Advocating Diversity Interviews: Nazahet Hernandez

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Photo Credit: Tamara Menzi

 

Nazahet Hernandez is the blogger behind Read Diverse Books, where he advocates diversity in literature. I had the amazing opportunity to interview him. I hope you enjoy it.

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Photo Credit: Nazahet Hernandez

Blog: Read Diverse Books

 

Twitter: @_diversebooks

Instagram: read_diverse_books

Tumblr: Read Diverse Books

 

What inspired you to start a diverse book blog?

Sometime in mid-2015 I read an article or something online prompting people to look at their reading stats to see how many books not written by straight white men they have read. I went through my reading history on Goodreads and realized that over 60% of the books I read were written by straight white men. This shocked me. Once I counted straight white women, that number shot up to over 80%. It was right then and there that I decided I needed to actively diversify my reading. I started by not reading any straight white men in the second half of 2015 with a focus on writers of color and intersectionality. I enjoyed my reading experiences so much that I decided to create a blog to hold myself accountable and continue reading diverse books. None of these decisions were influenced by social media and or other blogs. It was a personal project that soon became a labor of love and an important part of my life. Once I discovered there was such a thing as a “book community,” I was hooked and haven’t looked back .

What are some difficulties you encounter while searching for diverse books?

My preference is to read books by marginalized authors – be they people of color, authors in the LGBTQIA spectrum or disabled authors. When I search for lists of diverse books, I have found that the authors recommended are not always marginalized. Instead, you’ll see many white, straight, able-bodied authors writing diverse stories being recommended, which is fine, but I think we should be focusing on the authors more. That’s a minor issue I have come across.

Another issue is that there aren’t enough people making lists highlighting intersectional texts or books that explore the intersections of oppression or marginalization. So we need more diverse book bloggers making these lists and recommending these books so that a google search can easily lead people to the kinds of books they want to read. Searching for books offline is even more difficult. If you can manage to find a great list of diverse books by marginalized authors, chances are you won’t be able to go to your local bookstore and find them. The lack of promotion for diverse books and accessibility offline has always been an issue and one of the ways we can fix this is if more marginalized authors are published so that we are more likely to find their books in bookstores.

What criticism do you face while writing about diversity?

I actually haven’t faced much criticism. Not for the content I publish on my blog, at least. I don’t generally post content that is controversial, so most of the feedback I receive is rather positive. There will always be opponents of diversity and inclusion in literature, but we shouldn’t pay any attention to them because they’re fighting a losing battle — one which we will win. So I encourage everyone to blog about diversity in literature and the publishing industry to their heart’s content! Not only will you be rewarded by overwhelmingly positive feedback, you’ll also be doing important work, so go out and do it!

What advice can you give to bloggers who promote diversity?

Prioritize marginalized authors. Diverse books written by white, straight, able-bodied authors can be great and they should be read, but we need to focus supporting marginalized authors in whatever writing endeavors they wish to take first. To diversify the publishing industry, we need a diverse range of voices to be published, so it’s important that we support people the publishing industry has historically silenced or disenfranchised.

Also try to keep an active online platform and deeply entrench yourself in the book community. Visit other blogs and let people know you exist! Show off your personality and keep writing engaging content. Eventually people will notice and remember you, which ensures return visits to your platform and with time your promotion of diversity will reach a larger audience. Don’t promote diversity in isolation. Join our community of #DiverseBookBloggers to have your voice amplified!

You are an avid Twitter user. How do you think Twitter helps to promote your blog?

Twitter is an essential promotion tool for all bloggers. It is one of my largest sources of traffic and my blog would not have reached the mild success it has reached if it were not for Twitter. In the Twitter book community, I have formed bonds and relationships with other book lovers who not only make blogging about books more fun, but building these relationships ensures that this content is seen and shared by them and others in the future. I only have 561 blog followers, but thousands more on Twitter, many of whom are potential blog readers. There is a large community of readers, bloggers, and authors who all stand to benefit from each other. You just have to be willing to dive into the chaos sometimes and establish your voice on Twitter. If you can spare some time every day to promote your blog and yourself or your brand, it is time well-spent.

As a book blogger myself, I cannot conduct an interview without asking you what your favorite book is.

As a book blogger yourself, you should know how difficult it is to answer such a question. But I must say that I do not think I have one particular book that is my favorite above all others. My reading habits and tastes constantly evolve and books that I adored a few years ago, may become insignificant in the future. However, some books that I will always love and would be happy to reread any time are Hamlet, The Bluest Eye, and Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, these are classics and not very interesting responses. In the past year and a half, I have read several books by marginalized authors that blew me away. Only time will tell if they will become personal favorites – but two authors who I’m particularly fond of are Yaa Gyasi and Lawrence Hill. I discovered them both in 2016 and plan to read all their published works one day.

How do people react to you talking about diversity in books, whether it might be online or offline?

Online, it is generally a positive experience. Perhaps that is because I am part of social circles on Book Twitter that encourage reading diversely and know many other bloggers who actively seek diverse books. I don’t engage with anti-diversity people online; they remain in their own circles most of the time (until one occasionally goes on a rant, which is inevitable).

Offline, people are always fascinated that I have a blog dedicated to marginalized voices. It’s not usually something they consider, they say. People tell me all the time that they don’t pay attention to a book’s author, only that it interests them. I then have to explain the abysmal statistics of the publishing industry in terms of writers of colors published and usually people will acknowledge that what I do matters on a small scale. But I have to explain the reason for my blog’s existence to almost every new person I meet who asks me about it. It gets old after a while, but I try to educate people on these issues whenever I can.

Soon your blog will be 1 year old. What have you learned while blogging for one year?

As a blogger, I learned that there is a  huge community of readers online I never knew existed. Reading used to be a solitary, yet rewarding, experience for me. Now I get to experience it all as a member of a community! And I certainly never expected that becoming a book blogger would  make me fall in love with reading all over again. I’ll always be thankful to the book blogging community for turning my love of reading books from a hobby into a passion. I may not be a book blogger forever, but I do expect to remain a member of the online book community for as long as I can.
What are your future plans on advocating diversity in books?

My blog will remain active for all of 2017 and hopefully in 2018 as well. Publishing content consistently is very important for the longevity and success of a blog, so that’s not changing. At the beginning of the year, I started the #ReadDivese2017 reading and reviewing challenge to encourage other bloggers to review diverse books and promote them to their respective audiences. So far it’s been rather successful, with dozens of bloggers already linking their book reviews and blog posts that promote diversity in literature and the publishing industry. Outside of my full-time job, maintaining my blog, and social/family obligations, I don’t have much time to do serious work promoting diversity offline. What I’m doing now is attending book events and signings for writers of color and requesting that my local bookstores order certain books by authors of color when they’re not offered in the store.  One of my goals for 2017 is to take my advocacy for diversity in books offline whenever I can.

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