Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Building Your Reading Room

An It's Complicated! — Marketing & Sales guest post by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers School & Library Marketing Director, Victoria Stapleton.

You have no idea how many, MANY times I have tried to reduce my thoughts on this very large topic to 600 words. You have no idea how many, MANY times I have cried thinking I needed to write 600 WORDS. And all of this while trying to make sure they are the right 600 words. What I have left are some observations from ten years of trying to do this work and do it respectfully. Please forgive me in advance if I have not managed to identify the correct words.

I approach the issue of diversity from the perspective of someone raised as a religious minority in the United States. A religious minority with very strong views (some of which it continues to hold today) about those who do not fit its paradigm. So I have a bit of experience being both outside and inside a dominant power structure. If you prefer a less political analogy, I spent of a lot of my early years negotiating my path between competing worldviews with their own claims to priority and attention.

The book I go back to over and over again when wrestling with these issues is A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The book opens with the author confronting the great, massive, mustachioed, history of British Learning. It continues as a consideration of the writer’s struggle to assert the right to a reading and writing identity that is uniquely her own. Reading this book in my early teens was revelatory, giving me the permission to choose my own reading identity and communities. I did not have to be bound by the lists my school gave me, or the interpretation of books my teacher endorsed. I could begin to build my own reading room.

Woolf’s book became even more helpful to me as supplemental reading when I taught graduate students First Testament/Hebrew Bible. From my youth I knew that The Exodus story has a special resonance for African Americans; it is understood as an empowering story of liberation from slavery. Meeting non-American students in my classes, I learned The Exodus has a very different meaning for many of the indigenous peoples of South Africa who read it from the perspective of displaced, oppressed peoples.

Working with students encouraged all of us to recognize and encourage a multiplicity of reading communities, which could be rooted in as many factors as could be named. I also realized something else: No one needs to wait until graduate school to build their own reading room. Readers can begin to do this as soon as they start reading.

During the time I have been in publishing A Room of One’s Own has remained with me as I have sat in acquisition committee meetings where our company seeks out new and interesting voices such as Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ninth Ward), Diana Lopez (Confetti Girl), and Aaron Hartzler (Rapture Practice). It’s been with me as I’ve developed marketing plans for books such as Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington, I Am J, and Ask the Passengers.

These books are for children and teens struggling to assert and create their own unique reading identities. These books are also for young readers who may not now be struggling, but who are simply open to hearing about the lives unlike their own. My job is to connect these books to those readers by reaching out to teachers and librarians, traditionally via email, snail mail, and in person at a trade show. My job also involves providing educator guides to help teachers catch the vision of these books in their classrooms. I look for mailing lists, listservs, and odd journals for ads where I can reach folks I might not ordinarily reach.

Social networking platforms have proved to be a very exciting place to meet readers and discover what is important to them. Twitter (@lbschool), Facebook (Little Brown School), Tumblr ( provide new spaces for readers to engage in new configurations. I’ve been able to see a greater diversity of experiences among readers than has been possible before and it’s exciting.

Ultimately, I do my job best by focusing on keeping that diversity of experience firmly in the front of my mind. By remembering where I came from as reader: a child who was loosely connected to the dominant culture around her; who needed to find stories that helped her assert her own unique identity; who needed to build a room of her own.

1 comment:

  1. Every reader brings a unique experience to the table. Every single one. We are all diverse readers, which is something to keep in mind as we help children build rooms of their own.