05/30 – Lynn Lovegreen - Friendships

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'll Take Mine Spicy

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

This month It's all about spice!

Over the weekend I visited a Sikh religious service. A group of people from my church, Methodist, accepted an invitation to attend a service at a nearby Sikh house of worship.

We attended their worship service with a guide who spoke at length about the Sikh religion. The Sikh traditions include a community meal at the end of service called the Langar. This Langar or free kitchen is a practice that goes back 500 years to the religion's early days. It was initiated by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. (FYI Guru means teacher, Sikh means disciple or student).

The Langar is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world. Rich eat beside poor, and people of any caste are welcome. People sit on the floor, except chairs are provided for those of us with bad knees. To be inclusive of members who cannot eat beef, or pork, or any meat, the meals are vegetarian.

They also contain very little spice.

I'm not trying to be a spoilsport. I enjoyed the company and the meal. We had soup, beans and rice, homemade yoghurt, and a sweat pudding. But a little more spice would have pleased my palate, probably proving I am spoiled.

I tend to try spoiling my readers. I have just wrapped up teaching my four week online course, Adding the Spice of Diversity to Your Writing. In there I try to show authors how they can do the same by adding to manuscripts that frequently contain all-white, all able-bodied, middle class or wealthy, heterosexual people who rarely if ever even mention religion. Some authors and publishers see this as being universal.

It can also be a little bland.

I use the spice metaphor in my class title for a reason. Food is fuel. But it is also a social lubricant.
Food brings people together, just as it did with the Christians and Sikhs at the Langar on Sunday as we broke bread sitting on the floor (or in a chair). I see that 500-year-old tradition as being ahead of its time as a means for promoting harmony. But spice adds color and flavor to a meal...and to a story. That's why I see the lack of diversity in many books, especially children's and young adult books, as being behind the times. The CCBC statistics for 2014 show that still only about 10% of children's books feature prominent characters of color. The stats for LGBT+ and disabled characters are even smaller. More than thirty percent of US children are Kids of Color. This rises to 50% if you look at the baby set. Add in an estimated 4% of LGBT+, and people with some physical, emotional, or mental disability, and you may be able to see why I can't consider bland as something to be desired, at least not in the world of books.

I was recently invited to be a member of the WeNeedDiverseBooks™ team. All of us feel honored by the recent announcement that School Library Journal has named our organization one of the named 2015 Movers & Shakers. As SLJ put it, "Movers see the future and bring it to life." I'm proud to be part of WNDB, a change agent, and a spice bringer.


Judith Ashley said...

I thought the Sikh Religion was much older-but I do agree that their Langor practice is one that builds bridges of understanding.

I've only heard good things about your class. Maybe the next time you offer it my schedule will be more open.

Diana McCollum said...

I am sorry I couldn't take your class this time either. Hopefully, you/'ll offer it again. What a wonderful experience you had with the Sikh temple. Very interesting blog post.

Sarah Raplee said...

Although I was somewhat of a lurker due to time constraints, I took your online class and I highly recommend it!

Many writers hesitate to add diverse major characters to their stories because they feel unqualified or are worried about offending someone. The 'spice of Diversity' class gives the information and tools to move past the fear.

Very interesting post.

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks for the endorsement, Sarah. I am still on the loop until they close it, so feel free to send questions. I am also contracted to do it again this fall, and also next February. I've been asked to do a workshop on the area of diversity in the books they select in June in Louisiana. There is also the possibility of a half-day in-person workshop on the subject next year, I'll post things on my website and Facebook when they are finalized.

In the meantime I actually have to find time to write. So thanks to everyone for their interest.