Sunday, May 17, 2009

The CSK Is Dead (Long Live the CSK)

The Coretta Scott King Award will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.
Established in 1969, and given annually to outstanding black (the committee's page says African-American) authors and illustrators, it's been a meaningful way to invite black people into the children's book field and highlight their contributions.

Who among us thinks Coretta Scott King is a pretty awesome person? Who among us thinks it's a great thing that the CSK award got started?

Everyone? That's what I thought.

Now, who among us thinks it's still a good idea?
Who among us thinks it's getting highly ironic that an award started in an effort to honor and continue Dr. King's efforts in working for peace and civil rights only honors one race?

Now, lots of people do not understand what it means to be black in America. They understand racism in the abstract, but they don't understand racism in action.

One of the things being black in America means (for example) is being a bright young woman who graduates from an Ivy League college and goes on to a successful career in a highly competitive field, and who has three family members who have died in police custody.

That's racism in action.

And one of the things being black in America means is that the vast majority of heroes and heroines and 'regular people' of all types in books, in movies, and in TV shows, look nothing like you.

That's racism in action.

So there's a need to encourage stories, books, TV shows, films, etc that show all kinds of races as heroes, as heartthrobs, as neighbors. Encouraging people to see the world from points of view other than their own is a wonderful thing. Encouraging people to see people of all races as simply people is a wonderful thing.

But that's not what the CSK is doing. If the CSK were in charge, male writers wouldn't be able to comment on what it's like to be a woman. The CSK is saying that you cannot understand what it is to be black in America unless you are black.

Giving an award for creating art about the experience of race is a wonderful thing. But giving an award for creating art and being a particular race?

That's racism in action.

I am sure none of us are among those cheerful idiots who feel that electing our first black president means that racism is dead.
Racism will be dead when we can elect a president of any race without talking about race once in the process. Racism will be dead when whole generations grow up without any real idea of what racism means.

Racism will be dead when the only race that people recognize is the human race.

But we are never going to get there as long as standing up for civil rights means standing up for just one race or another. Yes, we must act in acceptance of what the world is, right now. But the world will never be more than what it is right now if we do not also act in hope for what we want the world to become.

86 comments:

RA said...

Wow, you sound just like Marc Aronson.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If there was equality in publishing and if that equality showed both in the variety of authors published and the variety of main characters in books published, then maybe the CSK would no longer be needed. Unfortunately, this equality doesn't exist.

It's kind of like saying we shouldn't encourage girls to excel at math because some of them just do. But we are fighting against stupid stereotypes that still say girls don't do math. Even one of the new Barbies came out saying 'Math is hard' and had to be changed after protests. If this stereotype didn't exist, why would there be a protest?

I hate to say this, but the Southern US is far behind places like NY when it comes to racism. Grown men are still called boy. Men were killed in the aftermath of Katrina for the crime of being black and no one was punished even though they know who pulled the trigger. The shooters were actually rewarded for 'protecting their neighborhood'.

So yes. I see the need still to promote the writing of a particular race. To point out that there are authors of color who deserve recognition. To remind those of us who are the 'default' race that we are not the only people in this country or the only writers and readers.

Emily Kokie said...

Wow. I have to say I respectfully disagree for two reasons.

First, this assumes we are on the brink of a level playing field when that simply does not seem, to me, to be the case. And so it argues that a group of people should give up some small corner they have carved out to celebrate a cultural experience under-represented in the unlevel arena, in the hopes that sometime in the future the rest of the playing field will be level? I think that is fairly unfair.

The CSK is not keeping the playing field unequal. The CSK and the people associated with it simply don't have the power to make the playing field level. That power rests with those more in control of the playing field. And the argument that some in the power to control the playing field will continue to keep things unlevel because of the CSK seems disingenuous.

If we have to err on the side of fairness here, I'm totally ok with the field being shown truly level before we give up awards like the CSK and Pura Belpré.

