Monday, May 18, 2009

Go boys, go!

Eric Carle and Walter Dean Myers are USBBY's nominees for next year's Hans Christian Andersen Awards. The complete list of nominees is here.

The disproportionate number of men, worldwide, nominated for this award this year reminds me to link to Editorial Anonymous's current discussion of the CSK Who-Can-Win-What question. My thoughts on that have already been documented*; let me also remind you that the Horn Book will this July be publishing the speeches by the winners of the CSK Author and Illustrator Awards along with those by the usual Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder crowd.

*But let me just add: after a year in which two of the biggest buzzed books, Kingdom on the Waves and Chains, were by white people writing in the voice of African Americans, let me just say that EA is NUTS to think white writers are excluded from publishing about blacks by virtue of their exclusion from the CSK.

21 comments:

Editorial Anonymous said...

I didn't intend to say that NO white writer gets to write about black topics.
I have a lot of respect for your opinion, Roger, so I'll reflect on whether I'm nuts or not. And maybe (?) you're in a better position than I am to have a sense of how many white writers don't get to publish about black topics because the publisher is worried about "authenticity".

Anonymous said...

Why would Roger know this better than you? You're a children's book editor, aren't you? How often have YOU told a white author you couldn't publish his book about African Americans because you were worried about authenticity? How many stories have you heard from your peers in the industry that have led you to believe that this is a big problem?

Compare these numbers to the number of times you have told a white author you couldn't publish his book about white experience because it "didn't ring true."

Then reflect on why you feel it necessary to put the word "authenticity" in quotes.

You may find you have answered your own question.

Anonymous said...

You go Roger!

Should men not write stories about girls? Should women not write about boys?

Anonymous said...

This time through this conversation, it occurs to me that nothing in this world is perfect, that every prize has its down side, every organization is flawed. There are really great books that should receive the boost of the CSK, not so that their authors can bask in the glow, but so that more kids will benefit from reading them. But CSK can't be all things to all books. The Newbery is for the best contribution to children's literature, so it doesn't pick the book most likely to inspire non-readers. It can't be all things to all books either. It makes more sense to look at what good the organization does and weigh that in relation to its flaws than it does to complain only about what is wrong with things.

Anonymous said...

This time through this conversation, it occurs to me that nothing in this world is perfect, that every prize has its down side, every organization is flawed. There are really great books that should receive the boost of the CSK, not so that their authors can bask in the glow, but so that more kids will benefit from reading them. But CSK can't be all things to all books. The Newbery is for the best contribution to children's literature, so it doesn't pick the book most likely to inspire non-readers. It can't be all things to all books either. It makes more sense to look at what good the organization does and weigh that in relation to its flaws than it does to complain only about what is wrong with things.

Melinda said...

I don't get why whites want to be included in the CSK awards. I mean, geez, whites are eligible for all the rest of the awards, and whites get them, too. Do we really have to take over EVERYTHING? Oh, wait, we already have.

Roger Sutton said...

I'm having trouble imagining the scenario of a book being turned down or accepted by a publisher on the basis of its perceived CSK chances. The last time an award was no surprise to anyone was when Sarah, Plain and Tall won the Newbery.

I think anyone should write about anything, but no one should expect an award. Nor, come to think of it, to be published.

Anonymous said...

And to add to your list of what not to expect, Roger: no one should expect to be praised for good intentions. I think that's what's at the heart of this argument. White people don't really want permission to write about blacks; they want blacks to love them for doing so.

Melinda said...

Anon 10:38, you've hit the nail on the head. I've even caught myself feeling this way.

Roger, I am expecting stars and awards for everything I write, so by God you'd better deliver.

diletta bookshopper said...

Hello,
I’m Diletta Colombo, I’m 28 years old and I work in an art bookshop in the centre of Milan. I’m really keen on children’s books and I organize a reading group of picture books with some illustrators, editors, graphics, librarians. I read your blog and I’d like to ask You a piece of an information to visit some good places where I can find children’s books in Boston and New York, because I’ll be going there from 22nd of June. I thank You for Your possible interest, I think it’s important to exchange information.

Sincerely Yours,
diletta

(Sorry if I wrote here but I don't know where I could send this request of help!)

Anonymous said...

Melinda,

I feel your white guilt. But I think the people who want the CSK to be open to all just want to be eligible, not automatically to win. There are good arguments pro and con but I think your characterization of motives is glib.

Anonymous said...

And I believe there are real live white people who want certain books to be eligible and to win, not because they wrote them, but because they want more kids to see them.

Melinda said...

