Tearing Down the Walls: Henderson Writers Group demystifies writing with diversity for authors

Henderson Writers Group at the Las Vegas Book Festival 2019.

The title, “Paving the Way: Conceiving & Crafting Diverse Characters for Inclusive Literature,” isn’t only long, it can be a little confusing. Diversity has its origins in Latin, meaning to divide. Inclusive, also from Latin, means to include.

Given the disparity in definition, as writers, how can we be or do both? According to the event’s originator, Tonya Todd, we need to understand that “meanings evolve with not only time but context.” Diversity within today’s context means “variety.”

As the Education Chair for the Henderson Writers Group (HWG), Todd gets approached a lot about the concept by authors concerned about confusion with the plethora of adjectives being floated in conjunction with the creative process. Those questions sparked the idea for this event.

Local author and HWG Education Chair, Tonya Todd.

Diversity, inclusiveness, #ownvoices, misappropriation, underrepresented, #metoo. There so many catchphrases bandied about when it comes to creative product emanating from the likes of Broadway, Hollywood and, yes, Publishing. And they all point to the same infection, the same cry for understanding: we need to be seen, we need to be heard.

A much-touted “test” to measure diversity was borne out of Allison Bechdel’s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It states that: (a) there has to be at least two women, (b) who talk to each other, (c) about something other than a man. It’s simplistic in nature. Maybe too simplistic to be thoroughly inclusive.

Todd defines those echoing voices from diverse factions as a need for people to see themselves on screens large and small, and within the books they read. But they want those entertainments to depict honesty and respect. The goal of the panel is to help authors, playwrights, and screenwriters to a level of understanding that will assist them in avoiding the current debacle facing Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club current choice.

“American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins, published on January 21 by Flatiron Books, has been raked over the proverbial coals. Numerous critics and more than 100 authors have denounced the book for stereotypical depictions, for her audacity to write something she hasn’t lived. The cry has been so loud the publisher fears for the author’s safety and a tour to promote the long-touted and highly anticipated tome has been canceled.

Hosted by HWG, co-sponsored by The Center, and supported in part by a grant from the Nevada Humanities and National Endowment for the Humanities, this is an event for the entire community. If you’re interested in the subject as a consumer, this is also a perfect place to voice concerns, to ask questions, to encourage dialogue regarding the community with which you align, and maybe gain insight into those which you don’t.

Opening the subject at the event will be Rodney Lee, a member of the Clark County School District’s Equity and Diversity Education Committee. Panelists will be Gregory Kompes, MFA, MS Ed, author of 15 books including the bestselling “50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live;” Amanda Skenandore, recipient of an NAC Artist in Residence Fellowship grant, and author of two historical fiction novels published by Kensington Press; CSN faculty member and recipient of the NAC Artist in Residence Fellowship grant, Sherry Rosenthal; and Dr. Karen Laing, professor of Migrant, World and Black Literature at CSN.

The Henderson Writers Group meets regularly to share work and support.

“The more you feed yourself, the more it feeds the creativity and lens with which you write,” says Todd. This event will provide a safe environment to ask questions, to learn how to create characters and situations in realistic terms without the kind of baggage that brings controversy and protest, or cause fear for your safety as an artist.

What: “Paving the Way: Conceiving & Crafting Diverse

Characters for Inclusive Literature”

When: 12:00 noon – 5:00pm, Saturday, February 29

Where: The Center, 401 South Maryland Parkway,

Las Vegas, NV, 89101

Admission: FREE


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