We live in a nation where our Muslim neighbors are facing discrimination from all quarters. At the same time, we work in a publishing industry that is slowly becoming more attune to the voices clamoring for diversity. More and more publishing houses have created diverse imprints, and hashtags like #WNDB and #DVpit have gained popularity on social media.
This is good, but we can do better.
As a Muslim writer who also helps other authors market themselves, and as editor-in-chief of a literary magazine aimed at encouraging Muslim writers to throw their hats in the ring, I feel that there is much more to be done to level the playing field. Books by Muslim authors are more common now than ten years ago, but not at satisfactory levels. There’s lot more to be done, because the Muslim world is so diverse that a handful of stories do not paint a diverse picture.
If you somehow belong to the publishing industry as a writer, editor, blogger or anything else, I hope you’ll want to amplify Muslim stories. If so, but you don’t know where to start, here are my recommendations:
Seek out Muslim writers on social media. Sharing their book news or expressing excitement for their new projects is not going to undermine your own work but it will make a huge difference to them. One goal of most Muslim writers is to spread their stories among non-Muslim audiences, and your actions on social media can be valuable in that regard.
Ask Muslim writers to join your online groups. You know the ones, where you sit and moan about being on submission or how nobody showed up to your book signing. Make them a part of Twitter chats, invite them into your writing groups on Facebook or in person. Help them with support, critique and feedback. A big challenge that Muslim writers face is getting access to critique or support groups that are diverse, and any invitations to be part of online communities will probably be very happily accepted.
If you have a blog, ask Muslim writers to contribute. Remember that different writers will have different perspectives because of religious, cultural and individual diversity, so one blogger or one post may not be enough. And don’t expect them to always write about their “Muslimness” any more than you’d expect a white writer to write about being white. We are more than our faith and/or culture. We’re human beings.
If you’re an editor or agent, make sure you have a list of Muslim sensitivity readers, just in case you’re working on books about Muslims written by someone who isn’t qualified to be writing them. Better yet, encourage Muslim writers to send in their manuscripts: this could be through Twitter parties, contests, or calls like this (https://cleliagore.com/open-call/).
Invite Muslim writers to be part of conferences in larger numbers. Ask them to sit on panels – and not only that one panel about diversity but all panels. They are writers first and foremost, and their perspectives can be helpful to others too. Consider promoting their books as much as possible without hurting other authors. Often publishers think Muslim books aren’t meant for broad audiences and hence don’t put marketing dollars behind them.
If you’re a book reviewer or freelance writer, search for those hidden gems. Chances are if you ask around, you’ll find lots of lesser-known books by Muslim authors for your next Summer Reading List. Consider only reviewing Muslim authors for a year. It will be an eye-opening experience.
If you’re a teacher, librarian or parent, your job is the sweetest. Choose books by Muslim authors, champion them in your libraries and classrooms, help students get excited about reading diverse perspectives. If we can get our younger generation hooked on reading about their Muslim neighbors, they are going to grow up to be empathetic and responsible adults who don’t fear the “other.”
Imagine what kind of world that would be.
Saadia Faruqi is Pakistani American author of the early reader Yasmin series by Capstone. She also writes fiction and essays for adults and is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim writers. She was profiled by O Magazine in 2017 for her interfaith and intercultural sensitivity trainings. Visit her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.