deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
In "Descartes Letter Found, Therefore It Is", I learned that a long-lost stolen letter of Descartes' has turned up in my alma mater's archives:

If old-fashioned larceny was responsible for the document’s loss, advanced digital technology can be credited for its rediscovery. Erik-Jan Bos, a philosophy scholar at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who is helping to edit a new edition of Descartes’s correspondence, said that during a late-night session browsing the Internet he noticed a reference to Descartes in a description of the manuscript collection at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He contacted John Anderies, the head of special collections at Haverford, who sent him a scan of the letter.
...
Scholars have known of the letter’s existence for more than 300 years, but not its contents. Apparently the only person who had really studied it was a Haverford undergraduate who spent a semester writing a paper about the letter in 1979. (Mr. Bos called the paper “a truly fine piece of work.”)


Guys, this is awesome. This is why I do what I do! Putting collection guides online is a royal pain (ASK ME HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE EAD STANDARD), but this is the kind of story that makes it all worthwhile. Archival collections are full of hidden treasures the archivists themselves don't know about. It takes a dedicated scholar to find these lost and hidden (and rarely digitized) gems, and digital collection guides, followed up by e-reference, followed up by spot digitization, solved the puzzle.

Viva la Ford!

On a more somber note, from "Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business)":

Now, whenever I screen resumes, I ask the recruiter to black out any demographic information from the resume itself: name, age, gender, country of origin. The first time I did this experiment, I felt a strange feeling of vertigo while reading the resume. “Who is this guy?” I had a hard time forming a visual image, which made it harder to try and compare each candidate to the successful people I’d worked with in the past. It was an uncomfortable feeling, which instantly revealed just how much I’d been relying on surface qualities when screening resumes before – even when I thought I was being 100% meritocratic. And, much to my surprise (and embarrassment), the kinds of people I started phone-screening changed immediately.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I promised [livejournal.com profile] sanguinity that if I read books based on recommendations from her I would share my opinions of them. Somewhat frustratingly, they keep getting recalled. I guess I am happy about this, because it means somebody else at the university is interested in reading the same topics, but I would have liked to have read more than the introduction to Andrea Smith's Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide before I had to return it.

Because of recalls, I am rushing through all but the first couple of chapters of Vine Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins. So take all of my impressions with a grain of salt; this book needs more time than I am able to give it. Most notably, with the exception of the final chapter, I have skimmed the entire second half of the book. Custer died for your sins )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
We are actually having a conversation with commenters on the DCA blog! Hooray for commenters!

If you are the kind of nerd who thinks about how controlled vocabularies influence and are influenced by our perceptions of social justice, go over and weigh in on Veronica's excellent post, "The trouble with subject headings".

In a nutshell, Veronica asks how do we cope with tagging photographs with a controlled vocabulary, given:
  • the historical baggage of Library of Congress subject headings, given that the LOC is an organization as subject to systemic racism as any other
  • our need as people concerned with social justice to be aware of what materials in our collection represent historically underrepresented populations
  • the essentializing of straightness, whiteness, maleness, able-bodiedness, etc. inherent in tags such as "Blacks" and "Women". (Admittedly, "Men" Is a subject term as well, but we seem to only use it for historical images, while we use "Women" for photographs of students and faculty.)


Now, Veronica didn't use any of that language, because I am obsessed with academic jargon and she knows better, and I can't even talk about these issues without using words like "essentializing". You should be glad I edited out "normativize"! So go read her post, and comment.

OMG! Illustration found in gathering the links above: "Beating hemp, flogging a woman".
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
My office at work in the most pleasant of locations (notwithstanding its windowless and freezing environments). Situated in the stacks, surrounded on all sides by LOC E-P, so practically every nonfiction book I decide I want to read is right there around me.

My favorite walk to my workspace ("favorite" here meaning "I only have to use my hands once") goes right to government documents, and because our government documents section uses compact shelving, my route is slightly different every day. When I see an interesting looking book or pamphlet, I often grab it to bring back to my desk.

