On 6 September 2015, I made a suggestion on Twitter:
#ownvoices, to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.
— Corinne Duyvis (@corinneduyvis) September 6, 2015
I’m thrilled that #ownvoices has taken on its own life in the years since then. It’s easy shorthand for a necessary concept, and the hashtag is filled with brilliant recommendations, questions, and discussions. That’s awesome. I’m happy to for the Tweets above to be the extent of my involvement, as the hashtag has been doing just fine without my input; I don’t want to moderate or regulate the discussion in any way.
In other words, feel free to stop reading at this point!
If you do want to know more, I’ll answer some questions I’ve received.
Q: I know #ownvoices started in the kidlit world, but can I use it to recommend adult novels?
Go for it.
Q: What about comic books?
Go for it.
Q: Is this about race? LGBTQIAP+? Disability? What counts? And can we use the hashtag for picture books? What about movies? Short stories? Do you think this character/author combo counts? What about a situation where—
Whoaaa remember what I said about not wanting to moderate or regulate it? Use it for whatever marginalized/diverse identity you want (I personally like the WNDB definition) and for whatever genre, category, or form of art you want. As long as the protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity.
Let’s highlight some of those words, though:
“Author,” as in the actual author has this identity, not their relative or student.
“Identity,” as in at least somewhat specific. Aim for: “character and author are both blind” and “character and author are both African-American,” rather than: “character is blind and author is autistic, thus both are disabled” and “character is African-American and author is Korean-American, thus both are people of color.”
And “a” marginalized identity, not “all.” Sometimes a character will be part of a group the author isn’t. For example: a straight Cuban author writing a lesbian Cuban protagonist. As long as there’s another marginalized aspect of their identity they do share, it’s #ownvoices. (I have more on this further down.)
Beyond that? It’s not my place to decide what counts as diverse/marginalized, nor what counts as “same group.” I won’t police either the hashtag or people’s/characters’ identities.
Q: Right, but you gave wildly different examples. What about when the identities are not identical but similar, like—
Sorry, I’ve said pretty much all I feel comfortable saying. I don’t want to set up specific rules or guidelines beyond the obvious ones above. I’m aware that “obvious” won’t answer all questions, and identity often isn’t obvious; it’s nuanced and complicated and hard to categorize.
And that’s exactly why I don’t think it’s my place to make that call.
Q: If my character and I share one type of identity, but the character is also marginalized in ways that I’m not, wouldn’t it be misleading to call it #ownvoices?
Depends on how you frame it.
• Awesome Book features a Chinese-American trans girl! #ownvoices
• Check out Awesome Book—it’s got an #ownvoices trans girl lead!
• Awesome Book features a Chinese-American trans girl—trans aspect is #ownvoices!
See the difference between the first one and the other two?
Basically, just be specific and be clear.
Q: Can I promote my own work?
Go for it.
(Since it’s a pretty quiet hashtag, though, maybe don’t dominate or spam it? That’s just being polite.)
Q: What spurred this on? From those Tweets of yours it looks like there might’ve been draaaaama happening.
Honestly man, I don’t even remember, and I don’t think it matters. The hashtag wasn’t aimed at anyone or meant to do anything but uplift books that I think needed more uplifting.
Q: Are you saying that marginalized authors have some sort of responsibility to write about characters like themselves?
Absolutely not. Marginalized authors can write about whatever they want. We should support those choices, books, and authors. #ownvoices is not about policing or pressuring marginalized authors to write about any particular topic.
This is a large part of the reason I emphasize #ownvoices novels and avoid using the term #ownvoices authors. Some authors choose identify as such because they choose to only write about characters from their own marginalized group; that’s great. Many authors, however, may write some books that fall into #ownvoices, and some that don’t. That’s great too!
#ownvoices is simply a subcategory of diverse novels I think is worth highlighting.
Q: Are you saying privileged authors shouldn’t write outside their experiences?
No. People can write whatever they want; that goes both ways.
That said, it’s common for marginalized characters to be written by authors who aren’t part of that marginalized group and who are clueless despite having good intentions. As a result, many portrayals are lacking at best and damaging at worst. Society tends to favor privileged voices even regarding a situation they have zero experience with—just consider the all-white race panels on talk shows.
All #ownvoices does is center the voices that should matter most: those being written about.
Q: Has it occurred to you that not everyone is open about their identity? Are you saying authors need to out themselves?
Nobody is under any obligation to disclose any part of their identity. Safety and privacy are essential. We’re just working with the information we have; it’s all we can do.
(And this should go without saying, but if you have information about an author’s identity that isn’t public, don’t label their books #ownvoices without the author’s express permission.)
Q: Do I need to credit you as the creator when I use the hashtag?
If you’re just using the hashtag for a recommendation or mention it in a discussion? Nah, definitely not.
If you’re centering a feature, discussion, or article on the topic? Then I would appreciate a mention, as these things get misattributed very easily.
Thank you for asking!
Q: I want to start a [website/community/network/organization/etc.] for #ownvoices. Is that OK?
I love that people want to promote and connect over these books. Please, by all means, do whatever you’d like.
My only request is that you avoid using #ownvoices (or variations like “own voices”) in the title/name. I want #ownvoices to remain a neutral term that everybody can use; I prefer it to be associated solely with a concept, and not with any kind of individual or organization. This is simply to prevent misunderstandings.
Feel free to use the term in your mission statement, description, and tags, of course.
I can’t control what people do. This is simply a polite request, and I hope that you understand where I’m coming from.