Every Story Matters (English)


European societies are diverse and becoming more so all the time. Sadly, this diverse reality is not reflected everywhere; literature and the book business remain too homogenous in many respects. It is not just a matter of who writes (and who is encouraged to write) but of who gets published, who stands on the stage, who sits in the audience, how people are portrayed, and which readers can identify with the characters in the books they are reading. Everybody has a right to discover literature and to create stories, irrespective of their socio-economic or cultural background, gender, sexual preference or mental and physical abilities. Yet not all of us have an equal opportunity to do so.

That is something the Europe-wide project ‘Every Story Matters – making books more inclusive’ aims to change. We want to encourage the creation of more inclusive books for children and young adults and to give book professionals (including publishers, librarians and editors) the tools and the strategies needed to become more inclusive and by doing so engage a broader and more diverse reading audience.

Solid role models

In order to stimulate the creative potential of talented people who have traditionally been overlooked, ESM presents a talent development programme, helping authors and illustrators to generate inclusive content. In their efforts to reach modern-day young people in a diverse and multicultural society, these authors and illustrators will be inspired by the experiences and needs of young people who participate in school and library workshops. By pitching the resulting stories to publishers at international book fairs (Frankfurt, Bologna) and to young readers at festivals and book fairs, and in schools and libraries, they will serve as solid role models for a young and diverse audience.

Charter and toolkit

Apart from supporting the creation of inclusive stories, ESM aims to stimulate publishers to become more inclusive by organising a fellowship and developing a charter and toolkit that will offer them effective and sustainable ways to reach writers and illustrators as well as readers from minority groups.

Making diversity mainstream

By increasing the number of inclusive books that are published and presented each year, ESM will invest in a culture of tolerance by gradually making diversity in children’s literature mainstream. It aims to create broad public awareness and to have an enduring impact on the book trade in the EU. Together we can make a difference.

Every Story Matters is a project supported by Creative Europe and in joint collaboration between the following partners:

Flanders Literature
Project leader, literature fund supporting Flemish writers and illustrators and promoting their work abroad (Belgium)

Acesso Cultura
Access to cultural participation (Portugal)

Blue Dar
Education through entertainment (Syria/Germany)

JAKRS
Slovenian Book Agency (Slovenia)

Mediart International
Promotes books, authors and reading, Zagreb Book Festival (Croatia)

ROSE stories
Independent storytelling house (The Netherlands)

TEXTS OF THE AMBASADORS

By: Ivana Bodrožić
Inclusion in Literature

The most important thing is to hear that voice. Our voice. Once we find it, everything else simply comes along. If we read, sentences effortlessly impress themselves onto our being, take shape based on our character, our character hears them and utters them as their own. This identification runs deep and shakes the entire being to the core. If we write, and when we hear this voice, landing our fingers onto the keyboard turns into a magical process that writer Danilo Kiš once called “writing as a share of effort and miracle”. What is inclusive literature to me? Thinking about this term which seems a bit like it was made halfway between the Department of Comparative Literature and Brussels, I feel a need to translate it into a known experience and language. Without a hint of sentimentalism I can only say: in my youth, literature saved me. Although, I used to only read, enjoy masterfully crafted tales, conquer language and experiences, receive gifts from other dimensions which gave me hope that there is more than here and now. On occasion I encountered the likes of me. In my early twenties I discovered writers who wrote about their traumatic experiences after World War II, wordsmiths like Primo Levi, Marguerite Duras, Ilija Jakovljević, Imre Kertész. Before them, before, I wasn’t even aware that this is possible and allowed, I wasn’t acquainted with the fact that my experience is the experience of many, an experience important and valuable enough to be turned into a novel, that writing heals, not only the reader, but also the writer’s soul. I was enthused and shocked, wherever I went I carried books in which I found myself, reading and awing, all until one day – because of them – I emboldened enough to write, hoping others would identify with my book. Perhaps at first glance inclusive literature doesn’t seem like a life-saving thing, but if you delve deep beneath the term, you will find everything you, the way you are, weren’t entitled to in the so-called real life. Once you immerse yourself in such a book, it escapes paper, the language becomes fluid and relates to the most profound human experience. That is why, as Aristotle says, art is realer that truth. It tells us everything that can be. A combination of your lived experiences and something new each book brings guarantees ongoing growth. And growth is not possible without including everyone, otherwise we stand still or fade. And it is especially not possible if the world we deem real expels everyone from the margins, expels those who are fewer in numbers. It then remains lifeless and reduced to average. In particular, it is important that the first stories we hear and grow and identify with are similar to ours. This empowers us, makes us visible and worthy of self-respect. Finally, this becomes the image of the society we live in, the society we are responsible for.