Sorry about the glib tone. I can see where the writers would want more kids to see the books they wrote by being eligible for the award. And I have used more multicultural characters in my novels, because I realized that my daughter's generation is a lot more diverse than mine was, and even my own family has become more diverse. I want to write books where all these kids can see themselves. It's only fair.

But at the same time, I don't want to be eligible for a CSK award. It's to encourage blacks and minorities to write good books. These guys barely have market share as it is. Look at your bookshelf: how many of those books have been written by minorities? How does that stack up against the books written by white authors?

I've been trying for the last 15 minutes to dump the entire racefail argument into two sentences, so I'd better knock it off.

Anonymous said...

Melinda,

I was being snarky and unclear. I meant that there are people who want books THAT THEY DIDN'T WRITE THEMSELVES to be eligible. The desire for change isn't all coming from self-interest. There really are people who want to get certain books in front of kids and they know that wining the CSK award would help.

That said, if I could wave my wand and change the rules, it wouldn't be to admit non-black authors. It would be to celebrate all black authors and illustrators for their work regardless of the subject. But that's just me.

I understand the impulse to make the wheel a little rounder, but really, I am happy to celebrate what the Coretta Scott King Award has brought us.

Anon 3:43

Anonymous said...

Oops. That should be "winning the CSK."

"Wining the CSK" --- if only you were eligible you would take the committee out for drinks.

Anon 3:43

Anonimo said...

Cara Diletta,

si trova libri buoni a New York a Books of Wonder, a 18 W. 18th St., e a Banks Street Bookstore, a 610 W 112th St. Anche io raccomando Curious George Goes To Wordsworth a Boston. È un libreria con un nome strano, ma con un selezione buono. La indirizzo è 1 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA. C'è anche Children's Book Shop a 237 Washington St. a Brookline, un quartiere di Boston.

Benvenuto e buon viaggio!

Elaine Marie Alphin said...

The whole concept of who is eligible to write about what has always troubled me. I am a woman, yet I write mostly books about boys. Should I be ineligible to do so because of my gender? Somehow the boys I write for don't seem to object.

I wrote a book set in El Salvador, A Bear for Miguel. My editor loved it, but she said she knew she was going to have trouble getting it through acquisitions because of authenticity. How could I, as a while American (she had met me in person), be expected to be able to write about El Salvador? I mentioned that my father had come to America from El Salvador. She relaxed visibly and assured me that, in that case, it would be no problem. Yet I have never been to El Salvador myself. Did my father's experience make my book more authentic?

I believe that an important part of the writer's job is to put herself (or himself) into another person's or character's soul. If we do our job well, it should not be an issue of how authentic we are in terms of sharing the same ethnic heritage, gender, or religion. The sole issue should be how compelling and believable that character is, and whether the reader accepts that character as being truthful in his or her thinking and behavior.

I am finishing work on a nonfiction book about a Jewish man on trial for murder in 1913 Georgia, An Unspeakable Crime. I am not Jewish, I am not a man, and I've only been to Georgia twice, but I do not think this makes me unfit for the job of writing this book, nor should it make the book ineligible for attention from Jewish, male or Georgia readers. Oh, wait - my mother was born in Georgia. Perhaps An Unspeakable Crime will be considered authentic thanks to her.

Roger Sutton said...

I think it's a mistake to think of the CSK Awards as meaning to provide any kind of rules in the who-can-write-what debates. Just as the Newbery was established to encourage more writers for adults to write for children, the CSK is designed to encourage black writers and illustrators to create books for children. More problematically, the CSK has the added requirement that such writers and illustrators only be encouraged, in this instance, to write about black subjects, which to my mind contradicts the criteria that winning books "promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream." Which ITSELF betrays a bias toward books about people. Thank goodness it doesn't seem to have stopped Donald Crews from illustrating trucks or Jerry Pinkney roosters!

Anonymous said...

I always look a bit askance at white authors writing about the black experience. And here's a question: how many black authors write about the white experience?

Anonymous said...

Oh that's an EASY question, Anonymous.

Not enough.

Anonymous said...

I really think the CSK awards were intended to encourage the publishing of books about the black experience by aunthentic voices. At the time of their origin there was a woeful lack of material. There still is. Having established a track record at doing one thing well, it seems NUTS to expect the award to do other things well. Other awards exist and their purpose is different. Roger if you think there should be an award that doesn't limit the subject matter for AA writers, then set it up. It's irritating to think that forty years down the pike we start criticizing an institution for not doing what we now htink it should do. Reminds me of those who think the Newbery should be popular. That's not the criteria, and it doesn't really matter what should be or shouldn't. My sister days, I'm not gonna should on myself today...