Putting pretty white girls on all your book covers is the book equivalent of what all our fashion magazines do. An idealization of beauty that is unrealistic and dangerous to our youth. And it isn’t the right thing to do. Seeing a minority grace the cover of a YA book is like spotting the Lochness monster, you wonder if you’ve truly seen it and if you’ll ever see it again. How sad is that? To say that only pretty white girls can sell YA books is not a business model that publishers should approve of. And it’s not true. We need look no further than the gender neutral and iconic covers for the Hunger Games and Twilight series to see the truth.
When we took Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” into a maximum security woman’s prison on the West Side… there’s a scene there where a young woman is told by a very powerful official that “If you sleep with me, I will pardon your brother. And if you don’t sleep with me, I’ll execute him.” And he leaves the stage. And this character, Isabel, turned out to the audience and said: “To whom should I complain?” And a woman in the audience shouted: “The Police!” And then she looked right at that woman and said: “If I did relate this, who would believe me?” And the woman answered back, “No one, girl.” And it was astonishing because not only was it an amazing sense of connection between the audience and the actress, but you also realized that this was a kind of an historical lesson in theater reception. That’s what must have happened at The Globe. These soliloquies were not simply monologues that people spoke, they were call and response to the audience. And you realized that vibrancy, that that sense of connectedness is not only what makes theater great in prisons, it’s what makes theater great, period.
I look a little tough in my author’s photo, and I’ve been amazed at how many people—universities, magazines—ask me to send them a different photo, because they say I look aloof, unapproachable, tough, scary, and/or sad. I started asking male authors with tough-looking photos if they had ever gotten any grief about this and they said no, never. When it comes to the author’s photo, women are more likely to hear things like: “You don’t look as pretty as you could in your photo!” or “Why aren’t you smiling?” I, for one, would like to know what it is about an un-smiling woman that makes some people so fucking uncomfortable. Or why anyone would assume a woman’s foremost concern is prettiness.