And second, from my perspective, awards like the CSK and Pura Belpré are about encouraging art about a specific cultural experience, and I think the awards has the right to define that experience - much as many other awards restrict the pool based on nationality, citizenship of a state or country (Newbery and Caldecott, awards for certain state authors), or other characteristic do.

Usually I am right with you EA, but on this one I just have to respectfully disagree. Maybe when the playing field is truly level, and there is no longer the need to encourage art by and about a specific cultural identity, then maybe such awards will be unnecessary.

But it also seems to me that is not a call for me to make, as someone standing more in the level playing field. I'm ok with being excluded from contention, all things considered.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I'm not saying the CSK is not needed any more. It's still very important to have awards that honor and further efforts to bring people of different backgrounds together.

If the CSK wants to focus on the furtherance of black issues, then yes, there's an argument for that.

The way to do that would be to give the award to people of any race who further the understanding of what it means to be black.

But giving it only to black people actually creates a divide--one I've seen over and over again in publishing-- that says, if you're NOT black, there's no point writing/illustrating a book about black people, because you and the book will be marginalized. Non-black people don't get to imagine or portray what it's like to be black.

And my point is that humankind is never going to get over the idea of "race" if people of all races aren't encouraged to think hard about what it's like for others.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I agree, EA. That is the next logical step. I'm just not sure we're there yet. Or maybe the CSK needs to morph a bit and be either about the portrayal of blacks by any author or about a black author writing well. Sort of pick a distinct path and walk down it.

The problem that I see is taking this type of award and opening it up to any race sends mixed messages - one of which is that the whites are now taking over the CSK as there are far more white authors than blacks. So the probablity of a black author winning this award sinks to almost null.

As an author, I feel it's up to me to portray other races because it's the right thing to do and not because there is an award I might win.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I also think there's a meaningful difference between giving money so that more girls go into science or more young black people go to college... and giving people awards for being a particular gender or race. Especially if the aim of the award is the end of racism.

As a young woman, would I have wanted money to go into science? Absolutely.
As a scientist, would I have wanted an award for being a good female scientist? Hell no. It says women scientists need a separate category in order to win an award.

Emily Kokie said...

There is plenty of recognition out there for a non-black author who writes any kind of book...or a non-latino/latina author...

If awards like the CSK and Pura Belpré wish to encourage art from members of a particular cultural experience, I'm truly ok with that.

A non-black, or non-latino/latina person who writes an exceptional book featuring black or latino/latina characters can be eligible in other awards - notably Newbery, Caldecott, BBYA, Printz, etc...

Until the field is really level, I'm just not that bothered by awards that encourage art from within a specific, under-represented cultural community.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Your perspective on the CSK is much different than mine. And perhaps the talk you are privy to lends strength to your POV.

As a woman in a male dominated field, I would gladly accept an award for being a great female whatever. If my peers recognize my contributions, that's wonderful. Lord knows the men won't unless forced to. We still have to be at least twice as good to be thought of as half as good. I recently had a lead position taken away from me and given to a white man with questionable ethics - with no explanation of why.

Whenever we get a new boss, my standing joke is "another white man" because it's true. They perpetuate their staying on top by hiring and promoting their own kind. We recently lost our only female executive. Was she low hanging fruit because of her abilities or her gender?

So we scrabble to rise in a male dominated world and get cut down as soon as feasibly possible. Look at the race for the presidency. The idea of a woman becoming president was, I think, more controversial than a black president.

I agree that being color blind is the true path. I just don't think it's realistic at this point in time. I'm glad though that it sounds like things are different in the publishing world than it seems from the outside.

Chris Eldin said...

Wow, great discussion. But I also respectfully disagree. I'm not sure that a white person writing about the experiences of a black person is enough. If a black person wrote the same story, it would be a different book.
People tend to filter their life experiences through their own cultural values.
I still see the need in this country for such an award. It's one award among many, and it is a great opportunity to acknowledge and acclaim the works of a minority person.

Elizabeth said...

I would be strongly in favor of the existence of awards for anti-racist books by authors of all races, but I don't agree at all that awards for black authors are racist.

