Tag Archives: diversity

A View from the Alley: The Diversity Movement in YA & Middle-School Literature

So, I’m a writer looking at the world from my back door–not the front lawn, the shopping center, or the rarified atmosphere of intellectual movements. I’m just saying: if you are a group of bloggers or agents or social justice activists, for example, frustrated (unto outrage even) with the lack of books being published about or by people of color, why would you limit your reviews and promotional activities to books published only by commercial publishers? Aren’t you saying, as an advocate, that they are the problem? In other words, they may publish “some” but “not enough” of what we think is missing from the bookshelves.

And by refusing to review self-published books for young people, that are by or about people of color, aren’t you perpetuating the “ghettoization” and inferior stereotyping of self-published writers? Some of these self-published books are being used in classrooms already because teachers recognize their value. Thank goodness they are responding to direct marketing from self-published writers, and not waiting for commercial publishers or well-intentioned but self-limiting activists to tell them what to buy and teach. Change is coming, and there is plenty to praise in the promotion of diversity in literature movement. I just wish I could see it from my alley.


The View From the Alley

South Minneapolis Alley

As puns go, Write Up My Alley may call forth a groan or two, but I’m okay with that. The metaphor of “the alley” suggests a point-of-view as well as a physical space. It is not the front we present to the street; nor, the tree-lined boulevard.  It’s the back, where we keep the trash cans. It’s where we come and go from back doors, back yards, garages, and driveways. It’s not formal.  It’s where we cook out, play with the kids, and curse the old lawn mower within sight and hearing of our neighbors. In the inner city, you may see your alley neighbors more, and know them better than the people who live across the street.

Why do I write “from the alley”? Who wants to write from the enclosed front porch of a suburban McMansion? I don’t have access to one, anyway. I’m a city person, and when I lived in Minneapolis, the alleys of my neighborhood, Powderhorn Park, brought me many friends and stories that have informed and influenced my writing, especially my young adult novel Paris Thibideaux & the World of Lost Things.

For me, the alley is a state-of-mind that is diverse, informal, inclusive, multicultural, edgy, family-friendly, artsy, organic and green. From here you can observe the back end of the cycle of life: trash, garbage cans, dumpsters, litter and defunct appliances. It’s where scrap metal and junk go to die in the city–out of sight and out of mind except to those who live in the neighborhood. It may be littered with abandoned cars and the viscera of cars: old tires, hubcaps, drive trains, and mufflers, but there it goes through cycles of renewal with each new generation or new wave of immigrants.  City kids navigate the alleys like river systems, and scavenge in them like archaeologists. And out of the alley comes the raw material of junk art and political expression that sometimes erupts on to front lawns and dances down the street and into the park with a neighborhood parade.