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It's been years now since I've learned to put down the "I don't consider myself white" I used to use in discussions of race, and back away slowly. I own my white privilege, and I am slowly learning about how and when (white, German and Eastern European) Jews became white in America, and the demographic explanation of why I was raised believing I'm not white even though the dominant paradigm treats me as white. (I haven't had time to read The History of White People yet, although I've seen some interesting clips of Nell Painter speaking.)

And yet when discussing fantasy in a classroom, it becomes very weird when talking about how the generic fantasy tropes tend to be not just European but Northwestern European. My students talk about "our history" and "our mythology" in reference to the generic fantasy tropes, and it's always this odd moment when I say "I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't have any Northwestern European ancestry." (Well, not unless you count a couple of generations in the 20th and probably late 19th centuries as "ancestry".) I suppose my ancestors spent long enough in the Pale of Settlement that I could lay some claim to the rare modern fantasies that use Baba Yaga as a source, except, just, NO. My ancestral mythology is either shtetl myth (e.g. Chelm, golem stories, or the kind of folklore that later got turned into literary fairy tales by the likes of Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, or Cynthia Ozick) or Mishna-type tales of Lilith and the demons, or of Judea and the Babylnian captivity.

I grew up around enough immigrants that I tend to assume an first- or second-generation background when in crowds of white people, even though my adult experience should have taught me by now that first instinct is just wrong. So when I look at a classroom of my students (more students of color than I've ever had before, hooray, but that's still not many), and I say "I can't speak for the rest of you, but King Arthur is not my ancestral myth," I think I have a false perception that more of the students will want to say "No! Nor Mine!"

And once again, I absolutely don't want to call out any students in particular and ask them to Represent for Their Culture. If a student wants to volunteer that he or she does or doesn't come from a particular background, I'll certainly encourage that as long as it enriches the discussion, but I don't want to point to any students and ask them to talk about their personal background.

So in any case, whenever I say "I can't speak for the rest of you, but King Arthur is not my ancestral myth," when I face up to the sudden barrage of startled, somewhat disbelieving looks, it's this odd moment of choosing not to pass, which is a weird thing to say in a blog post I began "I own my white privilege."

Many years ago, I got in an argument with my high school biology teacher when he insisted that everyone in the classroom had some particular northwestern European genetic code. I don't even remember what it was. When I said that none of my ancestors had lived in northwestern Europe (again, disregarding the last couple of generations), he casually informed me that I was wrong. In retrospect, I can't have been the only student in the class about whom that statement was nonsense. There must have been at least a couple of Russians in the class, although I assume he wouldn't have said it if any of the few PoC in my freshman class had been in the room. But it comes back to this same issue, this idea that all whiteness is the same, that all whiteness comes back to King Arthur.

I don't know how to challenge this without falling back into that festering sinkhole which is people from other whitenesses (including white Jews) refusing to acknowledge white privilege where we have it. I want to be able to have this conversation about assumptions of whiteness -- what I'm starting to call in my mind the Camelot problem -- while knowing that it isn't going to degenerate into a conversation about the horrific oppression of having your biology teacher in high school assume that your ancestors include northwestern Europeans, Oh Noes.

Clearly I need to read Painter's book, don't I?
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My students all appear great this semester: thoughtful, provocative, and engaged with what one another say. I've had some good teachable moments in class so far, including a moment when a student responded to a critical article's claim that ethnic Americans have seemingly no mythology inherently their own, by saying "well, there was a mythology, but we came here and we wiped out everyone, so then it was gone". (I paraphrase what the student said, and the critical article was Celestine Woo, "Toward a Poetics of Asian American Fantasy: Laurence Yep's Construction of a Bicultural Mythology", Lion and the Unicorn 30:2, April 2006. To be fair to Woo, though the quotation is provocative both in and out of context, she is using "ethnic American" to mean... well, I'm not entirely sure, but I think she is talking about non-immigrant WASP culture. And I should emphasize that the student is one of the smart, thoughtful types who occasionally provides teachable moments because high levels of student engagement sometimes mean that such things get said if we are operating at the pace of a discussion class. Moreover, the student responded thoughtfully to the follow-up discussion.)

I thought I did okay in engaging the students with thinking about that one (apart from some teaching/race fail on my part where I said "Anansi" and meant "Coyote", and what does that say about my brain?), and then came home and read [personal profile] sanguinity's essay "...the native peoples had the most troubles with the immigrants...". And... I know I am absolutely guilty about what she is discussing, and I'd never thought about it in those terms before. I shall have to think back about the conversation in class and see if that conversation carry the same connotations.