By: Olja Savičević Ivančević
On Inclusion in Literature

Let us try to picture the willpower needed to write a novel with one finger, how strong the only dark-skinned boy in the class has to be, or when your name and origin are unique and some think they’re wrong, when you grow up in other people’s clothes and desirous of everything, when being in love is an everyday struggle and you remind us of the power of love, when your body isn’t exactly yours, but it’s unique and beautiful, or when you’re only a woman in a world tailor-made to suit men’s needs. These stories are what we need to remind us who we are, what really matters and who we could be, the experiences inspiring and encouraging us, fixing our weak points, teaching us a lot about the preciousness of life and mutual relationships. Thinking about others is true self-respect and a precondition for gentility and understanding of nature, animals, the world in its totality. I believe in the power of words, in the power of art. Once the society is mature enough, the legislators pass and protect certain human rights, but for the changing of stereotypes, ways of thinking, for dismantling prejudices, for the positive shifts in terms of human rights – except the people whose fight in the streets, in public, has paved the way to liberty – we have art to thank: films and music, theatre, comics, the truth concealed in visual arts. Art has raised awareness among oceans of people. And before anyone else, secrets and taboos were unmasked by books, since they contain the greatest of freedoms; they challenge us and converse with us intimately and privately, face to face. Entertainment and play give us a tool to say the important things children are taught less and less in families and educational institutions: the importance of friendship instead of competition, mutual acceptance and understanding instead of exclusion and domination, true equality and egalitarianism – camaraderie instead of elitism, manipulation and patronisation. If we learn to play as children and through this play build worlds of the courageous, noble and caregiving, perhaps we will build them in adulthood. This task takes time, but it is the most efficient possible. Children easily comprehend that they can be next-door action heroes and heroines saving the world when they are kind, helpful and open-minded – as all superheroes, for that matter. But equally so it is important to learn to oppose bad authorities and wrong rules. Every shift a man makes inside, in their conscience, is part of a social shift, in which books have played a significant role. Today, when we ponder over the survival of mankind and the importance of humanity for this survival more than ever, we have discovered how indispensable are the voices of those whose every day is a struggle, who managed or are trying to reach beyond the boundaries set by nature or imposed by society. People carrying their body, name, origin, skin colour, sexuality and love as a burden can reveal truly meaningful things, remind us how precious humanity is, restore determination and belief in it. Therefore, I think that if someone directs us to a better and healthier society, it will be the people from the so-called marginalised groups. Their stories are the most important stories to hear today, they are the key to understanding our delicate existences and a ticket for a safer future, a truly human, worldly redemption.

