This Spring, I attended SCBWI's Illustrator's Day here in Atlanta. One of the charges for the illustrators, based on an industry need, is to create stories and images that represent the diverse perspectives of the world. Quality work is always most important, but a continued theme of inclusion and diversity is prevalent in the industry.
When I heard the talks that were given, it reminded me of a thorn in my heel that I try to ignore. I always ask myself, But what about the other stories that haven't been told? I am an African-American female. That is obvious by looking at me. I do appreciate the fact that historical stories about African-Americans are on the market for public consumption. Yet, as a children's illustrator (and occasional writer), I know that there are so many stories that are not being told.
During the after-hours mingle, I got up the nerve to ask a publisher about this very concern. She stood back on her heels, put her hands on her hips and looked me square in the eyes and said:
Well then, why don't you write the story?
I told her I wasn't a writer (only because I'm developing my confidence to be one). Then she said:
If you don't write it, then who will?
I had to admit, she had a very good point.
I had previously taken a powerless route to believe that just because I was an illustrator that I could not also be a writer. That is not true. It is true I must hone my skills at both if I want to do it well. Still, I should write the stories that other people need to hear. I should write the stories that I need to hear. Someone else probably needs to hear it too.
So now I confidently take the charge. I am seeing that my place in this process is very important, just as important as anyone else's. My stories may not hit big markets. I may not get a billion dollars. Neither of those are important in the big scheme of things. All I am required to do is to do the work. I encourage to you to do the same. Tell your story today and, one day, someone else may retell your story too.
Take a look at this blog for more information about the diversity movement in the children's book industry.