting young people and all readers who enjoy YA literature, but I want a space full of color, a space where I don’t feel like an afterthought or token. I want teens of color to reject invisibility as the norm. I want a space where we can acknowledge race without being polemic or exclusionary.

Okay, so it has taken me more than a bit to create a functioning, organized and inviting space here. I concede it takes time to build a readership and it’s a learning curve to create features and articles that are hits more often than misses. I realize Color Online is one small fish in a huge ocean. It’s not the popularity that’s bugging me. It’s a long history of feeling marginalized, ignored and powerless.

I want more people of color readers reading and reviewing books by writers of color. I’ll give up the funk. Anyone willing to help me to inject some color into the book blogosphere?
Susan is my penname. Wannabe bohemian mama, loc-wearin', veg-head, feminist, activist, writer. I have two daughters whom I drive crazy and the sentiment is mutual. Love a great cook and I have the pounds to prove it.


Paula said...

I hear you. Like, you and I discussed, if you have a dedicated page/link to teen reviews we will most definitely link from The Brown Bookshelf.

I think Color Online does a great job covering books that empower women.

I echo your sentiments. When it comes to the BBS, while I'm doing the work I feel like I'm chipping away at the invisibility. But the feeling rushes back when I venture elsewhere and see the "niche" I'm dedicated to either invisible or under represented.

Ana S. said...

I've been complete rubbish at reading authors of colour so far this year, which bugs me because this does matter to me. I really appreciate all you do to bring books I would probably not hear of otherwise to my attention - because sadly, like you said, invisibility is the norm.

You know what, it would be really great if Color Online organized a reading event of some sort. You could get people in the blogging world to read only non-white authors for a month, for example. Or have an appreciation week, like they're having for YA lit sometime in August. I'd join for sure!

Color Online said...


To be frank this is addressed first to people of color themselves. While I like to see more color in mainstream, I think we have to address the core audience.

How can we get on the radar though? Ali and I already host a bi-weekly meme talking about race/ethnicity. Join us. See the current assignment of POC in Science fiction and Fantasy.

Check out What Do I read Next feature. If we publish your review, we pool guest reviews and award book prizes.

I may look to do some kind of formal book read and review with other blogs.

What I'd like to do is to connect with a teen of color who'd like to promote poc literature for teens. There are a core group of us willing to mentor and support a teen reviewer.

Paul, I'll spend some time tagging all the children and teen books we've featured and that will generate a single link for us. Thanks.

Neesha Meminger said...

If I want to read more reviews of books by women of color, it’s clear I’m going to have to write them. I love literature across a broad spectrum but I feel compelled to do more to create what I want
is what distresses me so often.

Most of the time, I want to be a "regular" person who has whatever likes and dislikes she has, whether it's mindless fluff on television, or easy beach-read chick-lit novels, or empty calories on my plate.

But because we live in a world that so clearly privileges some over others, I'm often yanked out of that "regular-ness," forced to put on my activist scrubs, and get to work doing far more than I usually have energy for.

I applaud your efforts and am here to offer whatever support I can. I also really like the idea of providing incentives for folks to read and review writing by women of color. The trick for us now, as you mention, is to get it as mainstream as sites like Readergrlz.

I believe the "cool factor" has a lot to do with what gets play. Right now, it is cool to read Twilight, etc. For instance, the "cool" people are Gossip Girls with a lot of money and time on their hands. We need young people to feel that it is not fringe-y to read books about and by people of color. That it is, in fact, cool.

Remember the campaigns that touted "Reading is cool?" Or am I dating myself? I would love a campaign or slogan that would put the message out that learning about and supporting girls of color or young lgbtq folks is a really cool, hip thing. Then we'd get tons of reviewers! (Hoping, anyway). It's all about PR. It's about what everyone *thinks* everyone wants.

My girls want to be like everyone else. And the monolithic "everyone else" as portrayed on television, movies and in books is white, wealthy, thin, usually blonde, heterosexual. This, in reality, is the minority! Only a teeny-tiny percentage of people fit this description. But PR and marketing have led us, en masse, to believe otherwise. What gets on the shelves is just another form of PR and marketing.

Sites like Readergrlz, your blog, and others play a big role in making a significant dent. It's work, but we're making progress. The internet has created connections where none ever were before. Information is being shared and debates and discussions are taking place among people who've never had to deal with some of the these issues in their lives.

So, thank you for your work and keep it up :). Sorry for the long post :-P

Color Online said...

Thanks for the long post. Don't you know I identify on putting on my activist scrubs! Why do I feel like I have to wave my arms like and making funny faces to be noticed? ((sigh))

Anonymous said...