Some of my recent perusals:

Bulletin of the Department Of Labor: Volume VI, 1901 )

Report on the Introduction of Domestic Reindeer into Alaska, with Illustrations, by Sheldon Jackson D.D., General Agent of Education in Alaska. 1896 )

Coastal-change and glaciological map of the Northern Ross Ice Shelf area, Antarctica: 1962-2004, Geological Investigations Series Map I-2600-H, 2007 )

US Support for the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. The Secretary Of State. April 11, 1979 )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Justine Larbalestier just posted "The Problem with Gone with the Wind", which talks about something which is a real issue of mine, both with students and with discussing media with friends: admitting that something you love is flawed, and loving it anyway. I've never been a Gone with the Wind fan, but I've loved plenty of other media which were racist, sexist, or in some other way chock full of fail. As I tell my students, my favorite three movies are Casablanca, The Muppet Movie, and The Princess Bride -- none of them a bastion of feminist ideals. And as far as race goes, that leaves me with two movies lacking any people of color, and in the third, the interaction between Señor Ferrari, Rick, and Sam is not, shall we say, made of as much win as it should be.

I'm teaching Twilight tomorrow, so of course this is on my mind. There's always a couple of people who believe that if they love the book they need to make it fit all of their stated ideals. They need to make it feminist, they need to make it not racist. But trying to describe a sexist, racist text (and as much as I enjoyed the Twilight series, it is absolutely both of those) as neither sexist or racist it acutely harmful. It redefines sexism and racism. It says neither is dangerous if they are in an otherwise beautiful context, or if they are associated with something else positive. In Larbalestier's example, the racism should be ignored because acknowledging it detracts from recognizing the strong female figure of Scarlett.

It's okay to love something broken. It's okay to find the breakage in things you love. It's even okay to find the breakage in well-meaning texts that were themselves trying to fix that breakage; I find Larbalestier's own Liar to be immensely problematic along race/gender intersectionality lines, and I know she was trying.

It's also okay to ignore the problematic parts of the texts you love, sometimes. Yes, to be a good citizen of the world, you need to be aware of bias and systemic what-have-you when you see them, but you don't need to do it every second of every day. If ignoring Buffy's race problems makes it easier to enjoy Buffy, that's fine, as long as you don't keep your rose-colored glasses on all the time, every day. Unless you are looking at the text academically, you don't have to harsh your squee every day. Walk away from discussions that make you sad, there's no problem with that.

But what's not okay is to deny the problems when you see them. If you have a coherent argument against the problems, then by all means make it. Convince me the race representation in Gone with the Wind actually subverts 1930s racial stereotypes, convince me that Buffy's sixth season doesn't undercut all of the Strong Women messages it had spent five years building. But don't say that we shouldn't look at racism in a text because the female characters are so strong. Don't say we shouldn't look at sexism in a text because the female characters are so strong (cf. both Gone with the Wind and Buffy season six). Don't say a text is unproblematic because we know and like the author, or because the author claims to be antiracist, anti-sexist, etc. And under no circumstances say that a text is unproblematic because we love it.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Signal boosting from just about everywhere:

Stacy Whitman ([livejournal.com profile] slwhitman), freelance editor and fellow Simmons Center for the Study of Children's Literature grad, is trying to start a new publishing company. Tu Publishing will be "a small, independent multicultural SFF press for children and YA." I can't even find words to talk about how wonderful this is, or how much this project is needed. You know what really sticks in my craw? Telling the students in my fantasy and science fiction class that my syllabus, with its pathetic selection of authors and characters of color, is not representative of the genre as a whole because my syllabus is more diverse.

Tu Publishing will only get off the ground if it gets enough funding. The startup is currently trying to get funding through Kickstarter, where you pledge to donate money to help them get off the ground. Pledges are only paid if the project launches, and people who pledge can get coupons, ARCs, etc.. If their funding drive works, they'll start accepting manuscripts in January.

