#LargeFears Recapped

I’ve always believed that people read to find their place in the world. Some do this by using books to explore possibilities and others to find themselves. Rudine Sims Bishop expands this concept much better in her article Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors.

But, why do people write? Some may take pen to paper to break the world down for the reader, to tell them how it is and how is should be and those usually aren’t very good fiction books. Others just tell a story, and while many authors write about characters who visit them or situations that inspire them, all write from a world they’ve come to know. I think this is the authenticity we find in literature.

To be clear, I do not know Meg Rosoff. It was one of those days a year or so ago when I was feeling something or other and that had me sending FaceBook friend requests to most of the names I recognized that they were being recommended to me through FB. Meg’s was one of those names and she accepted my request. We’d never chatted on FB (or in real life!) never commented on each other’s post, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her commenting on my post to promote a rarely seen book about a queer black boy written by a queer black author. Well, pleasant until I read her response. I initially thought the response from a well-known author for this neophyte was a sign of support, but upon reading the dismissive and disjointed comment I thought perhaps it was done in haste and would soon disappear but, it never has. Instead, it’s become the Post Seen Around The World.

Many have questioned why the post appeared on my FB page. Many, including myself see it as an egregious act by someone in privilege (because of her socioeconomic class, her whiteness and her professional accomplishments) stomping on a marginalized person. I don’t know why it was written.

The original FB post has been shared publicly so that people could see the words in their original context. Unfortunately, conversation on Twitter has no hashtag and is all over the place. It’s difficult there, where most of the conversation has happened, to see all the directions in which it has spun. I do believe that the majority of opinions expressed there are in opposition to what Meg stated on FB.

I’ve not seen much support for Meg, but she does state on someone else’s FB page that she’s received private emails of support because people are afraid to speak up, fearing verbal attacks from those who passionately work for diversity in kidlit. This blog post turned into a FB post and most reactions to the post are on the non-public FB post. I link to the post in hesitation because it’s so problematic (from my perspective) that it will lead to another week of debate, but it does provide some clarification for Meg. I have no doubt there are others who agree with and support Meg, whether in all or in part.

In a second post to me on FB, Meg wrote “It’s a shame this has all blown up in this way. My subject tends to be gender (among other things) about which I’ve written extensively. I can’t write about young gay black kids, but I hope people who care deeply about the subject will do so. “ Of course, this doesn’t sit well with her original post on my FB post. I’ve seen evidence of her commitment to social justice, so I am truly confused. I don’t understand how someone who is truly a wordsmith would misspeak in such a manner. Blinded by success? I do believe that regardless of how convoluted that first post may have been, of how poorly the efforts to walk it back may have worked, that there remains an overwhelming presence of empowerment and privilege. And, I’ve had to edit this to add in the article that appeared in The Guardian the took diversity in kidlit to a much broader audience.

My reflection is looking at how this spiraled; at seeing the brief moment on Meg’s second post when there was dialog, when there was conversation and when that moment was lost. Meg seems to continue to hold the view that I am trying to dictate to writers what they should write. In several places on this blog, I state quite clearly that I believe writers should write what they know. The Whiteness of literature will continue because there are readers who find themselves in that agenda. The Whiteness of literature will continue until the economics of a brown marketplace demand otherwise.

I am asking for opportunities for writers of color and this is something publishers control.

I hope you can tell that I hold no ill will again Meg Rosoff. I don’t know the woman!!! She’s stated a perspective with which I do not agree, she’s written a book with which I cannot relate, but I cannot ask anyone to deny a writer of merit the opportunity to publish, whether they be White, queer, Latino or autistic. And I will not propose what any of those writers write.

How do we marginalized people get a piece of the pie? How do we get anyone to understand the need for more books for Native American and children of color when we keep getting caught up is this sort of fray? We should have come out of this with more allies, with people who are willing to admit the lack of books written by authors of color and who can cite ways for entitled authors to reach back and pull others up. But I feel us losing these possibilities. For the diversity movement to move forward, we have to be able to preach beyond the choir and we’re killing those opportunities.

I’ve noticed the silence from those directly involved in publishing and wondered why that is when this conversation is so much about them. Perhaps the void can be explained by an author who contacted me privately. The author wanted to contact Meg but was fearful to do so because these major authors control book award committees and other opportunities for authors. If an author does anything to rile them, they jeopardize their own career. Professional privilege. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Note I stated “an author” and called out no individual.

Many lessons have been learned from this. We’ve been made aware of the attitudes that are often shared in private by those in kidlit. We’ve had to realize the limited reach of the 100 year old movement for diversity in children’s literature by seeing how few are aware of seminal works, both articles and children’s books themselves. I’ve seen how close we can come to saying the same thing and still miss each other’s point. How do we move on from this?

I’m asking people how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, or what they themselves plan to do from this point out, What’s yours? Email me FB me or respond in the comment section below. I hope to pull the responses into an upcoming post.

And Large Fears? The book is currently sold out.

