deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
[personal profile] deborah
Last night I attended the Cambridge, Massachusetts stop of the Diversity in YA tour, with Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, and Francisco X. Stork. I was impressed with the authors, but disappointed with the panel.

Unfortunately, the panel moderator was not focusing on the topic at hand, instead turning the first half of the panel into a generic "let's talk about young adult literature". In fact, there was one massive derail, in which the moderator asked "Five of the six of you are authors of fantasy series, which now makes up one third of all hardcover books in the genre. Isn't that a terrible lack of diversity?"

Luckily, all the authors on the panel were great, and managed to shine through. I was particularly impressed with Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Deva Fagan, and -- in his own very quiet way -- Francisco X. Stork.

As much as I see value in having a panel of authors from a wide variety of backgrounds based on the characters they write and not just their own personal histories, I do wish that we had heard more from the 50% of the panel who were authors of color. (And isn't Malinda Lo the only one of those six authors who identifies as GLBT?) This is especially relevant when they were fielding a few deeply problematic audience questions (although kudos to Deva Fagan for trying to address the issue of white privilege with the audience member who kept insisting "but my kids don't care whether or not they see themselves in book characters").

One audience participant asked a great question about representations of disability, and I wish the panel had had more time to talk about that.

In any case, I'm glad I went. I hope in other cities the panel moderator is more focused on the topic at hand, no matter how he or she may interpret it, and less about young adult literature or fantasy in general. Given the moderator's concerns with questions of fantasy, I wish there had been questions about diversity in fantasy per se, which has always been fraught, across all age ranges of English-language fantasy. Obviously this is a big concern for me, in particular, but it does seem like a natural extension of a desire to discuss fantasy at a diversity panel. If the question were "there seems to be huge rise in series fantasy, and series fantasy is overwhelmingly white and Eurocentric; talk about that," that could have led the panel into some really interesting discussions. Some of the issues Malinda Lo has discussed on her own blog, about whether or not you need to identify race in a fantastic world, would have been very welcome.

Perhaps the panel suffered from a malady I've seen in many Boston-area children's literature events with an adult audience and authors as speakers: it wasn't clear whether it was a fannish event or a professional one. Professional is perhaps not quite the right word, because I don't mean aimed particularly at librarians or reviewers or publishers. But "Diversity" with an adult audience (many of whom were Simmons students -- I saw that gaggle of you there! *waves*) could operate at a thoughtful level of engagement. Whereas a general author/reader fan event is going to be more surface, less controversy, less willingness to make potential fans and customers uncomfortable. Perhaps it's unfair of me to wish that there were more of the former. Authors are, after all, people who need to support their own careers.


On a related note, it's time for the third year of Nerds Heart YA, which builds dynamic long and short list of books that represent one of a series of relatively under publicized categories:

Specifically, the lists will consist of books that:
  • Were published in 2010
  • Have received minimum press on blogs
  • Feature characters, or are penned by authors, who fall within the following categories:
    • Person(s) of Color (POC)
    • GLBT
    • Disability
    • Mental Illness
    • Religious Lifestyle
    • Lower Socioeconomic Status
    • Plus-size



This year's shortlist has been chosen, and includes some very exciting books. Check it out!
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