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.