I agree with Neesha - what gets on the shelves, what position it's in, how it's marketed - all that is critical. I just went to my B&N by the way to see if I could pick up some Sci Fi by Afr. Amer. authors. HA HA! Actually there were two Octavia Butler books there. So then I thought I would go over to the magazine section and see if there were any sci fi mags with articles featuring Afr. Amer writers. I haven't been over to the mag section in ages. But today, it's all about black! Ha, ha, just joking. Sort of. It *is* all about Michael Jackson - but only in white mags. Not one single Afr. Amer. mag in the entire store!!! And you want reviews so they can find the books....where?!!!!

Zetta said...

Your two sites are the first I visit each morning, and I think my immersion in WOC sites helps me to forget just how white the kidlitosphere really is. You do MORE than enough to promote WOC writers, L--I think the idea suggested above is the way to go: get more people on board, find ALLIES to help with this very important work. As a writer I am *so* grateful to you for all you've done to support my books; your giveaways led to more reviews, and just having my book on your site lends it instant legitimacy. Do you already know Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray? Last week's What a Girl Wants debate came to the same conclusion: more (white) bloggers need to do more to promote un(der)-recognized books by people of color. It seems minority groups have a few options: shame the majority into acting right, or try to earn their sympathy. What would happen, I wonder, if you started publishing statistics on some of the big blogs, pointing out the lack of diversity in their review selections?

Doret said...

Susan, I am sorry your in a funk, but everyone writes you are doing your part. I try not to think about where are the reviews of color because I'll get frustrated but sometimes it can't help it.

When I do see books featuring characters of Color reviewed I do my best to seek them out. I just read and reviewed Wanting Mor by Khan. Its a YA novel set in Afghanistan. I heard about it when the author was interviewed over at Writing with a Broken Tusk. And I am sneaking this title in here, hoping someone else will discover and read Wanting Mor.

I think part of the problem is there aren't enough bloggers of color. I know Edi can't be the only teen librarian of color.

Color Online said...

Thanks all, yes, definitely need support among the larger, majority blogs and I do welcome it. I'm like Doret, is Edi the AA librarian who reviews books by people of color?

Zetta, oh, Doret turned me on to Colleen and I've been faithfully reading her since. I can name sites that do a good job of reviewing books about people of color. The problem is the readers of the mega blogs usually aren't commenting or blogging about poc books.

I think there is a growing and impressive group of bloggers who are committed to multicultural literature. But how do we get the Ashleys, Brittanys and Jennifers to read and promote these books? Because the market will produce and promote what this demographic is buying.

Rhapsody, I'm so accustomed to the broad range of books I'm exposed to in my blog reading that I am always shocked to walk into a chain bookstore and can't find half the books I'm looking for. Many will order books but the absence of these books on the shelves means the unaware reader has no clue how much diversity really is available.

Color Online said...


Back to getting more exposure among white bloggers. At BES, I have written a few times about the absence of color. Steph at Steph Su Reads wrote about race and ethnicity in YA literature. I was so frustrated and disappointed, but not surprised by the responses. So many of the teens blamed writers, publishers and marketers- everyone but few made the link between what they were promoting and the quantity and support of these books. I wanted to say (did I?), "Hello, how about you all read and review these books and the industry will improve."

How many times and ways can you say poc literature shouldn't be regulated to the flavor of the month. I'm tired of us being the McBook in February.

I'll write another article.

What kind of blog event should we host to bring attention to the absence of color? Drop me an email. Next Monday, we'll discuss ideas and who's willing to walk the talk.

Zetta said...

I'm thinking of something like the "Splash" award...we have to take it to the lily-white sites AND reward those folks who are being inclusive. I'd start small--maybe send positive rewards to great multicultural sites, and have them pass it on to another site...then send a frowny-face to the sites we think could do better--and maybe offer them a few MC titles so they can't make up an excuse? Give a happy face to Colleen and she'll know who to pass it on make great buttons, so it shouldn't be too hard, right?

Color Online said...

Okay, you're saying start with award acknowledging folks who promote MC books. I can do that.

Shaming folks tends to only put folks on the defensive. How else can we suggest to those who are not actively promoting MC books to do so?
We have CORA and the Diversity Callenge. How about running an active campaign to bring on more blogs/bloggers to participate?

Zetta said...

Ok, so don't send a frowny face, but a button like the one for Diversity Roll Call would be great...along with a note that explains your mission: to get more bloggers to review books by POC. Frame it as an invitation, and hold out the promise of some kind of reward...I *would* say something like "Your blog has been selected because of the outstanding service you provide to readers AND because we feel there's room for you to be even more inclusive." You can't be TOO nice...

