Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

I know the topics of racial inequality and privilege make a lot of people uncomfortable. Some even have a mindset that says, “That kind of privilege doesn’t exist,” or “It’s just an exaggerated idea that folks spew around these days when they argue about politics.”

I’m not here to spew or to argue. I don’t have to. For me, an African American woman, and for an untold number of other people, real-life experience makes the issue of privilege (or the lack of it) pretty clear. And as a longtime reader and fan of Christian Fiction, I don’t have to look far to see just one everyday example of the issue.

I go to the bookstore, find the Christian Fiction section, and look at the books that are shelved there. I go to the websites of traditional Christian Fiction publishers I’ve been reading books from for decades, check out their bestsellers and new and upcoming releases, and I look at the faces of the models or illustrated characters on the book covers, especially on novels about modern times. I also check out the author bios and photos there.

No, it’s not fun to say it, but time after time, few to none of those faces I see are people of color.

It certainly isn’t that people of color don’t read Christian Fiction, or that there aren’t any writers of color who write Christian Fiction. Yet, as much as I love keeping up with books from ChristFic publishers, it becomes increasingly disheartening when, year after year, authors and fictional heroes and heroines of color are often missing from the new waves of books rolling in.

I realize that, for a lot of fellow ChristFic fans, it may not be something that crosses your minds that much, if at all. Many times, though, that’s a part of privilege: when you don’t realize a disadvantage exists for others, or you hardly think about it, because you’ve only ever experienced the advantage. 🙂 It may not even seem like an advantage to you if your subconscious assumes, “This is just the way it is,” and it feels so normal.

Well, I trust I’m not the only person who believes this: Christian Fiction is in great need of a new normal in the area of diversity. After all, diverse Christian Fiction is something for (and for the benefit of) all ChristFic readers, not just one color or another.

Now, in no way do I mean to discount traditional Christian Fiction publishers’ awareness of the issue or any steps they’ve taken to address it. Nor do I mean to discount the strides that Christian Fiction has already made in this area, especially through small press and independent publishing.

I mean, hey. I’m an independent author myself. And yes, I write multicultural ChristFic.

Nevertheless, I’m still interested in the releases and relevance of traditional Christian Fiction publishing. In large part, traditional Christian publishers are still seen as the main representatives of Christian books. The world is watching, history is taking note, and traditional publishers have a larger platform and access to certain doors that many independent publishers don’t yet have.

Moreover, I don’t believe readers, authors, and publishers should be okay with any area of Christian Fiction being behind the times where diversity is concerned, no matter the means of publication. Likewise, it wouldn’t be to our benefit to settle for only partial-diversity, in a sense—when more diverse characters may start showing up in books from a Christian publisher, but the publisher’s authors still aren’t that diverse. Or a publisher begins to publish more authors of color, but only when the stories are about white or racially ambiguous main characters.

No, I don’t believe that authors in general can or should only “write their own color.” I myself, as a black female author, don’t only write about black people. (Or only about female people, for that matter.) Even so, I wouldn’t want us to go as far as partial-diversity and leave it at that.

Granted, diversity in Christian Fiction is a longstanding, complex issue with layers of challenges to overcome. But I think there are some practical ways that readers can play a part in bringing more diversity to ChristFic.

  1. We can start letting our favorite Christian Fiction publishers know that we’d like to see them publish more diverse authors and diverse books in the ChristFic genres we read.

Many of us follow and talk with our favorite publishers on social media. Or we comment on their blogs, or sign up for their newsletters, or join their blogger/reviewer programs, or participate in their surveys. Publishers are seeking our engagement and feedback, and we can use social media and other opportunities to let them know what kinds of books we’d like to see.

Publishing is a risky, challenging, expensive business. Even Christian publishers who see their work as a ministry need to concern themselves with the market and their profits if they want to stay in business. Publishers need to feel sure that there’s a reading audience willing and ready to hear from diverse Christian voices, to see more faces of color on Christian Fiction book covers.

  1. Be open to trying Christian Fiction by authors of color with main characters of color, even if the books come from small press publishers or independent/self-published authors.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy diverse ChristFic books just because they’re diverse. 😀 Treat them as you’d treat other books while you’re shopping, or finding books to request your local library to purchase. Read the book blurbs. If it’s your habit to check out some reader reviews, do that. If you’re not sure about the authors, read their bios, Google their websites, look them up on social media and see what they’re about. Read samples of their work on their blogs, and check out the available samples of their books at online retailers to get a little feel for the authors’ works before you buy.

Again, publishers need to know there’s an audience for diverse ChristFic books and authors. And in many cases, newer authors need to prove themselves by independent means first (author blogs or newsletters, self-published book sales, etc.) before traditional publishers will take them on.

  1. Be willing to give more than one or two diverse Christian Fiction books a chance.

I think I’d be pretty safe in saying that most or all of us ChristFic lovers haven’t liked every single ChristFic book we’ve ever tried. But that hasn’t stopped us from moving ahead to try more ChristFic books. Just like any other authors out there, Christian authors of color have different interests, genres, writing styles, messages, levels of content, and more. If you branch out and try a diverse ChristFic book, and for whatever reason, it isn’t for you, don’t think that all other diverse ChristFic books will be just like it. Search around some more, find diverse books you enjoy, and spread the word about them.

Oh, I don’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers on the issue of diversity in Christian Fiction. And I know some of us are already doing the best we can to bring needed change. But if more ChristFic readers of all colors take some practical steps toward that change, I believe we can get there—that we can reach a new, extraordinary normal.

Not sure where or how to start searching for different ChristFic books? Click here to find some ideas.

 

4 thoughts on “Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

  1. Joshua Cartwright says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful article! My wife who is is black Guyanese helped me (I’m white English) to write several children’s books with a Christian character. The Granny JJ Adventures is about an old Creole speaking grandmother who solves mysteries near (and in)Georgetown, Guyana. She uses her wisdom, prays for help and attends church.

    I also just released Jesus and Me: One Child’s Friendship with the Son of God featuring a.Jewish girl who meets Jesus and struggles to believe He is the Messiah.

    On the first instance I have had women at church saying – there were no characters that looked like me in books when I was growing up, what you are doing is important. In the same way, Christian fiction for adults should be diverse – and what do we give our teens?

    My daughter at least has a father who is writing books that often reflect the backgrounds of her mother and father.

    Maybe it is mostly a profit driven thing but now there is self publishing. Step up, show publishers there is a market for multi ethnic Christian fiction. And honestly, even if there are not 100,000 sales, knowing your book changed one life is perhaps the reason you had to write it.

    Joshua

    Like

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      “And honestly, even if there are not 100,000 sales, knowing your book changed one life is perhaps the reason you had to write it.”

      Thank you, Joshua–I wholeheartedly agree! 🙂

      Like

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