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17 thoughts on “#LargeFears Recapped

  1. Thank you for your grace and leadership throughout this controversy. You certainly didn’t ask for your Facebook page to become ground zero but you certainly acted to support dialogue and I agree with you that we need to reach out to others who don’t always agree with us. I happen to be one of those who loved Meg Rosoff’s debut, How I Live Now, and it pained me to see her go out of her way to criticize Large Fears and its author.

    I thought the comments under KT Horning’s post in Reading While White pointed to another interpretation of some of Rosoff’s words, namely that the best books reflect the heart of the writer and not the dictates of a committee. At a time in which so many YA novels are the product of idea generation and market testing, and writers are simply hired to flesh out “tried and true” plot lines like Hollywood screenwriters, novels are losing their soul and writers are no longer artists but skilled craftspeople filling orders. But Rosoff is barking up the wrong tree by going after Myles Johnson, because Large Fears is about the furthest thing from a book by committee.

  2. This caught my eye:

    “The author wanted to contact Meg but was fearful to do so because these major authors control book award committees and other opportunities for authors. If an author does anything to rile them, they jeopardize their own career.”

    How much does that go on? How many authors are silent about things they’d LIKE to say but can’t because it can hurt them? I think about the “strength in numbers” idea…. If this fear is rampant and they talk about it amongst themselves, might they join together in some way to push back–anonymously, if need be–on the ways they feel they have to be silent?

      • @mclicious: to which quote are you referring? If i’s the one about economics being necessary to get rid of whiteness in literature, that’s me and I’m complete willing to stand 85-90% behind it. I think a real game change in the dollar vote to get publishers to change will be self publishing. But what else? Tell me why you think that’s hogwash.

          • I mean it’s hogwash that members of award committees aren’t capable of looking at books as books, not as an author’s reputation.

            I see now I read too quickly and that it was you who was contacted by an author hwo wanted to contact Meg. I thought it was something I missed in the article you link to.

            But still, I don’t see why anyone would think that an author has sway over an award committee.

          • Oh, I know selection committees can get political! But an author poisoning a committee and getting another author blacklisted? That’s what I thought you were saying. And I don’t see how that could happen. Maybe I just don’t know enough evil people, and I guess I haven’t sat on the NBA where authors are judges, but I don’t really see how that can happen.

          • Yes, I think what you understood is correct, I see that as politics. Think about how few authors, publishers and editors have commented on this or other diversity/controversial issues in publishing. I think that says something.

  3. Thank you for continuing this discussion.

    The way forward is, I believe, in your post: “The Whiteness of literature will continue until the economics of a brown marketplace demand otherwise.”

    I am far more intentional today in the utilization of my purchasing power and time to support books written by POC. And it has been a wonderful experience to look inside new windows, see mirror images, and encounter new stories.

    As more librarians, teachers, book reviewers, and bookstore clerks make the works of POC visible, kids and adults will lead the way to changes in the publishing industry.

  4. “…how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, or what they themselves plan to do from this point out, What’s yours?”

    My focus, including in the books I create, is on diverse races and cultures, so that’s what my ideas are related to, but most here apply also to other forms of diversity.

    One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed is that people often don’t know about so many of the books that *have* been published that feature diverse kids. This lack of visibility leads to lower sales which leads to fewer diverse books being published. And round and round the vicious cycle goes. We need to take action to reverse that cycle by increasing visibility, usage and demand.

    I’m a co-founder of two projects that promote racially- and culturally-diverse books, to increase visibility and usage and to inform the conversations about diversity in books: I’m Your Neighbor (www.imyourneighborbooks.org), a searchable database of books about recent immigrants; and the Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color (https://www.bates.edu/library/2015/03/02/the-picture-book-project-a-bates-college-collection-portraying-people-of-color/)
    Of course the majority of the titles in both collections are still by white writers and illustrators.

    Other things I’m thinking about/working on that individuals, especially established white writers and illustrators, can do to increase the visibility of books about and especially BY writers of color and Native people:
    – When promoting your own new titles – on blogposts and social media, in interviews, during school and conference presentations, etc – develop and share a companion list of related (by topic, group, setting, genre, etc) titles *by diverse authors*: “And if you enjoyed my book, here are some other titles I think you’d like…”
    This is a particularly useful resource for teachers and librarians who are building their collections, and particularly effective coming from those authors who have a wide following and successful sales.
    – After your own author appearance, recommend several writers of color for future appearances. Or help sponsor a diverse author at your local school.
    – In your own community, pay attention to recommended reading lists – school summer reading, book clubs, etc – and add suggestions of diverse books.
    – Choose diverse books as gifts for baby showers, birthdays, and friends.

    Finally, I believe one of the most important steps is to unpack and increase awareness of patterns of privilege, dominance and entitlement in the white community. So much of the attitudes and behaviors that have resulted in a lack of diverse books is unconscious. Unless we become aware of these patterns, even the best-intentioned white people – and sometimes even POC – will continue to perpetuate them. Read challenging material about race and DISCUSS. The blog, “Reading While White,” is a good place to start.