Color Online said...


I can do that. I'll send invites where there's an absence of color and awards for those who promote diversity. Thanks.

I'm posting a challenge at BES now.

the prisoner's wife said...

interesting discussion. i agree. i use to LOVE the Af. Am. fiction section at Borders & didn't even GO to B&N because it didn't distinguish. now, the AA lit section is overrun by hood books. *sigh* the commenter who mentioned that it has a lot to do with who gets published, marketed, and has the best shelf position, has a lot to do with it.

i think just by having this site, giving a place where we can find YA books & other books that feature authors of color is GREAT! i say, keep doing what you're doing and take it to the streets (virtually). start positing on/responding to...asking to write reviews for mainstream sites. every now & then i do reviews on my site, and for the most part, i mostly read authors of color. so i think WE have to be the change we want to see. it'll take time, but we can get there.

Color Online said...

Okay, Zetta, I put a challenge for majority bloggers in my Confession Tuesday post.

I'll work on the award.

Hey, wife, good to hear you. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'll speak for myself and Kiki when I say we're totally willing to inject some color! Just tell us what you need us to do and we're there.

Color Online said...

T, it is simple. Read and review poc writers. When I visited your site, I confess, I was immediately struck that site looked like every other blog by a non-poc teen blogger. I'd really like to ask and I hope you are not offended, but if you've been thinking about the absence of color, why have you reviewed only popular books with white characters on the cover?

I can name an author for every genre that is popluar on teen blogs. Are you unaware, not interested, buy what is readily available or given in contests?

How do we get poc books in your hands?

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I appreciate this conversation. I think you all have been working really hard to get some great books more notice. It's working against the current and that is always hard work. I think you have to recognize the cultural forces you are working against and give yourself whatever it takes to keep on. Community helps a lot and I have drawn a lot of strength and encouragement from the other bloggers commenting here.

I have not been blogging as much this summer and am feeling pretty burned out to be honest. I am taking a YA lit class for grad school this month that demands I read a long list of YA novels, write papers, join the class discussions, etc. Blogging is at the end of my list of priorities I am afraid. I am also frustrated that I have to read from the assigned list. I have tried to pick the widest diversity of authors possible because that makes it more interesting for me personally but it is a real challenge.

As a white person it is easy to get swallowed up in the vanilla cream and not even notice. It's like when you are swimming in the ocean and the tide has a strong pull that takes you down the beach without you even noticing you've drifted away from where you started. KWIM? But I get frustrated that more folks don't see the richness and pleasure there is to be found in working to find out what else is out there.

I think it is worth recognizing that it is not just a passive thing. It's not just a coincidence that the marketing dollars end up on mostly white books. It's not just random trends landing on whitish new hits. Tentacles of institutional racism have a fierce grip on every corner of the market; what's cool in books is as much effected by the old evil as everything else. You are fighting the good fight.
Keep up the good work Susan. I am cheering you on!

Tara Betts said...

I think you do a great job to cover all the genres that women of color represent on the page. I've been writing reviews for years in print, but only a bit online. I want to start blogging about poems at my revamped site in the near future-

I used to write for (inactive but still accessible) and Feminist Review (still going), but most of the reviews for books that I've done have been for Mosaic magazine and Black Issues Book Review.

Tara Betts said...

I think you do a great job to cover all the genres that women of color represent on the page. I've been writing reviews for years in print, but only a bit online. I want to start blogging about poems at my revamped site in the near future-

I used to write for (inactive but still accessible) and Feminist Review (still going), but most of the reviews for books that I've done have been for Mosaic magazine and Black Issues Book Review.

MissA said...

Hi Susan!
I'm a black teenager and I think I speak for some black teens when I say that I'm quite irritated by the fact that there aren't nearly as many books with black main characters as there white main characters. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind reading books about white girls (because above all I just want to read a good story) but I want to read more books with female main characters of color, people I can relate to. I'm especially annoyed by the rich white girl books (although I like watching Gossip Girl and the It Girl series is my only reading guilty pleasure). I can't relate and it would be nice to have some more books about privileged black people as well (thanks Hotlanta and It Chicks series!). These are just my thoughts. I started a blog to review YA books with black main characters, so hopefully it'll attract some interest. Keep up the great work of this blog!

Little Willow said...

At readergirlz, we feature authors and characters of different races, shapes, sizes, economic backgrounds, even different time periods (we've featured historical fiction as well as contemporary fiction) and genres (fantasy, science-fiction, realistic drama, modern-day comedies) - and no matter what the subject matter of the books, we pick stories which feature strong female leading characters, gutsy girl protagonists that readers will both relate to and cheer on.

