Interview with Marieke Nijkamp

It's been a great month here on the blog, talking about diversity in YA. Today we're excited to wrap things up with a very special guest. Who is this visitor you may ask? Please welcome, with much fanfare(while Loki isn't looking)...Marieke Nijkamp! Here's a little bit about her:

Marieke is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. In the midnight hours of the day she writes young adult stories as well as the occasional middle grade adventure. Her debut young adult novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS will be out from Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016. Marieke is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for WE Need Diverse Books™. All views are her own.
Check out her Book, Website & Twitter

Marieke hasn't confirmed it but it's our suspsicion she is actually a superhero in hiding herself. Her bio basically wrote it out in big neon letters. She's awesome! However if you need further proof, look no farther. She has  grasciously agreed to do an interview and share her take on Diversity in YA. Just to remind you one more time (because let's face it, you probably didn't read the bio), Marieke is the VP for the We Need Diverse Books Campaign which took the book world by storm last year. We're so excited to see some of her thoughts, so without further ado, onto the interview!
Let's start with the basics, what exactly is We Need Diverse Books all about?
This is our mission statement, and I think it sums up who we are and what we do:

We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

How we define diversity:
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
What drew you to begin working with the We Need Diverse Books campaign?
I’d been talking about diversity for a while now, especially through my own website, DiversifYA. In the weeks leading up to the campaign, a friend included me in the group and I was in the wonderful position of seeing the group and the movement form right from the very start.

But if you’re asking why advocating for inclusiveness is so important to me? Because I know what it’s like to be the other. I know discrimination. I am queer, I am disabled. I reached for books to find a world where I belonged and instead I found stories that still ignored me or even erased me. And that needs to change.
Why is diversity such an important issue in our world today?
Malinda Lo said it best when she said: diversity is reality. Our world is diverse. We – writers – and we – readers – are diverse. We need stories that reflect the whole, wide spectrum of experiences. Of race and ability, of love and identity. And that’s by no means a new discussion. We have always been talking about it. We’ve always claimed our place.
Do you think is it enough for writers to simply understand the importance of diversity?
If that means they understand the importance and then go about their day not changing anything? No, I don’t think it’s enough. Let’s be clear here, I do not want tokenism either. What I do want is for writers to ask themselves why they make the decisions they make. Why every character has to be white, cishet, non-disabled. And what kind of implicit message they’re sending to their readers in making those choices. It’s not enough to simply think about it and understand it, we have to understand the consequences and challenge the choices we make.
When writing about diversity is there anything we as writers should keep in mind?
Whether or not you’re writing from your own experience, it’s important to do your research. We internalize a lot, and it’s so important to be aware of harmful tropes and stereotypes, to be aware of what the stories before yours have done.

And, whether or not you’re writing from your own experience, find beta readers who share that experience. There is no one way to be diverse. There is no one way to be asexual, for example, or to deal with chronic pain. One experience is exactly that: one experience.
Can there be diversity in a book without specifically focusing on a diverse subject?
Can you have characters who are into stamp collecting without specifically focusing on just that collection?

Now of course diversity goes a bit further than a hobby alone. The way I identify is intrinsically interwoven with the way I look at the world, the way the world looks at me, the decisions I make, my hopes, my fears. But the way I identify is not just as queer, is not just as disabled, is not just as autistic, is not just as ace. I identify as a writer too. As a dreamer. As someone who suffers from wanderlust. My identity isn’t a singular but another spectrum of experiences. Those things that make me diverse inform me, but do not define me. And I think we too easily forget that. We are as human and as complex as any other character.

If you do not define non-diverse characters by their straightness or whiteness or non-disabledness, but you only see us as our diverse identities, that isn’t inclusive. It’s just as Othering.
What diverse topics do you feel have not been addressed yet and should be brought to light through more literature?
Can I put in a vote for more intersectionality? And more queer characters who are not L or G, but B or A or I or T. I want more non-binary characters. I want more disabled characters with agency. I would love to see a YA fantasy that deals with mental illness, or one with a OT3. I want stories to tell me of worlds and experiences I do not even know exist. I want them to challenge me and help me continue to challenge myself, to break through stereotypes and celebrate the wide range of the human – but especially the YA – experience.
Can you recommend some of your favorite diverse YA (or otherwise) novels to our readers?
2015 has been a really good year so far, in the diverse books I read. I absolutely adored Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn, Sarah Benwell’s The Last Leaves Falling, Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Chessie Zappia’s Made You Up, and Dahlia Adler’s Under the Lights. I loved how both I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above and Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars transported me to their main characters’ lives. And I only discovered it earlier this year, but Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is an absolute treasure.

Meanwhile, 2016 is shaping up to be amazing too, and I’m so incredibly excited about the books I already had the privilege to read, such as Audrey Coulthurst’s stunning debut A Hidden Affinity and Corinne Duyvis’s wonderful sophomore novel On The Edge Of Gone, and the many books I still want to discover. We want more, we need more, but let’s celebrate the fantastic diverse books that are out there too!
Finally, how can we help promote diversity?
Buy diverse books, or request them from the library
Tell your friends / readers / local bookstores
Leave reviews on the retail sites and Goodreads
And read this amazing post, because Dahlia really says it all: How to Effectivly Show Support 
Thanks so much for stopping by Marieke!
There you have it folks! Weren't her comments awesome? Now that the team has spoken, and Marieke has shared her thoughts, it's your turn. Let us know down in the comments your own take on Diversity! We'd love to hear. Happy writing heroes!


  1. *ace high five from Iron Man lurking in the comment section* (Okay, I'm not suggesting Iron Man is ace because I think it's pretty clear he's not, but whatever. THIS VERSION OF HIM IS. And is also mostly not a guy. Only sometimes. WAHEY.) I approve of this, especially the part about multiple experiences being important so there's not a one-size-fits-all approach. I can look around my group of queer friends and see a dozen completely different stories; I can look at myself and a couple of people I know who also deal with chronic pain etc, and our lives are totally different from each other. People are different so that even if their circumstances are near-identical they react in different ways. Books forget that sometimes, I think.

    1. YES! Interviews with authors! How I've missed you :-3
      Miriam: This will probably make you laugh. At one point we were being silly and my fourteen-year-old sister said "I'm Batman" and I tried to imitate Robert Downey Jr (and probably failed): "I am Iron Man." But my five-year-old sister beat us all out. "I am Groot!" Dad now calls her Cute-Groot. X-P
      But really, her superhero identity is Wonder Woman. I think the middle sister is Spiderman, and I think I'm trying to figure out whether I'm supposed to be Hawkeye, Captain America, or Bruce Banner... (I apparently share a personality type with Bruce, but a fandom quiz I took says I'm most like Clint, loyal and stubborn, but... morally ambiguous?! where do they get these things?! I swear... and I think I'm most like Cap, because I tend toward combining old-fashioned and contemporary, am extremely stubborn, work well with just about anyone, and apologize too much.)