By: Korana Serdarević
Inclusion in the education

Literature in education was for a long period burdened by compulsory outcomes, based on canonical lists and canonical interpretations. Since the canon consists of works written by dead white men, an interpretation of such a list hardly opens room for inclusion, and the ‘windows to the world’ such a list cracks open is inevitably reduced to the boundaries of a well-known area. Understanding the literary world, inevitably built on the foundations of the real world, experienced and thought through, includes recognising and interpreting the author’s experience. The authors hailing from the same social stratum undoubtedly offer different personal tales, but fail to offer a chance to comprehend different cultures, distant experiences, identities. Uncontested importance of the value of text as a work of art aside, the right of those different from the most on our reading list is to join their experience of the world to young people’s reading experience, to offer a story of their own. Also, the right of every reader being educated is to be provided with books that offer a true insight into the world that grows and billows from the amount of different voices. If we agree that education needs to be inclusive, i.e. that it needs to include persons belonging to vulnerable groups (the disabled, people of lower socio-economic status, potential victims of sexual, religious or other discrimination), how is it possible that literary texts offered to young people almost never exemplify the experiences of such groups? Is it even important to read with understanding the text stemming from cultures and experienced different from ours, if we want at all to understand the world we share with the heterogeneous multitude? Can we enjoy reading only if we read about the likes of us or can we read with pleasure and interest the stories of those leading completely different lives? Would we have become different if we had had grown up reading and analysing stories from all four corners of the world, hailing from the most diverse social strata, majorities and minorities? And what would an inclusive obligatory reading list we provide the students of today mean for society in the future? At a certain point, a book will provide every young person during their education with a space of identification with characters, their sufferings and longings, they shall ponder over the justification of their actions and the relationships shaping them. It is hence the right of the readers belonging to vulnerable groups to get their space of identification. Literature as a mirror of the world offers different reflections and it is important to provide as many as possible of those that surprise us, that force us to change, that make us discuss, which will, finally, help us expand our own notion of life and people we share the planet with at this particular stretch of time. Perhaps this is why we need to give children and young people a chance to see their compulsory reading list, at the time of consumerism and capitalism, as an essential source of understanding the different, which will in turn make an impact on the resistance to any kind of segregation. I’m convinced that a literary text, in addition to well-trained teachers and modern-day methods, can over the long run help remove negative prejudices and stop them on their way to discrimination, just as it can make an impact of the growing interest and better visibility of male and female authors speaking in the voices of minorities.

By: Jul Maroh
Why every story matters?

Why every story matters? I can perfectly remember the sensation that overwhelmed me when I started reading literature or stories with the unordinary characters. The emotions irradiated all over my body, filled with relief and joy, suddenly finding the stories that mirrored me, where I could identify myself and recognize my own humanity. My loneliness and my doubts suddenly vanished. I became extremely impatient: eager to read the following pages. These sensations can save lives. When you discover that what you are, what you desire and what you dream of is not what your environment or the society expect from you, the consequences can be terrible. The literature and the narrative media such as cinema, contemporary art, photography and even music are at hand to connect us with the world and with our own intrinsic nature. Through the stories, as the emotions evolve and awaken within us, we recognize the humanity and the vulnerability of others. We recognize our own interiority. Since the publication of my first book “Blue Is the Warmest Color”, I have received lots of thank you letters from LGBTQ persons, but also from the readers whose lives are very much distant from the lives of the main characters: from those who never experienced homophobia or a gender discrimination. And yet those readers stated they had been very touched by the story of Emma and Clémentine, and they had decided no longer to be accomplices of the systematic oppressions in question. That is exactly where we can observe the power held by the literature, and notice how important it is to represent all of the spectrum of the mankind. Not only to honour all those individuals who are too often made invisible /he, she, they/ or are being represented /he, she, they/ in a stereotypical manner, but also to enable the largest possible public to understand the lives of those persons. It is utmost important to build up bridges where the society and discriminations elevated walls. Every story matters, because every person matters. The violence of discriminations that pervaded our communities, point at our responsibility. When our ignorance, our fears and our prejudices guide our actions, when we believe that we are holders of the unique truth, then other lives around us suffer. Hence the importance of the inclusive literature. The plurality of lives we learn about through stories shows us that there are multiple truths. In order to enable a better life together, it is vital for that plurality – that really is real – to find its place within the literary industry, at all levels. The persons identifying themselves as women, as queer, as exposed to racism, as disabled, they should all be granted equal chances. Being engaged to represent all the groups, all the prides, all the vulnerabilities, means enabling the literature to always find a larger number of the readers of all genders. That also means that we thus enable the stories to wield its magic on a large scale: to transform our beings and our relation with the world through an initiation journey.