  5. for one, sending an enormous hug! i know how disconcerting this kind of thing can be to the bod and the heart. i haven’t followed this closely (although i read the original post and response) so i don’t know if it’s been addressed, but from my personal experience when folks start making this little sense in an area that you thought they might have some semblance of sanity, it’s usually homo and/or transphobia hiding underneath racism. (which i think may be why i intuitively stayed away in part) this kind of thing is so prevalent and so invisible to nonqueers that it can be confusing, even to ‘her’ that spoke it. i don’t know if her homo and/or transphobia were addressed anywhere, but from where i stand it seems pretty obvious. **i believe the only way to take the diversity conversation to the next level with dignity and respect and effectiveness is to get the kids involved. if we want to create real change, we have to do it different. i’m actively teaching kids of color, disabled and lgbtqi2s kids every aspect of coming into VOICE and bookmaking AND telling them why. awareness coupled with tools of action. this is where i’m going. i deeply appreciate all the beautiful efforts so many amazing folks are putting toward equity right now. we are hitting critical mass! slowly but surely. again with the hug edi! thank you for all your goodwork! xomaya

  6. Edi asked how we might forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature. She said it is an old conversation and that we’ve made little progress. I agree–the browning of the marketplace has a huge potential.

    In my efforts to understand the resistance to a browning of the literature itself, I read and study that resistance.

    In this instance, I am studying Rosoff”s remarks. She gave the Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture on September 10, 2015. The title of her lecture is “Do Not Be Afraid to be Afraid.” You can watch the video to see what you think that title means. I don’t have any thoughts on that title or the remarks I transcribed as I listened to the lecture. I’m sharing them here, for those of you who are interested in knowing what she had to say. These remarks were delivered a few weeks prior to Rosoff’s comments to Edi’s Facebook post about Large Fears.

    The video is here:
    (http://www.pearcelecture.com/the-lectures/2015-meg-rosoff/).

    Here’s some of what I noted as I listened to the lecture.

    In the opening, she does a revision to Goldilocks and the Three Bears, making it realistic to show us what would happen to stories if children’s stories had to be realistic. Goldilocks doesn’t go into a house, she goes into a cave. She doesn’t sample porridge, she samples rotting carcasses. Then she talks about people who burned Harry Potter out of a fear that it encourages witchcraft.

    At the 12:42 mark, she follows with “Children’s books are constantly under fire from one quarter or another. One moment they’re too sophisticated. The next, not sophisticated enough. We’re told they must teach children good values but they mustn’t preach. They must foster diversity, but don’t try writing as a Native American if you are not actually a Native American.”

    At the 54:00 mark in the Q&A, the questioner refers to a part of the lecture where she said that the world is moving to a place that is more accepting of gender and sexuality, she is asked if she thinks that we should start introducing kids to famous literature at an earlier age. She replies, saying:

    “I have so many feelings about that question. Yes, I think we are accepting more gender diversity, I mean, even the Supreme Court in the United States of Crazy America has accepted that gay marriage is the right thing, but that doesn’t mean Americans have accepted it. I don’t believe history is remotely linear. I think the minute you decide what the next ten years is gonna look like you’re in big trouble because it’s a kind of hubris, you know, and the gods are all up there going ‘Oh yeah? Well I’ll show you!’ So, that’s the answer to the first bit of the question. The answer to, you know, should we be writing books that introduce children to those concepts very early, I… it’s sort of the same question, of whether, which is raging in YA literature now, is, you know, we must write books with more diversity. Well, yeah, we probably should be doing that but I’m not going to do that. You know, diversity isn’t my subject. I am very interested in gender and I’ve written quite a lot about gender because gender IS my subject. It has huge resonance to me. So I don’t think you can set authors out with an agenda to tackle certain subjects. You know, I was talking about my daughter finding FemSoc in school, and in Scandinavia, they start talking to boys about not being rapists from the age of four. That is when those conversations should be happening. And those conversations about tolerance should be happening at that age, and conversations about money should be happening at that age, so yes, as I said in my lecture, get kids when they’re two. Start with The Cat in the Hat and make them understand that it’s important to do bad things when their mother is out, but not as an agenda in schools. My feeling is literature has to have its own agenda in order to be true.”

  7. Beautifully written, Edi. You ask, “I’m asking people how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, or what they themselves plan to do from this point out.” I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the best thing we can do is to continue the conversation, continue to talk about and push forward. While it’s true that there’s been some horrible and disheartening backlash, I think a backlash usually means that there’s something to lash back against, and I think it indicates that the problems have reached the level of awareness for many Americans that hasn’t been there before. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, I’m an optimistic person by nature, but it seems to me that the last year or two especially, much progress has been made in creating awareness. Whether that can lead to real change? I don’t know, but I hope so. I’ve learned so much from you and Zetta and so many others, and I hope to both continue learning from you, and to be able to pay it forward.

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