In the boundless world of literature, it's important to acknowledge that the voices we hear from, as well as the stories we read, shape our understanding of the world. The literary world, like any other area, should reflect the diverse value of human experiences. Why is this? Because representation matters.
Imagine wandering through Barnes and Noble or even the Iredell County Library and finding shelves lined with stories that only share one perspective, only mirrors one type of person, gender, or race.
It would be like having a meal with only one dish—predictable, lackluster, and being stripped of the rich flavors of a diverse menu. It would also be boring, to look at…. and eat!
That's exactly what happens when literature lacks representation.
Diversity in literature is not just a buzzword. Diversity should not be a word used to increase your SEO or to formulate your “Company’s Mission”. It should be actions, reflections in your company; people should see it, not just hear about it.
Let's delve into why representation matters in the literary world, and how it contributes to a more inclusive, empathetic, and colorful reading experience.
A Library of Experiences
The beauty of literature lies in its ability to transport us to different realities and immerse us in varied experiences. Imagine a young girl growing up in a small town yearning to see herself in the protagonist of a novel. If all she finds are characters who don't share her background, she might feel alienated, as if her story isn't worth telling.
Representation in literature provides a library of experiences, allowing readers from all walks of life to find characters who resonate with their own struggles, triumphs, and personality. Representation allows the readers to experience a scale of characters who reflect the complexity of the human experience and reminds the reader that every individual story is worth telling.
Literature has the power to shape societal norms and perceptions and has been doing so for a multitude of years. When certain groups are consistently portrayed through tapered stereotypes, it supports harmful biases and misconceptions. Representation in literature becomes a powerful tool for breaking down these stereotypes and challenging ignorant notions.
Imagine a world where characters with disabilities are not reduced to being a tool for the plot, but, instead, are the plot. They are being portrayed as full individuals with dreams, fears, and characteristics. Such representation not only empowers those with disabilities but also educates others about the stories within this community.
Literature is a window into the hearts and minds of people who we might never encounter in our daily lives. When we read stories from diverse perspectives, it teaches us lessons on empathy, sympathy, and compassion for other human beings. We step into the shoes of characters who face challenges we might never have considered, broadening and strengthening our understanding of the world.
Through representation, we connect with characters on a deeper level, realizing that our differences are what make us closer. This empathy is a powerful tool that can be used to bridge divides and promote a more inclusive and compassionate society.
Cultivating a Love for Reading
When literature reflects the value of human diversity, it becomes more engaging and relatable. A young reader discovering characters who mirror her own experiences or introduces her to new perspectives is more likely to develop a love for reading.
Speaking from personal experience, I have loved reading since I was a little girl. I have read many books but I will never forget reading my first book with a protagonist who looked like me at the age of 11: reading this book only ignited my baseline passion for reading. It encouraged me to find more authors who write stories about characters who look like me and explore the realm of that side of literature.
It was a learning experience through and through, while the characters looked like me, they did not always go through similar life stories; however, that is invaluable. I was learning about different triumphs and struggles that I would never face in my average life but, because I read these books, I was taught that that is what other people's lives can look like. It fostered compassion, understanding, and sensitivity within me.
Representation in literature can be a gateway to a lifelong love of reading. When readers see themselves in literature, it validates their experiences and sends a message that their stories are just as important. This validation, in turn, can create a sense of belonging and encourage a deeper connection with the literature we read. It can also encourage readers to write and share their own stories.
An Invitation to the Table
Every voice adds something unique to the conversation, and literature should be a space where everyone is invited to the table. One of my favorite quotes is a quote I heard from one of my best friends in college and it goes “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This is a quote from Shirley Chisholm. It highlights the fact that when authors from diverse backgrounds are given the opportunity to share their stories, it adds to the culture of the literary world and allows people to go against the “norm”. It also touches on the fact that if there isn’t an opportunity, make one yourself.
Representation isn't about titles or positions: it's about recognizing the worth of untold stories that exist in communities that are commonly pushed to the back. By amplifying these voices that have been overlooked for years, literature becomes a more accurate reflection of the world we live in—a world that is dynamic, highlights the different ways of life, and complex.
In Closing . . .
Understanding that in the grand scheme of literature, representation is the critical tool that brings together the diverse stories of humanity. It's about recognizing the beauty in our differences, challenging stereotypes, and stimulating empathy. When we encourage diverse voices, we not only enrich our reading experience but also contribute to a more open-minded and inclusive society.
As readers, we have the power to demand and support literature that reflects the library of human experiences. By doing so, we not only uplift underrepresented voices but also create a literary world that is truly illustrative of the world we live in—a world that celebrates the stories that make us who we are. Let us uphold diversity in literature and celebrate the richness it brings to our bookshelves and, ultimately, our lives.