I’ve consistently noticed over the decade since my first book was published that when I attended writers’ conferences, first as graduate student, then as a speaker and instructor, that attendees more often than not appeared to be predominately white. I started counting. How many people addressing the audience are people of color, are LGBTQIA, have a visible disability? I have friends who are terrific writers and teachers and thinkers who are all of these things. They are not always at that table at the front of the room.
Making change involves taking action. There wasn’t one particular incident that brought me to this decision, but lately when I’m invited to participate in a conference or a book festival panel, I ask the hosts to assure me of their commitment to diversity in their plans for the event. This doesn’t always apply if the speaker is just me alone, or if I’m asked to be in conversation with a single author about a specific shared topic. But I have found that almost every time that I respond to an invitation with my question about commitment to diversity, the host either already has a wonderfully diverse and interesting slate of speakers in place, or they’re flustered and ask me to recommend people. I take that as a sign that I’ve at least brought the idea of addressing inequity to someone’s attention.
That said, I can do better. I can put my diversity request in the signature of my email. I can decline an invitation when it’s just me and one other author who, like me, happens to be white, straight, and without visible disability. If making change involves taking action, then those are my next steps as an author, teacher and speaker.
I am hopeful about the future, because conversations like this one are taking place. My hope is that if I regularly consider my own actions and make inclusive changes, that might move another person to do the same.
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