Their submission guidelines say they are accepting books along the following guidelines: "Our first two books will be fantasy or science fiction, and we’ll specifically be looking for books that feature characters of color, characters from minority or non-Western cultures, and/or non-Western/minority cultures. That’s pretty broad — it could be Japanese or Jamaican, Alaskan Inuit or African American settings and/or characters. We won’t be looking for books where race is necessarily the issue–just really great novels that will entertain readers from 7 to 18." Though the guidelines don't specifically encourage authors of color, there is nothing about Stacy's or the Tu Publishing website that leads me to believe the house would ever say "thanks, but we already have an Asian author on our list."

If in one year, we get two presses dedicated to science fiction and fantasy from underrepresented communities (because don't forget about Verb Noire), that is a fabulous thing to have happen.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Tomorrow I'm going to be teaching Virginia Hamilton's The Magical Adventure's of Pretty Pearl (alongside Donna Jo Napoli's Breath and Robin McKinley's Beauty), and I have to admit I'm somewhat terrified, as a white instructor in front of a classroom of (apparently) all white students. It's such a complicated book, and I just don't feel like I have the qualification or training to deal with the text's complications, such as its valorization of the mammy figure, or the way it presents phonetically spelled-out dialect. This is doubly complicated for me by some of Hamilton's own writings on the language. When she talks about it, she acts as if she's inventing a dialect out of whole cloth, albeit somewhat researched:
"I tried to imagine what the speech patterns would be like for the first generation of blacks after surrender. I decided that the African influence would still be there in some of the characters who were with the group just as in Roots there was the African influence always on the people of that family. I tried to figure out what the language would be like from my research into the narrations from the time done by blacks, from the Caribbean dialects that I had heard and understood were pretty authentic as to the way people talked for generations in the Caribbean, and also from the way Africans speak contemporaneous today. It seemed to me that the use of "him," of the pronoun in a certain way, changed the language to make it seem older or newer in a very special way. I wanted to use "de," pronounced "deh" in the way we say "red," not in the old-fashioned way that blacks are supposed to speak, "and de (dee) man said," not that kind of thing, but "deh" which has a more flowing sound to it. That's why I included the footnote for the pronunciation: I was afraid that when people saw "de" they would pronounce it as "dee" like in the old slave narratives, and that was not what I was getting at, at all. I was trying to do different things, and I used the pronoun "him" many times in a very different way, which changes the language somewhat. It is dialect, but I don't think it's difficult; it is more language structure that has been changed than the dialect."
-- (Apseloff, Marilyn. "A Conversation with Virginia Hamilton." Children's Literature in Education, 14:1 (1983), 204-13.)
She does identify her research here, and as a complete ignoramus even I recognize certain vocabulary and dialect in Pretty Pearl having origins in Gullah, not made up entirely. But she self-identifies as an outsider to this folklore and language:
"The black folktales are uniquely southern. Many of you have known some of them all of your lives. As a northerner, I felt privileged to have got my hands on them. "
--(Hamilton, Virginia. "The Known, the Remembered, and the Imagined: Celebrating Afro-American Folktales" Children's Literature in Education , 18:2 (1987), 67-75.)
And then there are all the mammy issues, which in her own writing and talking about the book Hamilton identifies as strongly feminist, and I feel like my basic fandom/Internet-culture course in Intersectionality 101 hasn't prepared me for this. I feel like I need at least Intersectionality 201, and I probably need more historical context that I have.

You know how Zora Neale Hurston took a lot of crap for writing down oral traditions and making them available to white people? The more I prepare for this class, the more I feel like this is the kind of story which is a beautiful reworking of oral traditions for insiders, but in clumsy (my?) hands can just reinforce stereotypes among outsiders. I'm sure I don't have enough knowledge of musical history to be sufficiently lucid about the gorgeous call and response patterns the book evokes. I have only an academic knowledge of the John de Conquer stories, and though I was brought up on John Henry picture books like many American kids, they were decontextualized from their racial and class history, tossed in a pile with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and Johnny Appleseed. I've been spending the evening reading selections from Alan Dundes' 1973 Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore, and the very fact that I've been finding so many of these incredibly dated essays (many from the 1930s) informative is excessively worrying.

