Guest post by Denice Herrera
You may have seen #ownvoices floating around Twitter and other social media. The hashtag was suggested by Corinne Duyvis for kidlit purposes in September of 2015 but has since become a full-fledged movement.
What does #ownvoices mean? Well, it refers to books of any genre and format that have diverse characters that were written by authors from that same diverse group. For example, a book written about a Mexican-American girl trying to figure life out written by a Mexican-American woman who at some point had to figure life out. The characters don’t have to be 100% the same as the author as long as they share some aspect of the diversity that they’re depicting.
#ownvoices is different from the #weneeddiversebooks movement in that it focuses on diverse authors writing about their diversity. They are connected but not the same.
One of the most common bits of advice about writing is write what you know. So it makes sense that #ownvoices authors writing about their experiences would write a more authentic voice in diverse literature. It does not mean to exclude authors who write diverse characters that don’t reflect them personally.
One of the most voiced topics of opposition that I have read in researching this movement is the idea that it is promoting censorship. That it wishes to exclude white, cis, able-bodied authors from writing diverse characters. The movement, from my understanding, is that it wishes to highlight and promote diverse or marginalized authors who are writing about diverse or marginalized characters. People can write what they want, but these #ownvoices authors shouldn’t be ignored or passed over by the publishing world.
I was surprised to see that on the flip side of that, there were people tweeting to #ownvoices authors that their experiences and writing were not diverse enough.
The #ownvoices movement was not created to restrict anyone’s writing. Not being a part of a marginalized group doesn’t mean that you can’t write a marginalized character. That is what research — the more extensive the better — is for. Being an #ownvoices author writing about their experiences will not match up to everyone’s experiences in that group. Diversity is just that: diverse.
There are several benefits that come from this movement. Authors can write about their experiences as a diverse or marginalized person and share their unique perspective on those experiences. Everyone can gain something from reading the work of an #ownvoices author. Being able to read about experiences and different types of people, the more we can relate to the world around us.
I can certainly understand how a non-#ownvoices author could feel that they had to tread lightly or be hesitant to write about a diverse character. Portraying a character in an offensive way could be devastating to not only the author but the reader as well. Being a marginalized person myself, reading something that stereotypes me and my experiences can further exemplify my fears. Authors hesitating to write the story that they want to write because they don’t want to offend is just as bad. Of course, doing the research and learning as much as possible about the character would be helpful to all involved. Censoring yourself is still censorship.
Working in a library, one of my greatest joys is recommending a book to someone that I know will love it. Recommending a book written by a person that comes from a diverse background does not only show the reader their perspective, their truths, their life but can also be an inspiration to a reader that comes from that same background. The reader will be able to relate with the character, and the author may not only ignite a lifelong passion for reading but writing as well.
We need diverse books and we need diverse stories told by the very people that those stories are about. The #ownvoices movement gets us closer to achieving this important and necessary goal.
Denice Herrera has worked for the Decatur Public Library in Texas for 10 years, with her main focus being on social media, web mastering, and graphic design. She leads a semi-monthly local writers group with a strong and loyal following. Denice fancies herself an artist with a flair for the literary. She is a lover of books, animals but especially dogs, and is a self-proclaimed comic book nerd.