The life stories and skin shades (and heights, and weights, and backgrounds, and daily lives) of our co-founders, our readergirlz divas, as well as the postergirlz, our teen lit advisory council, are extremely varied. I am proud to be part of such a well-rounded and well-read group. :)

I know that you and I have talked about some of the featured books before - I think you may have taken part in the discussions of No Laughter Here by Rita Garcia-Williams when we featured that in February - and more recently, when we talked about Red Glass by Laura Resau. Next month, we're featuring Kendra by Coe Booth. I hope you'll join us then, too!

Color Online said...

Hi Willow,

As you know, I'm no stranger to readergrlz. I'm pretty versed in what you do there. I've read No Laughter and other William-Garcia titles. You have every reason to be proud of what the community does. We have Kendra in our library and I'm looking forward to reading it. We've also reviewed Tyrell here.

Maybe you'll spend more time here in the future and discover even more women writers and characters of color.

I'm black all year round, not just in February. :-) Spend some time here, I think you'll find we're not doing too shabby a job ourselves at promoting good literature across genres and all other manners of diversity.

Debbie said...

I'm a white gal, so I can't help with your review project. However, I wanted to comment about the lack of reviews you found.

I review books by non-white authors about non-white main characters. However, I'm generally offered review copies of books with mainly white protags, so that's mainly what you'll find on my book blog.

So the lack of reviews might not be due to lack of interest or enjoyment of these books.

Good luck with your reviewing project.

Color Online said...

GR,why does being white mean you can't help?

Do you only review and read what is given to you? Most readers I know were reading and promoting before they were blogging.

I'm black. That doesn't stop me from enjoying books with white protagonists. Why does a black protagonist stop a white reader from reading these books?

Promoting, reading and support writers of colors isn't a project. It's a commitment.

Thanks for weighing in.

Christine said...

Thank you for this. I've been a full-time author "of color" for years. And what I've found is that the "gatekeepers" are also not people of color.

I recently attended a conference in which an editor spoke about reviewing manuscripts and looking for an authentic voice. I asked how she could tell if a voice was authentic if her background precluded any familiarity with different cultures. She responded by saying "it must sound authentic to me." So it was not wonder that many of the clients were young white females writing YA.

On the flip side, many of my AA peers often speak of editors changing syntax and idioms because they don't get the reference - and I'm not talking about ebonics - just plain language useage. Which means what may be an "authentic voice" to editors when they acquire a book, may not be the same to the target audience. Is it any wonder why urban kids turn off to literature?. Or that many AA authors default to historical nonfiction and fiction out of self-defense and need to feed their families?

Perhaps you are right - In order to get the reviews perhaps we all need to band together and write them ourselves.

Speak on - I am impressed with your voice so far!

Christine said...

Color Online

Having a black protagonist should NOT preclude white readers from enjoying a book except:

Many publishers quietly (and off the record) suggest that sales and marketing believe "we don't buy books" and therefore aren't a target audience.

And white readers won't read books with us on the cover.

Frankly - my own kids get tired when AA books feature the same backdrops and themes over and over again. They're waiting for the Black Twilight. Which is why they moved on to the LA Banks Vampire Huntress series at St. Martins Press. Well written (i.e. literary but accessible), non stereotypical, Kick-A AA female protagonist and a hunky Latino love interest.

And L.A. Banks was awarded Essence Storyteller of the year (met her and she's really nice and down to earth).

The point is - Well written AA series are out there, but they get lost in the avalanche of the same-old, same old!

MissA said...

I've been on readergirlz before and I don't think that they do as good a job promoting diversity as they think they do. I read a book by Justina Chen Headley (North of Beautiful, which was about a white girl although I think her first book was about an Asian girl) and so far she is the only author of color (besides Mitali Perkins, I like her First Daughter books). I've noticed on the site that there aren't that many poc whose books are being reviewed on the website. You notice that just by scrolling down the website. I was kinda annoyed that Little Willow said we featured No Laughter Here in Feb. It sounds to me like readergirlz only feels the need to feature books about poc during Feb. or maybe Sept. for Hispanic Heritage Month of Nov. for Asian Pacific Mmonth. It should be all year round.. All in all, I don't go on readergirlz quite often anymore, but I will check back more often now to see this so called diversity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone & especially ColorOnline,
Chiming in a bit late and I have a few ideas. Has anyone read the article at Chasing Ray. It's about the same thing and the question they ask is: are there less books with poc protags because there are less writers to write the books or because the publishers know that the poc kids don't have the disposable income that the white kids do to buy the books?

As usual, that's the answer to most things. Green Rocks! Money Talks!