I'm starting to think I'm not smart enough to teach Virginia Hamilton. Last year I tried to teach Justice and Her Brothers. It's bad enough that the book makes no sense without the rest of the Justice cycle. I find that trilogy too difficult for me under any circumstances. I hoped that teaching it my students might bring some insights to it but they were fairly hostile and I felt too dense about the whole thing to bring any deeper understanding.

And yet at the same time, the more I read children's literature critics discussing Virginia Hamilton, the more uncomfortable I am with their overall treatment of her. Not because it's not deserved -- Hamilton is an artist, an author who writes beautiful books that frequently made me feel like a complete idiot because they are so rich and complicated. But because the towering pedestal on which Hamilton's work is placed in the context of decades lacking any critical praise for any other black writer of children's and young adult novels feels, well, icky. How much of the praise for Hamilton's work acts as a Band-Aid making people think it's unnecessary to confront the absence of critically praised black American writers for children? Yet by raising this question, am I implying the Virginia Hamilton has received praise she hasn't deserved? Because that's not what I mean at all.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I'd probably not have leapt to read Justine Larbalestier's Liar so fast if not for the cover kerfuffle, so I suppose I should be grateful for it. But I am frustrated at how many expectations of the book I had because of various information revealed during the brouhaha. The book premise, packaging (with either US cover), and characterization set me up for an entirely different story, and many of the narrative's reveals might have come differently to me had I not been reading with expectation in mind.

That being said, I loved the book -- and I can't even talk about the two most interesting reasons it struck me particularly with where I am in my literary interests right now, because the briefest discussion of why it made me so thoughtful will give you the same spoilery experience it gave me, grr argh. Maybe once its nature is more generally known, or more of you have read it. I will go so far as to say that today before and during class we had some interesting discussions about varied types of unreliable narrators, and I will leave it at that.

One thing I can say is that having read it, Melanie Cecka's defense of the original cover rings a lot less true to me. I'm unwilling to attribute bad faith argument to anyone in the industry -- I've never yet met a children's literature person who didn't want to do the right thing -- but I can't imagine how any reading of Liar could leave the heroine's race and nappiness in doubt (or at least, any more in doubt than, say, her age, her gender, or her existence). As it is, the cover's not a great represntation of her, though it's more marketable than a more accurate represntation would be.

Okay, I can't say *nothing*. As unspoilery a comment as I could make it, and really, if you read the same articles I did, no surprises )


Side note: Any class discussion which leads me to make the note "Xander:Willow :: Meg:Charles Wallace" has got to be great, eh?
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)


And this one isn't linkspam. Regarding some snide comments made by Richard Peck, Roger Sutton asks "What do you do when your favorite author turns out to be a puppy kicker?" it's really interesting that it was Richard Peck who provoked the question, because before I heard Richard Peck speak several years ago, I always would have said "Eh, whatever. I can distinguish the author from his or her works." But after this particular talk of Peck's, in which he revealed his immense loathing of modernity, teachers, adults, non-old-fashioned children, technology, and pretty much everything that departs from his romantic vision of early 20th century America, I discovered I could no longer read his books without seeing that loathing shaping every word. It's not that the author kicked puppies, it's that after I discovered his puppy-kicking tendencies I realized that all of his books were about how awesome it is to kick puppies.

