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An Open Letter To the Toronto Public Library Facebook Page

Updated on August 5, 2015

Scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday, I came upon an image uploaded by the Toronto Public Library page:

What this list actually looks like:

From left to right: JD Salinger, William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury.
From left to right: JD Salinger, William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury.
Left to right: Charles Dickens, Chinua Achibe, Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway (again), Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Madeleine L'Engle.
Left to right: Charles Dickens, Chinua Achibe, Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway (again), Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Madeleine L'Engle.

Seriously??

Needless to say, the complete lack of diversity, not to mention the lack of any authors who are still alive, perturbed me. As a result, with a little help from my awesome Facebook friends, I've come up with an updated list that features more women, people of colour (poc), and queer authors. I've also written my disappointment and annoyance down in this open letter, which I genuinely hope the managers of the Toronto Library Facebook page see. (And which you are free to add to in the comments below.)

REQUIRED SUMMER READING (if you'd rather NOT read a bunch of dead, old white guys):

Left to Right:

First row:

Nevada by Imogen Binnie (instead of Catcher in the Rye)

Luna by Julie Ann Peters (instead of Lord of the Flies)

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (instead of Cat's Cradle)


Second row:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (instead of The Sound and the Fury)

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (instead of On The Road)

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (instead of Fahrenheit 451)

Left to right:

First row:

Sula by Toni Morrison (instead of Great Expectations)

All Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (no repacement needed)

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (instead of The Sun Also Rises)


Second row:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (instead of The Old Man and the Sea)

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (instead of Crime and Punishment)

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (not a replacement for A Wrinkle in Time, but an addition!)

What the updated list looks like:

From left to right: Imogen Binnie, Julie Ann Peters, Alison Bechdel, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Alaya Dawn Johnson.
From left to right: Imogen Binnie, Julie Ann Peters, Alison Bechdel, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Left to right: Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Janet Mock, Octavia E. Butler.
Left to right: Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Janet Mock, Octavia E. Butler.

^^ Awesome!!

Source

Open Letter:

Dear Toronto Public Library,

It only took me about 30 minutes, an internet connection, and one facebook status to throw together this list. Imagine the lists you could compile with your wide readership and resources? (You can do so much better, Toronto Public Library.)

As the primary social media presence for the entire Toronto library system, you should be advocating a wide array of authors and titles that span many races, genders, sexual orientations, and cultures. You should be showing that narratives from many different groups all portray a part of the human experience (which is kind of the whole point of literature). Salinger and Dickens and Hemmingway were talented, no doubt, but they, like Vonnegut and Faulkner and Bradbury and the other 10/12 authors on your list, are all dead old white men, who of no fault of their own, being dead and white (and privileged), inevitably wrote stories centred around their experiences, as all authors do. A cursory look at all the "classic" literature lists on the internet or in the library will tell you that the niche of the straight white male narrative is completely saturated at this point. It's been done, done again, and re-done, all while claiming the sole title of the normal human experience. So why, Toronto Library, are you flogging a dead horse? Why do you continue to regurgitate and uphold the same old stories written by the same old authors? Where is this getting us?

You are THE LIBRARY. In this modern age, after the revolutionary interdisciplinary and literary analytic lenses of post-modernism, feminism, and queer theory have been around for decades, how myopic must you be not to recognize that these old white men are NOT the gatekeepers of literature, nor of the human condition. They are not the standard upon which all literature should be judged and immediately othered if it does not centre around the life of a white man.

READ IT AND LEARN
READ IT AND LEARN

Some reading this might claim that I am oversensitive or over-reacting, but I repeat, you are THE LIBRARY. You are responsible for shaping the minds of children and youth; you are responsible for providing the literary fuel for their ravenous imaginations. Why is this fuel consistently white, male, cisgender, and heterosexual? All of us who aren't white men are profoundly tired of the white male experience in literature and art claiming to be the neutral representation of the entire human race.

One quick glance around this cosmopolitan, remarkably diverse city tells us all what we need to know: there are so. many. wonderful. stories.

A diverse array of narratives, characters, and authors are necessary to create a balanced and well-informed picture of both our inner and outer worlds. These multiple perspectives must be read, processed, and appreciated; they must also be recognized as just as valid a portrayal of the human condition as that of a heterosexual, cisgender white narrative.

This open letter is both a call-out and a plea to apply more effort when suggesting literature to the thousands of impressionable readers your page reaches. This is a demand to purposefully highlight literature for youth in which they, their friends, their neighbours, acquaintances, and people on the street are all lushly represented. This is yet another reminder from all of us who are not white, male, cisgender, or straight, that we are as much a part of literature as white men are, and we need to be equally represented.

This is yet another reminder that telling only one story is dangerous. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it best, so I'm going to leave her brilliant TED talk below. This is a reminder that representation matters; it is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Comments

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    • ms_independent profile imageAUTHOR

      Celine 

      3 years ago from Canada

      ^meaningless PR blabber lol

    • profile image

      Toronto Public Library 

      3 years ago

      Hi Celine, thanks for this. TPL celebrates Toronto's diverse communities every day - whether it's through our collection of more than 10.5 million items that encompasses a range of viewpoints and experiences, our events that are often an extension of the collection and services diverse residents of our city including newcomers, children, entrepreneurs and many more. Please check out our recommended reading lists that we regularly share on social media, including recommending reading by genre such as LGBTQ, Urban Fiction, She Reads and Canadian Literature. We also share our daily blog posts that cover a wide range of topics including a diverse mix of current events, linking topical issues with available library resources, and highlight special programming and events including Aboriginal History Month, Pride celebrations, and Black History Month. This cartoon was not intended as an exhaustive list, and was shared in combination with many social media posts that endeavour to represent the library's commitment to diversity.

    • profile image

      Corrina 

      3 years ago

      you go girl!

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