There are things we can do. I hate it when a white person tells me they don't know where to find a poc book. Cheez! That means we need to get notice. You can't count on one person like ColorOnline. All of us have to pitch in. And saying that, I read your comments and y'all are committed. However, you know other people. Challenge them to read and write a review. Show them where to post their reviews. Use books as gifts. Stop sharing books with relatives. Talk about books with your friends.

When you write your book review, post the review at B&N (even if they don't place our books we can get them thinking about it if they see an interest.) at Borders, Amazon. Did you know that a review on Amazon helps the author rank higher, which lets the book show up when someone searches. You can go to different sites and do a guest post with your book review. Yeah people don't like the same article that everyone else has and no I am not saying you have to write new ones for each one. You can go to all the bookstores sites and post your one review. Go to a poc site and post your book review. Then you go to an adult poc site, or a white site and post, or a library's site and post there. If you use variety between the type of site you go to, you'll be able to post your one review. Just think of all the libraries you can go to. Like one in every state.

Anonymous said...

I'm a YA author. I have two books. I was ill when my second book came out, which won like 3 first prizes in 2007. I feel hopeless by promoting The Throwaway Piece because in the publishing industry my book is consider "old" and not worth dealing with or doing anything with it. What am I to do? I look to each of you to assist me. How do I contact you? How do I make you aware of other books?

Are you on twitter? I promote Latino/a authors constantly on my two sites. @BronzeWord and @LatinoBookNews If you posted a review, send me the link and the title and I'll post it all day in a rotation manner. I do this for whoever sends me info. You can do the same thing. You can RT me or Coloronline or others who tweet about our books. Get your friends to tweet about it too.

The key is to make noise. Make a commotion so they will "find" us. Let people know we are out here and to be reckon with. Let others know that--some of you may be too young to remember this and one of the reason there were no libraries built in mostly Latino communities is because they claimed that we didn't read or knew how to read. Cheez They still can't find us. Help those poor deprived unfortunates to "find" us by putting the word out in a BIG way.

As for the young lady who said that only the white authors sent free books for review, Then Go To A Library To Find Our Books. All of you, go to the library and ask for our books. If as one said, they didn't find any of our books at a bookstore, Then ASK. Often. Everytime you go into a library or a bookstore ask for a book by a poc. That clues them in to what people are looking for. Libraries and bookstores won't order books unless they hear from their patrons that they want those kind of books. Make noise. That's what I mean. I had an idea of when my next book comes out (none in the works sorry to say) I would use this organization and ask each member across the US to ask for my book. Often. If bookstore managers, heard my name and the name of my book often enough then they might start thinking hmmm maybe there is something to this book.

How can we form a group? How can we form a book review group reading POC Teen Lit to alert each other to ask for it or to promote your book review you post, or to talk about places that may have written something nice about one of our books so that we can all go to that site and post thank yous in the comments.

Ok giving awards to sites that review our books is nice. However, if you want to make a impact on those who don't?

Posting comments when they do a review on one of our books is a major good thing to do. Comments increases a sites rank on Google. Bloggers like comments because it makes them look good. If they get 20 or 30 or 50 comments whenever they post a review for a poc book, guess what they'll start doing more of.

You have the power to do all this. I can assist. Go to my blog and check it out. I am more than willing to publish any one of you, your review or a piece you write. Anytime.

I am willing to form a ning group for no other reason than to alert each other about Latino/a Teen Lit. What do you think? Possible? Doable? Do you have the power to change the world?

I think you do. I believe in you. Take that first step.
Jo Ann Hernandez
BronzeWord Latino Authors
BronzeWord1 AT yahoo DOT com

Color Online said...

Jo Ann,

You are a hot mess! You remind me of someone I know, a short, cute black woman with locs and glasses. lol

I do all you've suggested and you're right, ask your libraries for the books. My library routinely will buy books I request. I will take partial credit for the growing, impressive multicultural lit in the YA collection. :-)

Jo Ann, stay tuned. Color Online will have some dynamic young women reviewing here and don't any of you even think of taking up their time or I might have to hurt your feelings. lol

Miss A, gurl, love your attitude. Glad to hear you speak your mind.

Color Online said...

Thanks for weighing in Christine.

JoAnn, I'm a regular reader at Chasing Ray. I commented in that discussion.

Rasco from RIF said...

Susan, thank you for this post which I have quoted in my blog entry today at Yes, I am tardy in replying but no less genuine. I look forward to further dialogue!

evelyn.n.alfred said...

Well count me in. I'm committed to writing a review by/about POC. I'm reading them anyway, so I might as well write about them too.

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