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2020 Literary Lookback: Author Natasha Diaz Wants Us to Know Black Jewish Stories Matter

2020 Literary Lookback: Author Natasha Diaz Wants Us to Know Black Jewish Stories Matter

When Natasha Díaz discovered her debut novel was excluded from a Black Jewish book list, she went to Twitter to air her frustrations that led to a conversation on multiracial Jewish literature.

Natasha’s young adult novel Color Me In features a sixteen-year-old protagonist who moves in with Black mother’s family after her parents divorce, but her White Jewish father wants to throw her a belated bat mitzvah. The change in surroundings and circumstances heightens the racial and religious intolerance, according to the publisher Penguin Random House imprint Ember, but the teenager who’s usually quiet tries to find her voice amid the noise. On her author website, she says the book is “inspired by my experiences as a white passing, multiracial woman.”

In June, Natasha tweeted she had submitted the book that was first published in 2019 to the Association of Jewish Libraries for inclusion in its list of Black Jewish literature in light of the George Floyd protests. She said the association refused to add her book to the list.

The Association of Jewish Libraries created a list that includes the YA best-seller Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, which comes from Little, Brown & Co. Books for Young Readers about a Black girl who’s trying to deal with her White Jewish stepbrother’s mental illness. The list is the seventh installment in the association’s Love Your Neighbor series, an initiative to promote works by Jewish authors in the aftermath of the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh.

By mid-June, Natasha started a campaign asking for followers to amplify Black Jewish writers whether they were published or unpublished. Within two months, she penned the article “What It’s Like to Be a Black Jewish Writer” in Alma, a digital media outlet focused on pop culture content about Jewish women.

I never read a character who was grappling with where to fit, how to own her whole self, and also how to take accountability for white presenting privilege, in a book. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s my life, and while I was so incredibly proud to learn my book was “a first,” I couldn’t help but also feel infinitely sad that my Black Jewish experience, which is so impacted by my proximity to whiteness, is the only one to travel through the traditional publishing channels and represent young Black Jews in children’s literature.

In the article, she has a roundtable discussion that includes Marra Gad, the author of the award-winning memoir The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl from Agate Publishing, and Rachel Harrison-Gordon, the filmmaker behind Broken Bird about a Black Jewish girl preparing for her bat mitzvah. Also in August, Natasha was interviewed by the Jewish Book Council and discussed her book’s impact.

Perhaps one of the most visible Black Jewish authors is Rebecca Walker, the daughter of writing legend Alice Walker, who wrote about her multiethnic upbringing in her first memoir, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, published by Penguin Random House in 2002. Rebecca is the author and editor of seven books, including a debut novel called Adé: A Love Story, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. and Amazon Publishing Co. in 2013. A year later, pop icon Madonna was set to direct a film based on the book.

Meanwhile, Natasha continues to discover and elevate multiracial and Black Jewish writers on social media who still battle deep-rooted hatred from within the White Jewish community and antisemitism outside the community.

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