#MorallyAmbigiousYA calls out sexism and genre dismissal
Tuesday afternoon found the YA book world in disbelief over the announcement of a six-figure deal and movie for a YA novel by former ad executive Scott Bergstrom. It wasn’t the money at stake that stunned authors and readers alike, however, but the description of the book (“a Jewish, slightly overweight 17-year-old, who is transformed into a ‘lean warrior with hair dyed fire-engine red,’ during her mission to rescue her father, a kidnapped diplomat”) and Bergstrom’s poorly formed assumptions regarding YA. Bergstrom explains that “the morality of the book is more complicated than a lot of YA,” as though YA readers aren’t used to seeing difficult ethical choices play out in their novels–Hunger Games, anyone?
Twitter quickly lit up with responses to Bergstrom’s ignorance, especially regarding his perpetuation of a harmful and sexist trope:
Way to reinforce the harmful misconception that weight-loss is a young woman's #1 wish-fulfillment fantasy. #MorallyComplicatedYA
— Cassandra (@Jenny_Trout) November 25, 2015
It’s rather fitting that an essay regarding white male writers and sexism also went up on Tin House this week, with a call to women to not let things slide, to continue to call out privilege and harmful stereotypes, to carve out our spaces and not give them up.
Let us not make people at the margins into scouts or spies for the mainstream. Let us stop asking people to speak for the entire cacophonic segment of humanity that shares their pigmentation, genitalia, or turn-ons.
Let us spend more time in those uncomfortable moments when our privilege is showing. Let us reflect there, let us linger, rather than recoil into the status quo.
Let us continue to count, and talk, and think about the numbers.
Let us name those things that are nameless, as Solnit describes, the way “mansplaining” or “rape culture” or “sexual harassment” were nameless before feminists named them. Let those names sing.
Kane Chronicles hero no longer whitewashed on book covers
Rick Riordan’s post-Percy Jackson series has seen one of its main characters, Carter Kane, whitewashed on most of its book covers around the world, but the Russian covers have changed that. Carter’s dark skin is depicted accurately on reprints of the Russian editions, following descriptions from Carter himself on how his skin resembles that of his Egyptian father, while his sister Sadie takes after their white mother. It’s a decision that Riordan has celebrated, after calling out several of his European publishers for the choice to make Carter white on their covers.
University of British Columbia creative writing chair suspended pending investigation
Steven Galloway was informed of his suspension with pay on November 18, but had admitted to not knowing about any allegations that could have spurred this decision by the university. Galloway is known for The Cellist of Sarajevo, a longlisted title for the 2008 Giller Prize, and has chaired the UBC creative writing program since 2013.
World Book Night acknowledges lack of diversity in 2015 choices, promises to do better
In a rather surprising turn, this year’s World Book Night list is sadly lacking in non-white authors. Previous years have included diverse authors, and the shift has drawn attention from many writers and readers, some of whom have called out the organization for its choices. Project Manager Rose Goddard has addressed these concerns in her own piece:
World Book Night is an extraordinary industry initiative achieved through a wide coalition of authors, publishers, printers, distributors and other partners – not least the volunteer givers. However, like all charitable initiatives the funding model and submissions process which underpins it also shapes its delivery. The curation of the final books is not simply a question of choosing freely from publishers’ lists; publishers submit titles for the list and financially support the printing of the titles selected and the programme overall. Participation in the programme represents a significant monetary commitment for all of them, particularly for the smaller presses we’ve been delighted to welcome on board over the last few years. They all think very carefully about which books to suggest in the context of our drive to reach people who do not normally read for pleasure and WBN would not exist at all without the generous backing they provide. Each year we strive to strike a balance across the list. This year, despite our best efforts we have not been successful in respect of BAME writers.
We will use this year’s experience and feedback to build support to help shape World Book Night lists of the future; they should and can be a home to diverse, wonderful and brilliant books by authors from all walks of life. Let’s keep talking and work together to help make this happen.
While the acknowledgment is appreciated, I know I’ll definitely be looking into World Book Night 2016 to see if the organization has kept this promise in mind.