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ON BEYOND STONEWALL: Young Adult Literature with LGBTQ Content

Throughout its history young adult literature has offered too little representation of diversity in terms of its characters, setting, plot, and other narrative elements. The U.S. population has become more diverse by the day, yet white, middle-class, suburban-dwelling heterosexuals have continued to dominate all genres of YA literature. In her germinal work Shadow and Substance (NCTE) Rudine Sims Bishop was among the first to document the changing representations of African American characters in literature for youth. Since then – thanks in large part to the appearance of the ‘new realism’ in young adult fiction in the late 1960’s — other non-mainstream groups have slowly begun to appear in YA fiction.

The first young adult novel with LGBT content was published in 1969, the same year that the Stonewall riots marked the birth of the gay liberation movement. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) people have come a long way since 1969, but depictions of LGBTQ people in literature for teen readers have moved at a glacial pace, going from invisibility to stereotypes to (finally) realistic characters portrayed with some degree of frequency, authenticity, and art.

Jenkins’ presentation will trace the roots of the literature, describe early work in the newly realistic world of 1960’s -‘70’s literature and examine the genre’s evolution through the 1980’s and ‘90’s. She will describe broad themes in this literature and highlight some milestone works and exemplars (both positive and negative) among individual titles published during this period.

During her presentation, Dr. Jenkins will

  • trace the roots of the literature
  • describe early work in the newly realistic world of 1960’s -‘70’s literature
  • examine the genre’s evolution through the 1980’s and ‘90’s
  • describe broad themes in this literature
  • highlight milestone works and exemplars (both positive and negative).

Q&A and reception to follow.

Highlights & Handouts

  • YALSA brochures and posters
  • LGBTQ book display
  • YA reading lists
  • Networking opportunities

 Dr. Christine Jenkins is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research includes:

  • YA literature with LGBTQ content
  • Representations of the “other” in YA literature
  • Censorship and intellectual freedom

October 3, 2011 • 6.30-8.00 PM
St. Catherine University Recital Hall

2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105
(#24 on the campus map • enter gate #3 • parking free after 5p)

Contact Dr. Sarah Park | spark@stkate.edu | 651.690.8791

Download the official SCU YALSA flyer

The event is free and open to the public.


sparky & Tommy

I said in my recent post about the word “exotic” that I would recap my thoughts from the Children’s Literature Association conference, but things have piled up since then! Apologies to my readership.

So instead, I will post links to an ongoing conversation that includes my good friend Dr. Thomas Crisp – I figure this sort of makes up for the lack of a ChLA post because we hung out at ChLA ^.^

These four conversations, among many, are really interesting to read consecutively. I hope you’ll read them in depth, but basically here’s an incredibly bare bones outline: Aronson states that creating children’s literature awards for which one criteria is that the author be a member of the community that the award reflects actually results in books being recognized for qualities outside of the book itself. Pinkney responded to Aronson, and I’ll just quote her: “Little is being taken from white writers who cannot receive a CSK or Pura Belpré Award, but denigrating these awards because of their criteria takes something significant from the members of communities who can win these prizes. Attacking these awards insults the creative talents of those who have won these prizes and the committees who work so hard to select the winners for their works.”

Mind you, Aronson and Pinkney had this conversation in 2001.

Fast forward to 2010, when Ellen Wittinger writes an article in The Horn Book Magazine that even though she is an author of both LGBTQ and straight stories, because she identifies as straight, she is no longer eligible for the Lambda award – and she’s sort of whining about it.

Arthur Levine, editor of Arthur A. Levine Books (Harry Potter! Lisa Yee! Scholastic!), commented on her article, stating:

I think it’s a good, valid, and fair thing for any group to establish an award that recognizes the contributions of people in that group. I also think that it’s a fantastic thing to encourage the production of literature that reflects the true diversity of our culture, and speaking for myself, from a multiple-minority perspective, I’m only concerned with how real, how authentic the characters (and their settings) FEEL to me, which has more to do with the writer’s skill and empathy and sensitivity than anything else. (In other words, Ellen, you’re exactly gay enough for me!)

I guess, from my perspective as an editor and a reader, I also see, in practical terms, how far we have to go before our literature even begins to reflect the complex world of TODAY, let alone the comfortably integrated, harmonious world I wish my child to see.

And then my good friend Dr. Thomas Crisp commented on Levine’s blog:

I think it is outrageous for Wittlinger to claim that “as a straight author I am at a disadvantage when it comes to announcing my books to their intended audience.”

Wittlinger claims that “I was just too darn gay for that town.” The problem was that her books were too gay. It’s clear that her sexual identity was widely known–even the head librarian states he notified the district office that she was married to a man and had two children. She was not too gay–that treatment was not about her, it was about her books. LGBT authors face this discrimination about their books and about who they are as people. Wittlinger identifies half her novels in print as having LGBT content, which means that half her books depict normative sexual identities: she can be invited to schools and libraries on the basis or recognition of those books.

Well said, Thomas, well said.

I’m really interested in following this conversation because I’ve recently stepped down from serving on the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award committee (because I’ve served 4 years and need to focus on writing, not because I don’t love the award!), which has absolutely no stipulation about an author’s background or insider/outsider anything, and have already served one year on the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association’s Literary Awards committee. APALA’s goal is “to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit” and our guidelines state, in contrast to the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré stipulations, that “Works must be related to Asian/Pacific Heritage, not necessarily written by or illustrated by an Asian/Pacific American. The individual must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident” (bold emphasis mine). When I realized this, I was really sad because I would like for our award to honor both a member of our community and the stories we tell. It’s not about being essentialist, but about honoring those in our community who may not be recognized by society at large – which is still mostly white.

Anyway, I’ve given you a tiny snapshot, and the conversation is still going over at Levine’s blog, (including responses by Wittinger herself) so please take the time to read through the comments. And enjoy the photo – I hardly post photos, but I couldn’t resist on this one!

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