I think that's why I can still read Orson Scott Card (at least the good stuff, which is the vast minority). Card himself is a master puppy kicker, but a fair number of his earlier books are actually about how people who kick puppies kind of suck, and puppies are going to grow to be dogs and isn't that awesome? On the other hand, I have a difficult time enjoying Spider Robinson anymore ever since I read an essay of his, realized that he idolized Robert Heinlein and Heinlein's screwed up gender politics, and then started seeing those screwed up gender politics in everything Robinson wrote.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I have all of these half written posts I haven't made -- one about the Simmons College Summer Institute, one about Bloomsbury mercifully caving on their dreadful cover decision for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. But summer is coming to a close (already!), And I should just go ahead and post my syllabus for Children's Literature 414, Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Let me see. That's 41 fictional works, or 38 if you lump the Prydain books. As far as I know, and with some of these being judgement calls, 3 authors of color; 7 protagonists of color (8 if you count Laura Chant as multi-racial because of her Maori great-grandmother), 28 white or white-coded, and 2 neither; 20 female and 18 male authors; 16 male protagonists, 18 female, and 3 neither or multi; and 0 canonically queer authors or protagonists. Though there's one canonically-if-subtextually queer secondary couple. Also, three fat (if you count Wilbur) and two disabled (if not-neurotypical counts as disabled).

Obviously I'm better on some aspects of diversity than others. How much of the fail here is mine as opposed to the genre's? Probably a little of both. On the bright side, we spend a lot of the semester talking about these issues, both in ourselves as readers, and in the genre itself.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've heard so much about Terry Pratchett's Nation that I was really looking forward to reading it, and I was very excited when I found it left by considerate housemates in the place where the night before I had deposited my borrowed copy of Oppel's Starclimber. I didn't know anything about the premise going in, and I certainly didn't know that by its conclusion it was going to become explicitly, didactically anti-racist and anti-colonialist. But less than 50 pages into it, I was already intensely disturbed at the world building. Alternate history Western Europe looks familiar enough, populated as it is with France and Britain, Christianity and the Magna Carta, Boadicea and the Crimean War. Yet the islander culture of this book is an invented people, in an invented ocean, with an invented island, invented animals, with an invented vaguely South Pacific culture, and an invented religion.

Maybe my immersion in the particular Internet cultures of which I am a part have changed me and my reading more than I thought, because I was surprised when Web searching did not turn up a whole lot of readers saying OH SIR TERRY NO.

The novel's author's note explains that the culture of the Nation is entirely unlike anything that happens in our world, because it is in a parallel universe. But if that's so, why is parallel universe Europe so readily identifiable? Why is it that Europeans look the same no matter what universe you are in, but naked, brown-skinned, equatorial islanders are people whose cultures you can invent out of whole cloth?

It troubles me to be critiquing this book along those lines, because it was so overtly anti-colonialist and anti-racist in its message (in its own complex KSKH way, at least). And I am not saying it shouldn't be read. I enjoyed it, although not as much as I have enjoyed some other Pratchett, and I think it's a fine book to put in children's hands. But I find the invention of a (sort of) Pacific Islander culture and religion really troubling in a world which -- very unusually for Pratchett -- actually resembles our world.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've been reading Mary Anne Mohanraj's (parts one and two) and K. Tempest Bradford's posts in John Scalzi's blog with interest and pleasure (pleasure from their powerful and eloquent posts, and because I am choosing not to spend Sanity Watchers points on the comments). The conclusion of Tempest's post, however, is what really caught my eye:

"SF doesn’t deserve half of the wonderful voices it silences, anyway, not to mention the amazing ones that do make it into print, because their awesomeness shines brighter than the sun. Knowing that, there are days when I just think: Fuck it. I’ll write YA, instead."


To which I had the supremely unhelpful response of "Yes, please!" Unhelpful because F&SF needs to get fixed. It can't afford to keep driving out all these wonderful people. It's wrong and it's strangling and it's stupid. It harms primarily readers and writers of color, of course, but also white readers and writers, in all of the important ways people have been talking about for months.

But I still can't help myself from thinking "Yes, please!" Because, Tempest, F&SF won't appreciate you, but YA sure as hell will.

(Note that I am absolutely not propagating the idea that any good adult writer can also be a good children's or young adult writer. Writing good young adult fiction is difficult, and it's a and it's a different skill set for a different genre. Moreover, most young adult fiction is full length novels; it's not a genre in which the short story is particularly in fashion. But that doesn't mean Tempest shouldn't try.)

