January 26, 2009

And then, because Esme, and Mitali are just going to GET RIGHT INTO IT...

...the question must be asked: what's the point of ethnic based awards anymore, anyway? Are we ready to move away from that?

Mitali wants to know.

Esme just would like to be considered for the Coretta Scott King Award, please and thank you.

What's the purpose of these awards? Have you ever read the criterion for the Coretta Scott King award? Is that criterion filled only in books written by African Americans?

Boy, I can well imagine that this is going to tick some people RIGHT off -- the idea that a Caucasian lady has the gall to question whether or not the King Award group should rethink the parameters of the award, and maybe open it up to non-African American authors -- but it's an interesting question, one which deserves thought instead of knee-jerk rageaholic reaction.

I don't have an answer for it, to be honest.

But the thoughts, they are provoked!

9 comments:

Sherri L. Smith said...

Esme went to my high school and I have had a crush on her name ever since! (I was a freshman, she was senior.) I also have respect for her as a writer and a thinking person. I understand the sorrow associated with having her fantastically written black characters automatically be disqualified from the CSK award because of her race, but consider that I, as a black author, could not have my first novel considered because the characters were NOT black. The disappointment some people expressed that I did not write the "black experience" surprised me. I had a story to tell, so I told it. (I recently was asked to make another protagonist black because that's what they had assumed she would be, as I was the author!) When it comes to awards, clearly the CSK had it's reasons, very good ones, for its criteria. To promote African American books and creators, and meet an underserved/underepresented audience's needs.

To remove some of the criteria might be seen as a step forward, but it also could open the door too wide. I remember being frustrated that SCBWI offers a grant for "general work-in-progress" novels, contemporary YA, first-timers and for picture books, but not specifically for an historical or fantasy novel. The idea that my fantasy had to duke it out with all of those other "general" works drove me crazy. But an argument can be made that the limits are necessary to narrow the field, whether for the sake of certain goals or the sanity of the judges.

Also consider that there are tons of book awards out there that YA books are not eligible for at all. (That drives me REALLY crazy!) And then there are awards that are limited to first time authors, or authors of a certain age. Ultimately, a good book is a good book. So what if you can ONLY win the Newbury? It's kind of nice that the CSK award might go to a different book. It's like the Golden Globes and the Oscars-- some years the winners are all the same, but not every year. Because of the difference in criteria. And the great thing about that is more books are brought to the public's attention, rather than the same handful.

a. fortis said...

Speaking of broadness in award criteria, I can't help thinking about the National Book Award's category for Young People's Literature. It was interesting to read a bit about the history of their award on the website, because they used to have many more categories and then winnowed them back down to a broader set of five.

I can't help thinking there must be a happy medium--but I guess nobody can be all things to all people, so perhaps that's one reason in favor of having these different awards. Like Sherri said, then a wider variety of books have a chance to be recognized.

I don't know if it's an issue of ethnic-based awards becoming obsolete over time, as we move towards a greater acceptance of different ethnicities in our society. To me, having such awards is beneficial simply because they raise awareness of a wider variety of quality books than might otherwise be recognized if everything came down to just one or two awards. I guess that's kind of simplistic, but there you go. :)

Joe Cottonwood said...

Sherri, I feel your pain.

In a parallel dimension, as a white writer, I was taken to task by a politically correct book review for presenting one of my black characters as a rascal. Not that he was unreal - the review felt he was all too real - and that was the problem.

One presidential election doesn't signal an end to all things racial. I'm afraid we as a country haven't quite grown up yet. There's still a reason for the King Award.

TadMack said...

Some good points made... really good points, which support the idea that like everyone else, the YA and children's literature industry still struggles very much with race.

As people speculated endlessly and created mock Newberrys and mock Caldecotts, I remember running across Black Threads in Kid's Lit's post on the fact that there was no mock CSK award chatter going on anywhere, so she had to start some.

So, is the truth that no one outside of African Americans really cares about the CSK Award anyway? Or is it merely the perception that all of them are just shiny metallic stickers, and none of them matters?

Hard to know.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Remember this discussion from years ago? I was in grad school during this; I remember it caused quite the stir: http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2001/may01_aronson.asp

Doret said...

After the awards are announced, at bookstore I work at we get maybe one customer looking for the Coretta Scott King winners and I live in Atlanta. The Today Show has the winner of the Newbery and Caldecott books the morning after the awards but not the Coretta Scott King winners.(Kadir Nelson belongs on that couch)
If non black authors could win the CSK would it get more exposure? I think so. I am willing to bet if a White author could and did win the Coretta Scott King award they would be sitting on the Today Show couch. I believe this is so because its nothing special when a black author writes about Black experience but it is when a White author does. I could just see the Today Show anchor asking "So what made you tell such a courageous story? And just to make this clear, this idea upsets me very much.

Saints and Spinners said...

Much to think about here. I'm glad for everyone who posted their comments. I think we need some of these awards to continue until we don't need them anymore. We haven't gotten there yet. I was disappointed years go when Oprah announced she was going to have a children's book for her book club, and I thought, "Great! She can take a look at the CSK award list and pick one that everyone will then read!" Lo and behold, she picked the slight "Little Bill" books by Bill Cosby instead of a book by an author who could really have used the exposure.

That was tangential, I know....

TadMack said...

I think the overall consensus here is that we need the awards -- until we don't need them anymore. You guys have given me a lot to think about.

If all of you would please go and read the comments on Planet Esme, I think Richard Michelson said, more eloquently than I could, words that we all can agree with.

Esme Raji Codell said...

Wow, great conversation here in this comments section! Thank you, Wonderland-Finders! I was excited to see the high-calorie food-for-thought comment by Sherri Smith; the first book I read by her, LUCY THE GIANT, completely blew me away for sheer excitement. I wrote her a fan letter and she told me we went to high school together! (Good English teachers there, I think! :-) Also, if I can play publicist for a moment, her new novel FLYGIRL is also wonderful, don't miss it!

Actually, the Black Threads in Kid Lit post helped to inspire me to write my post. Though I had already been highly recommending many books that went on to win the CSK this year, the contradictions between the criteria and the name of the award itself had been bothering me, and rather than add to the problem Black Threads described by not talking about it at all I figured I'd be honest and get a dialogue going. I can appreciate the annoyance some may have about the perennial nature of the topic, but that's why I suggested some simple clarification might go far to eliminate it, and that the committee might want to look at how other ethnic awards do their thing.

I agree, Kadir Nelson should have been on that couch, but shouldn't the Pura Belpre winner, the Sidney Taylor winner, etc.? The bottom line, I think, and the reason these awards are so coveted, is because we need to give more exposure to children's literature in the media in general, books that represent diverse authors, and a lot more exposure to books that might not win any awards at all but are just plain great. The kidlitosphere (http://www.kidlitosphere.org/KidLitosphere_Central/Welcome.html ) does their best in this, and other media and high-profile personalities that advocate for children could afford to follow suit (hey, hi, Oprah, another Chicago-woman here, holler if you need some recommendations!). There are aspects of the problem of lack of diversity that teacher training programs, the publishing industry, the media and superstore monarchies have to address and maybe answer to, and authors and illustrators alone can't solve. Meanwhile, I hope artists will still find the wherewithall to just keep trying to produce and share the best works they can.

Nice statement about the topic newly posted by Yuyi Morales on my blog (http://www.planetesme.blogspot.com)
. Thanks again!!!