Own Voices Winter Reading Challenge

Starting this Monday, January 11, your Library is holding an Own Voices Winter Reading Challenge for all ages that runs through Sunday, February 28. The term “Own Voices” refers to literature in which the story protagonist and author share a marginalized or underrepresented identity, whether that be ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, or disability. It started as a Twitter hashtag (#OwnVoices) in 2015.

Each week during the Own Voices Reading Challenge we’ll feature a different marginalized group in our community. We’ll provide weekly age-specific booklists and online events, from preschool storytimes to book discussions to Facebook Live conversations with local people from underrepresented groups. After signing up for the challenge, you can log the Own Voices books you read, write reviews, and earn virtual badges.


Your Library’s purpose in focusing on Own Voices for the next two months is to highlight diverse stories written by diverse authors, and to encourage people to discover books that broaden and deepen their understanding of others’ experiences.

Adult Services Manager Lisa Krekelberg explains that the concept of Own Voices fits well with the Library’s values. “We exist to serve everyone in our Johnson City community. By featuring Own Voices authors and working with local organizations that represent marginalized or underrepresented groups, we hope that we can encourage positive dialogue and understanding. We want everyone in our community to feel welcomed and empowered by their Library.”

Why is it important to read Own Voices books?

Books, especially books written from an author’s real world experience, can give us a broader, deeper understanding of the world around us.

Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita at Ohio State University, puts it this way: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience.” *

Reading stories that we haven’t ourselves lived, but that others have, teaches us that the world isn’t limited to our experience of it. Stories from diverse authors ask us to step into others’ shoes for awhile, and imagine what the world is like for them and for the group that they represent. A healthy, peaceful society depends on the ability of its people to have this kind of imagination and understanding.

Lisa loves reading Own Voices books for this very reason. She says, “Reading about people whose experiences and perspectives are different from my own has enriched my own life so much. These works help us all develop understanding and empathy, and I personally think this is key to us strengthening our community, helping us acknowledge and appreciate the diverse perspectives here in Johnson City. We all bring something unique and wonderful to the table when there is a seat open to us, when we feel welcomed and empowered to join in.”

If you have questions about the Own Voices challenge, contact the appropriate age department: Youth Services: (423) 434-4458; Teen Services: (423) 434-4349; or Adult Services: (423) 434-4454. You can also reach us here. Follow Johnson City Public Library on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for daily updates, reading suggestions, and online events.

* Read Rudine Sims Bishop’s full article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”, here.

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