It's not that we have no authors of color writing fantasy and science fiction for young adults and children -- I just reviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's latest and Cindy Pon's debut, both due out imminently -- but nobody could argue that we don't want more.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So here's a thing I wonder: there's a lot of talk going on right now about finding more books by authors of color. In children's and young adult science fiction and fantasy (my primary field), authors of color and protagonists of color are few and far between. So I wonder when I make a lengthy post (as I did earlier this afternoon) that happens to discuss several science fiction books by authors of color if I should be pointing that out, just because it raises the chance that bring these books to the attention of someone who might be interested.

The fact that the authors in question are PoC is not (exactly) relevant to the topic of the post, which is about science fiction genre conventions in general. On the other hand, the topic of authors of color is interesting to people right now (and I wish were interesting all the time). I know many of people would be interested in knowing that some of the authors mentioned in the post are science fiction authors who are also people of color. But it seems weird to call that out when that's not what the post is about, you know? I didn't even tag the post "race" because it's not about race. I don't know what I should be doing in circumstances like this.

Fundamentally I think I can say the Attorney General was right about at least about me: I am part of a nation of cowards. It's odd how much many of us Good White Liberals™ were brought up to believe that mentioning someone's race is somewhere between tacky and racist.
"You see that guy over there? The tall one? No, slightly to the left of the other tall one?"
"You mean the Indian guy?"
"..."


(Now there is another post I've been thinking of making about some of those same books, and this other post is about race. In the tiny set of science fiction by black authors marketed to young adults, there do seem to be a lot of books with very mythic spiritual overtones. I'm thinking of Walter Moseley's 47, Virginia Hamilton's Justice and Her Brothers trilogy, and Nnedi Okorafor's books. It's a tiny sample set, so I don't know if I can reasonably extrapolate from that. They are also authors with very different backgrounds and personal histories. But I'm intrigued by it, because it's a touch of mysticism that I don't feel like I usually see in other science fiction, either for adults or younger readers, including science fiction by black authors. Does anyone know more about this than I do? I'd love to learn more.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've just been catching up on a month of old ChildLit messages, and current context is making me notice something unpleasant. When there's an accusation of cultural appropriation in LJ fandom, fans immediately fall on the side of saying "How dare those of you with white privilege tell PoC their claims of having been harmed are false?" Whereas on ChildLit, accusations of cultural appropriation lead to a massive pileup on -- well, pretty much always on Debbie Reese. I don't always agree with Debbie, but the constant claims over there that her understanding of Native appropriation is wrong leave a vile taste in my mouth. Especially when contributors hit multiple bingo squares:
  • You're telling us what we can't write!
  • You're telling us what we can't read!
  • It's just fiction.
  • No, it's different when it's a non-Native [in this case Jewish] story that's mistold; that's BAD.
  • Isn't it racist to say you need Native clearance to tell this story?
  • But the author had anti-racist intentions!
  • You say that the characters are portrayed unrealistically as members of their culture, which means you want a sterotypical portrayal, which is racist.

[livejournal.com profile] steepholm, [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, [livejournal.com profile] fjm, other ChildLitters, am I wrong? I know I'm a month out of date with my reading, but it really seems sketchy, how that conversation usually goes. And it happens again and again. Is fandom really that much more capable of seeing its own white privilege than ChildLit (which I know is not monolithically white any more than fandom is)?
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Fillyjonk is spot-on in her analysis of Twilight and a new study about women who watch romantic comedies, and I'm not just saying that because she's name-dropping [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman. Her essay reminds me of nothing so much as Herbert Kohl's "Should We Burn Babar?" in his book of the same name. Kohl angsts for some time about protecting his young daughters from the sexism of Barbie and the colonialist racism of Babar, and finally comes to the conclusion that he shouldn't, although he should talk about his concerns with his children and provide them with lots of alternative media. And lo and behold, the kids grow up okay. Not undamaged, but okay. The mass market romances I consumed like oxygen as a preteen absolutely contributed to some of the dysfunctions of my adolescent sexuality. But on the other hand, how many teenage girls don't have dysfunctions when it comes to romance and sex? Any?

