aka YA Literature

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I attended the ALAN workshop at NCTE this week. I took notes on all the speakers and was going to recap each speech, but since there were more than 30, I decided I'm too lazy.   Here are a few of my personal highlights:

1. Teri Lesesne had so many great things to say, but one that struck a cord with one of my current issues is that we have to defend YA as having equal quality as "the classics." I am dealing with this fairly often because I have one teacher who requires their students to only read "adult" books for SSR. I think this is a poor distinction since "adult" doesn't make it "good," and many YA books are much better "quality" than most of the adult books they're choosing. Plus, I am definitely of the opinion that we should just be encouraging students to read what will give them enjoyment. I think there's a good debate to be had about introducing them to books they might not pick up on their own or choose for themselves that they'd like or get a lot from, but that isn't really the point of SSR (in my personal opinion). The other thing I keep coming back to is that many "classics" would likely be published as YA if they were published today, so why not consider that today's YA could have as much literary merit as those "classics?"
2. M.T. Anderson gave a speech about how all children's lit is necessarily political to some extent, whether it's intentional or not. There are encoded messages about how one has to act to be successful in this world, and that's political, even if it's not overt. I liked his points about how to act as if books are politically neutral diminishes the power of literature. Also, often authors, librarians, teachers, etc. will claim that reading "bad" things in literature won't cause kids to go out and do bad things, but on the other hand, they'll laud how transformative the "good" literature can be.
3. Read John Green's entire speech. It was excellent! He saved me from having to highlight by posting it all online. (Can I repeat what I've said before about how awesome JG is about writing speeches directed at his audience? He's talking to a bunch of English teachers, and he makes his speech related to that. The former speech teacher in me loves this.) One of his points was that, yes, he does intentionally put "English stuff" like figurative language in his writing. I appreciate that he says this because I remember as a student thinking that authors probably didn't intend all this crap we're assigning to it in English class, but then I read a Toni Morrison interview where she was talking about one paragraph she wrote. For about two pages, she described how and why she wrote that paragraph the way she did. There's no way I would EVER have gotten even half of what she was saying from my own reading, but it was (1) very illuminating and verified that authors do put this much intentionality into their work, and (2) I appreciate the work so much more when I can see beyond the initial surface. I know a lot of students think analyzing literature "ruins" the experience for them, and I'm not going to refute that if it's true for them, but I'll say that for me, analyzing literature can make me enjoy it a lot more. Hemingway, for example, I don't think I'll ever like, but analyzing it can make me at least appreciate it.

My favorite quotes from the conference:
"And another thing, you bastards, I fucking love the harpsichord." -M.T. Anderson

"If they are reading books you think are crap, get over yourself." -Walter Mayes

"I've always wanted to be twittered by Walter Mayes." -David Levithan

Also, my new author loves are Lauren Myracle and Matt de la Pena.  Loved them.  Can't wait to hear them speak again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Following on from your comments about John Green's comments:

I think there's a range. I've definitely met writers who don't intend the "English stuff", who will tell you that they just write stories.

No matter how carefully you write each sentence, each paragraph there are always going to be readers who see something that you did not intend at all. I've certainly had people read my books in ways I never intended.

Which I think is a good thing! How boring would it be if we all found the exact same thing in the books we read?

I guess I'm not convinced that what the author intends is the final word on how to read a text. Writers can also be wrong about what they wrote. So even if they intend the "English stuff" it may not be the same "English stuff" that's being talked about in the classroom.

Again I conserd that to be a good thing.

Justine Larbalestier