Dec. 8th, 2008

deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
[ 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.
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