Fact: Every accusation of misogyny levelled at the Twilight series is accurate. Seriously. The gender politics of those books are appalling.
Fact: I still enjoyed them (well, the first few), and would have adored them at 12.
Fact: That's okay.

No book is every book. Let me repeat that, because I cannot say it often enough: No book is every book. How about another one: The best remedy for bad speech is more speech. If you want readers to get strong female role models, you're going to need to give them a lot of books: books with strong femme girls and books with strong butch girls, books with strong girls and books with strong boys, books with strong assimilated girls of color and books with strong unassimilated girls of color. You need to let them read crappy books and mediocre books and great books. If you don't let them read books with negative gender roles, you aren't just cutting out Twilight, you are cutting out Speaker for the Dead, all of the later Murry-O'Keeffe books, Zelazny's Amber universe. If you cut out media which occasionally have reactionary sex and gender roles, you have to rule out Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

And let's not even get started talking about applying these same rules to sexuality, class, or race.

We live in an imperfect world, and a lot of fantastic media are products of our imperfect world. All we can do is the best that we can do.

(Although a corollary to this is we shouldn't be ashamed of admitting when some of our favorite books, television shows, or movies are sexist or racist. Imperfect world, remember? The only way to win this fight is not to ban the sexist and racist media, but to shine a light on the problems. It doesn't make me love Casablanca any less to acknowledge that "You'll have to do the thinking for both of us" is not particularly a feminist sentiment. But to deny the inherent sexism of the movie, or to brush it off by saying "it makes sense for those characters!" or "why can't you just enjoy it!" or "it's historically accurate!" makes the infection that much more insidious. The way you love these texts and still grown-up okay is by recognizing what's wrong with them and love them anyway. But the recognition is vital.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman pointed me to "On Race and YA Lit", a Racialicious post in which most of the little details are wrong but the overarching message is on the nose. I want to encourage people to read past the mistaken details into the truth of the post. It might be hard to read past the goofs, because from sentence one the post bombards us with inaccuracies, categorizing adult and children's books as young adult (later in the post explicitly distinguished from children's), and categorizing books more than half a century old as part of a recent literary explosion. The post is mistaken about many more fundamental descriptive features of YA and children's lit.

Yet the fundamental truths here are correct and important:

  • There are too few published authors of color in the field of children's and YA lit, especially above the picture book level.

  • I'll eat my favorite hat if it's because substantially fewer people of color want to be published children's authors.

  • Nobody should ever say, "Your novel has much to love, but regrettably, we already have an Asian author for our list."



It's worse in children's F&SF. At least in realism you've got major authors such as Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Gary Soto, and Joseph Bruchac paving the way for new talents such as An Na. You've got prominent adult novelists such as Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, and Sherman Alexie making the shift over to our field. But in fantasy and science fiction, there's so many fewer. Making my syllabus represent authors of color was not easy. Virginia Hamilton and Laurence Yep aren't completely alone anymore. They've been joined in F&SF by Cynthia Leititch Smith, Walter Mosley, Nnedi Okorafor, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and a few others, but for goodness' sake. I go looking through the archives of the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré awards for non-folktale, non-picture book fantasy and science fiction and come up dry as a bone.

Now there's a lot going on here. I'm not such a fool as to blame the whiteness of English-language F&SF solely on one cause. Plenty of smarter people than me have written about the whiteness of F&SF fandom, about the whiteness of children's books, about the whiteness of publishing. Let's jam all of these white-white-white worlds together and the odds of not creating a hostile environment for aspiring authors of color is pretty much nil. (In my class I assigned Gregory E. Rutledge's "Futurist Fiction & Fantasy The Racial Establishment", which angered a few students and spawned productive discussion.)