Class was loaded in all kinds of ways, actually. We were discussing a book by a PoC which was based loosely on non-Western myths, and one student in the class came from a similar but hardly identical background as the author. She did volunteer that she knew a version of the myths. I haven't yet had enough experience navigating the minefield of not wanting to ask that student to Represent On Behalf Of Her Culture, but also not wanting to speak as an expert about something for which one of my students might have substantially more in-depth knowledge that I do. (It wasn't a set of myths for which I am a subject expert, not even an outsider subject expert.)

It makes me think, though, that whenever I am teaching and talking about some culture which is not my own, I should always act as if one of my students might be from that culture. For all I know it's true, anyway. (It's related to how I started to confront a lot of my own internalized racism; always assume that somebody standing behind me in any conversation is a member of a group I'm discussing. When I realized how much I was self-censoring, that made me realize how much I was saying that needed reeducation.)
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
I subjected the poor subscribers to the Diana Wynne Jones mailing list to my rant on poor representation of both authors and characters of color in the YA Fantasy Showdown, but I didn't want to subject you all to it. For one thing, it's clear the creator of the showdown tried; I just think she did a fairly poor job.

Anyway, in the current round of voting, I noticed several comments that made me exceedingly happy. Right now Ai Ling (Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix) is up versus Jace (Cassandra Clare, Mortal Instruments trilogy). Jace is predictably if annoyingly beating Ai Ling simply because, as several of the comments say, jace gets my vote because he is hot. But one of the other commenters on this round of voting says, Never heard of Ai Ling but sounds like she's gona win. Also, is she chinese? Because I'm chinese, and you don't get many cool chinese characters so I feel like I need to show her some support...even if Jace is hot! Another says I've never read Silver Pheonix before, but I totally want to now.

In other words, Silver Phoenix isn't less popular because it's less good. It's less popular because nobody has heard of it. If readers haven't seen it, they can't make their own judgments about whether it equally good or not. (I acknowledge that even if readers had read it, Mortal Instruments certainly appeals more to contemporary young adult tastes in twisted paranormal romances. But the point is, readers aren't being given the opportunity to make that judgment for themselves. And in the meantime, participants in this showdown, both those who identify as Chinese and those who don't, are really excited by learning about the existence of the book.)

This is it is so important for we in the children's and young adult mediating business -- and these days that includes not just booksellers, teachers, librarians, and parents but also bloggers -- to care about representation. It's appalling but true that Silver Phoenix got shafted by the major bookselling chains because they didn't want a fantasy with an Asian girl on the cover. Those same readers who saw Jace every time they walk into a bookstore never saw Ai Ling. By the same token, they never saw Zahrah, Anand and Nisha, or Quincie Morris. If we bloggers, when we talk about young adult literature, remember to talk about those underrepresented books, teens will read what we have to say.

Well, not what I have to say. I'd be surprised if I had any teen readers. But you know what I mean. *g*
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
Over on the Tufts DCA blog today I am asking people to talk about your concerns (or lack of them) about preserving your own personal materials.

I hope people respond, because that will be a distraction from the post I want to make but don't have time to make about representation and race, and about someone who makes a list which is intended to show "the breadth and incredible range of YA literature" should be doing better than 1 author of color on a list of 32 books. I don't want to make that post because I don't want to single out the individual in question for hammering the final nail into the coffin of my patience.

(I should also credit [personal profile] catwalksalone for the wonderful and wholly appropriate new userpic, from her wonderful batch of Diana Wynne Jones icons.)
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I was reading Jackie Horne's (my thesis advisor!) new article "Harry and the Other: Answering the Race Question in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter" in the most recent The Lion and the Unicorn (unfortunately not freely available). This article, in introducing the ideas of antiracism, gives what I think is a really nice and succinct definition of some of the tensions:

This quotation got way too long )

She then defines the different forms of educational practice arose out of these two definitions of antiracism:

this quotation also got way too long )

The essay itself is a quite interesting analysis of the tension in the Harry Potter books between these two forms of antiracism, but it's this introduction I found myself wanting to quote. I think a lot of the antiracism discussions on the Internet in the last three years have really been about this tension Jackie describes. The personal versus the structural, and the universalist versus the relativist.

Jackie C. Horne. "Harry and the Other: Answering the Race Question in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter." The Lion and the Unicorn 34.1 (2010): 76-104. Project MUSE. Tufts University, Medford, MA. 22 Mar. 2010 <>.
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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.
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I promised [ 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 )
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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".
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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 )
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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.
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Signal boosting from just about everywhere:

Stacy Whitman ([ 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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.

[ profile] steepholm, [ profile] diceytillerman, [ 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)?
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