The New Gay Teen, Disability in Graphic Novels, and Diversity in Historical Fiction @ YALSA’s 2010 YA Lit Symposium

November 8, 2010

I attended the 2010 YA Lit Symposium in Albuquerque. This post is a summary of three of the sessions that I attended. Check out other posts tagged yalsalit2010 for more session recaps.

My notes for the other three sessions I attended aren’t as extensive, so I’m going to cover them all in one post. First up is my third Saturday session, “The New Gay Teen: Moving Beyond the ‘Issue’ Novel” with Alexandra Diaz, Madeline George, PG Kain, Carley Moore, Lauren Myracle, and Stephanie Hopkins.

Imagine that you’re just waking up and you realize your hands are tied. What’s happened over the last few hours is sort of hazy–you remember something about a fire and your friends. You don’t know where Robin is. And not only are your hands tied, you’re blindfolded, too. From the slight sway and the smell of the sea, you think you might be on a ship. Have you been captured by pirates? Will you have to fight them? Could you become a spy? You definitely remember a fire and pirates and maybe even space aliens–but none of that matters because you’re gay.

That’s how Alexandra started off this session and while it drew some laughs, it also drew attention to the way that stories with LGBTQIA characters are often focused on the character’s sexual identity or preferences as the primary conflict or issue in the story. In fact, Alexandra summed it all up really nicely when she said, “If [a character’s sexuality] continues to be the issue, it will continue to be an issue.”

This session was mostly a panel discussion where authors read from some of their books with LGBTQIA characters and talked about the way sexual preferences and identity played out in their books and in YA lit in general. Madeline George’s reading from her upcoming novel (currently untitled, due out in spring 2012) about a butch lesbian who, through her relationship with two other young women, learns to go beyond identity politics had the audience nearly in tears with laughter and I am seriously dying to read it.

Some of the common ideas that emerged were that of ignorance, of the gap between teen’s experiences and their language for those experiences, and the desire of LGBTQIA teens to read stories that have LGBTQIA characters who do something other than wrestle with their sexual identity. We also got a fabulous booklist with LGBTQ titles in YA lit that I cannot find online. Does anyone have a link?

My final session on Saturday was “Images and Issues Beyond the Dominant: Including Diversity in Your Graphic Novel Collection.” This was a booklist-heavy session, but the sheer range of things we saw was fantastic. Graphic novels and manga can portray race and ethnicity, disability, and body shapes in a different way than prose or poetry can, and that makes some stories incredibly powerful. Again, we learned that readers are getting tired of “issue” stories and just want characters who are like them having interesting adventures.

Oh, and we were pointed to webcomics as the new frontier for library graphic novel/manga/comic collections. Some will never appear in print, so how do you make them available to your patrons?

Here’s a list of the fabulous titles we were shown.

And my final session of the symposium was on Sunday morning. I attended Melissa Rabey’s “Doomed to Repeat It: Diversity in Historical Fiction” with authors Christina Diaz Gonzales and Ruta Sepetys. Melissa identified diversity in historical fiction as telling the stories of lesser-known cultures and civilizations, considering famous events from alternate perspectives, and looking at a group’s past beyond the events most associated with that group (so that not every historical fiction story about a Jewish character takes place during the Holocaust). In general, there’s been a slow improvement in the range of explored culture, and some groups have received fuller treatment than others.

Melissa then shared with us a bunch of interesting titles and concluded with what we need to see with diversity in historical fiction (Hispanic historical fiction set in the US; stories from Africa, South America, and the Middle East; and fresh takes and recent history) and what she sees coming up (mashups between historical fiction and other genres and blending historical fiction with current trends like paranormal elements), but left open the question of where diversity fits.

This session ended with a really awesome author panel. Christina Diaz Gonzales recently wrote The Red Umbrella, which is about a fourteen-year-old girl who travels from Cuba to the US in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan and is based on her parents’ story. Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray comes out in March and tells the story of a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941 whose family is sent to Siberia during Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic region.

They both talked about the research they did, the importance of authenticity, and why historical fiction matters. Ruta had a very difficult time getting survivors to tell her their stories since they fear repercussion (the Balkans only got their independence in the ’90s, so stories are still emerging), and as part of her research, she participated in a simulation of what it was like in a gulag during which she was beaten and wound up rupturing two discs in her back and going home in a wheelchair. She was shocked by how quickly she put aside her values in the interest of self preservation. (You can see her and videos of survivors at the official site for the book.) But at the end, she said that by sharing history with teens through fiction we can try to create a more just future. On the role and importance of historical fiction, Christina said, “Teens want a good story. If it also teaches them about history or their own families’ history, that’s our goal.” She also pointed out that authors tell the stories that are in their hearts, but they have to be told authentically. If authors don’t have a personal connection to a culture, they need to do their research.

Melissa kindly made her booklist and other resources available.

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5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Robin B.  |  November 10, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve posted our handout over at the YA Lit Symposium wiki for those who need it!

  • 2. Robin B.  |  November 10, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    And I apologize for not identifying what that was — I’ve posted the Diversity and Graphic Novels handout over at the Wiki, so it is accessible for all. I apologize that it wasn’t up sooner.

  • 3. Gretchen  |  November 11, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Thanks a bunch, Robin! I’m going to edit the post to include the link.

  • 4. Lee Wind  |  November 11, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    These panels sound so amazing! Thanks for sharing,

  • 5. yuri manga&hellip  |  April 21, 2017 at 4:44 AM

    yuri manga

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