The Importance Of #OwnVoices

Doctor Rudine Sims Bishop’s perceptive article Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors (1990) highlights how minority representation in fiction, particularly for children, is paramount in ensuring readers feel seen, their own lives recognised as an important part of our diverse human experience.

In 2015, young adult author Corinne Duyvis created the Twitter hashtag #OwnVoices, to further this principle. The tag intended to uncover stories where protagonist and author share an identity (or identities!) such as a religion, sexuality, ethnic group or disability.

The reasoning behind this was simple. Whilst representative narratives remain important, informed and authentic storytelling is equally so. For younger ages (where literature sometimes provides first exposure to alternative experiences) a narrative where either they or others whom they have encountered are positively presented, in print, is particularly meaningful. More often than not, marginalised groups have their stories told to them by authors who rely on surface level stereotypes. Subsequently, they lack the richness of understanding that comes from the lived experience. Duyvis’s idea took the internet by storm.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly in 2020, Duyvis expresses how she only anticipated the hashtag to be in use for a few days. She never believed it could have had such a profound effect on the publishing industry as a whole. As a movement, it’s faced some criticism from a perception it pigeonholes authors to write solely about their identity, equally voices are raised when a promoted book is not “#OwnVoices enough”. But Duyvis defends her idea for it was never about policing identity. In its purest form, #OwnVoices is a space where real stories are shared, representative characters showcased and overlooked themes explored. It remains an insightful marker for readers looking for reflection in the novels they choose to read or diversify the narratives within their TBR piles.

In just two words, Duyvis created a necessary and brilliant platform which celebrates the diversity of humankind whilst championing authenticity and nuance in published writing.

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Rianna Jones

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August 2022
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