The Angry Black Woman, in "How to promote diversity in fiction markets", has some pretty smart things to say about correcting the imbalance. But we need to do more, and by "we", I mean consumers, critics, reviewers, publishers, and fans of children's and YA F&SF, both those of us who are people of color and those of us who aren't. We should encourage the Carl Brandon Society to have a children's award -- though, since the 2005 winners were both YA, maybe we should just do a better job of encouraging communication between the CBS and the children's literature establishment, showcasing these awards in children's lit publications. (Speaking of communication, how did I not know that Essence granted its first literary awards this year, including a children's award?) The F&SF community, which does a pretty crappy job of reaching out to non-crossover children's and YA lit, should improve, and be more conscious of noticing authors of color. And the children's lit world needs to stop thinking of F&SF titles as lesser non-literary step-siblings, which can dominate bestseller lists but never win literary awards. (Dear establishment-types: There's a big difference between Twilight and Peeps, and everytime you use the popularity of one to argue against the literary merit of the other, you make an ass out of you and you. Stop it.)

And you know what else? We need more crappy fantasy by authors of color, both the best-selling kind and the b-listers. We need the black Christopher Paolini, the Pakistani-American Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the Anishinabe Stephenie Meyer, the Korean-American M. I. McAllister, and the Latino D. J. MacHale. We need not just to publish high quality literature from authors of color but the same pulp, crap, or best-selling sexed-up vampire romances that we publish from white authors. If a publisher will only take a Virginia Hamliton or a Laurence Yep into their sole "author of color" slot, we're never going to get anywhere.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
A few days before I taught Twilight for the first time, I needed a break, so I came home to finish my overdue ILL book, Drew Hayden Taylor's The Night Wanderer. I didn't have any comparison in mind; it was just the book next on my queue. It certainly didn't occur to me until I was well into The Night Wanderer that both are modern vampire tales with Native paranormal characters (well, counting the Twilight series as a whole). Once I started thinking about it, of course, it was impossible not to compare.

The Twilight series is the better-written set of books, and yes, that's a fairly damning statement of TNW (which I think just needed a better editor). But TNW has a more interesting concept, bringing European vampire legends to a modern Anishinabe reservation in Ontario. Tellingly, the treatment of Native people in Ojibwa Taylor's work is substantially different from that in white Meyer's work. There's no sexy bronze and copper skin in Taylor's book. There's a wise older generation, but they are wise in the ways of Native medicine and tasty pickles, not wise in the way of mysterious tribal legends which will protect all those who are appropriately inscrutable. There's an exotic supernatural creature -- exotically European in origin. And the dangerous paranormal Ashinabe man never turns into a noble savage, violent toward the women and children of his band, but instead consistently reveres life and home.

I have no idea which one is truer to life, though I've read mixed Native reactions to Meyer and overwhelmingly positive Native reactions to Taylor which lead me to believe Taylor is. But they're surely different.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Two things lately have been making me think how all choices about character description in writing are political, even if they aren't intended to be. The first was teaching Flora Segunda, and wondering about character race and ethnicity in this created world. (We know that among the Califans, some, such as Flora Primera and Udo, are blonde and considered beautiful for it; we know that the Huitzils seem to be related to the Aztec Empire; we know that the Califans have Spanish words in their vocabularies and Latin American-influenced traditions in their culture.)

And I was also thinking about some concerns I know that Kristin has had regarding character description. For example, does not describing a heroine's weight make her automatically thin? Does not describing her skin color make her automatically white? Does not describing her sexuality make her automatically straight? (I am probably putting some words into Kristin's mouth, so Kristin, please forgive me and/or correct me.)

Anyway, Roger Sutton pointed towards this interesting discussion on a very closely related topic on Mitali Perkins's blog. "Should Authors Describe a Character's Race?" (Mitali Perkins is the author of First Daughter: American Makeover, a book I find fascinating, compelling, and extremely problematic, about a white presidential candidate with an adopted Pakistani daughter.)
Page generated Nov. 21st, 2014 04:16 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios