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Why literature needs more diversity

Matt de la Peña, an award-winning Mexican-American author, developed a love for literature after reading "The Color Purple" and realized he wanted to become a writer after reading "Drown" by Junot Diaz, CNN's Ashley Strickland reported.

But finding stories young, nonwhite readers relate to can be difficult because minorities are underrepresented in literature, Strickland wrote.

"Where's the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?" de la Peña said.

Minority underrepresentation is particularly problematic in children's literature, according to a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For example, the study found that of 3,200 children's books published in 2013, only 93 were about Africans/African-Americans and 57 were about Latinos.

Christopher Myers at The New York Times called this underrepresentation "the apartheid of literature" because "characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth."

"We adults — parents, authors, illustrators and publishers — give (children) in each book a world of supposedly boundless imagination that can delineate the most ornate geographies, and yet too often today’s books remain blind to the everyday reality of thousands of children," Myers wrote. "Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination. The cartography we create with this literature is flawed."

Women, along with nonwhite groups, also should be represented more often in literature (and in heroic roles in particular), according to Monica Byrne at The Atlantic.

"Western writers still make up the majority of published English language authors, and English is one of the global lingua franca," Byrne wrote. "Western literature already has extraordinary women heroes created by extraordinary writers. ... But they’re a tiny proportion of the whole."

Byrne argued that authors, even those who are not women or minorities, should write about diverse groups so every ethnicity and gender can be valorized.

"Writing characters different from us — for all creators, in all directions — is integral to creating a literature in which all phenotypes are heroic, and therefore, all are humanized," said Byrne.

Email: kpolatis@deseretnews.com Twitter: KandraPolatis