If we acknowledge that there are particular barriers for blacks in entering publishing -- a field that, among other things, often requires intense amounts of unpaid labor for years, and thus is vastly more open to people with alternative access to money -- then creating recognition and career boosts for blacks in publishing is affirmative action, not racism.

More generally, I question the idea that attempts to specifically overcome some part of racism are racist because they're not colorblind. I think this idea comes out of a decades-long backlash against specific programs, like affirmative action, that were rightly central to the civil rights and black power movements. And what this has meant in practice is that many of the programs that were most effective and accountable in fighting racism have seen their support erode.

nw said...

"The Jane Addams Children's Book Awards are given annually to the children's books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence."

BuffySquirrel said...

I think I mostly agree with Sarah. It's not like it's the only award. My suspicion is that if they open it up to white writers, that's who'll win. Because that's the way the West works at present.

Debbie Reese said...

The first post is right on. EA sounds like Marc Aronson (in his Horn Book article about prizes).

In my writing (and on my site), I feature Native writers. I want all people, Native and not, to know that we are still here, and, that some of us write children's books. Some of us even win awards for writing children's books.

Whether it is a Native-authored book or an award-winning Native-authored book, it signals to a Native child that they can aspire to write books, too.

And, Native-authored books give teachers and librarians a chance to say "Hey, this book is by a Native writer. Just in case you thought all the Indians were gone, they aren't!" And then that teacher or librarian can say "let's see what we can learn about this writer's heritage."

I'm a little off topic (CSK), but I got there by thinking of all the non-Native people who write books about Native peoples, misrepresenting our stories, histories, etc.

Let's see... maybe some data will help.

This is from CCBC's website.

In 2002, 69 of the 166 bks about African Americans were written by African or African/American writers.

In 2003, it was 79 of the 171.

In 2004, it was 99 of the 143.

In 2005, it was 75 of the 149.

In 2006, it was 87 of the 153.

In 2007, it was 77 of the 150.

Turning that into percentages...

2002 - 41%
2003 - 46%
2004 - 69%
2005 - 52%
2006 - 56%
2007 - 51%

Since I brought up Native books, here's percentages for that group:

2002 - 9%
2003 - 11%
2004 - 21%
2005 - 11%
2006 - 34%
2007 - 13%

Interesting data, eh? If you want to compute figures for Latino or Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, the numbers are here:

http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/pcstats.htm

Anonymous said...

Great discussion. It's a joy to follow a debate over race issues that is respectful and measured on both sides. I'm not sure where I fall on this -- both arguments have merits -- but I wanted to weigh in with support for taking on a serious topic like this. Talking about issues that are sensitive helps all of us sort out tangled feelings and reasonings.

Trixie said...

Wow, this is pretty heavy duty stuff. EA, this has always been a belief of mine- that actually putting racial, sexual, religious, etc guidelines on awards, scholarships, affirmative action, etc is further dividing and helping to keep a divide between all people.

I commend you bringing up this topic.

I am not up for the huge discussion, because in the end, the majority is not ready to see beyond all the bullshit. Sadly, in some ways, these awards need to exist. Obama is just as white as his is black, but this shouldn't be the issue. What REALLY matters is that he is a person with strong ideas that people believe in.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I don't agree with this post. I'm white, if that matters.

How many black authors (or Asian or Hispanic, for that matter?) have won the Printz? The Newbery? The Caldecot?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

It would be nice to think the CSK award isn't needed anymore, but until minorities start winning these awards I think it's nice that their achievements are at least being represented somewhere.

Winning a CSK award DOES encourage sales and so why not?

KT Horning said...

You've entered onto thorny ground here by raising this complicated and emotional issue.

The truth is, there have always been plenty of white people who have written about Blacks, and there still are. According to the statistics we keep here at the CCBC, of the 172 books about Blacks we documented that were published last year, 83 were by Black authors and/or illustrators. That percentage is typical of what we've seen over the past decade. So this notion that people of other races are not allowed to write about Blacks is false.

Perhaps you know of a few instances where a publisher has been wary of publishing a book about Black experience by a white author. Perhaps the manuscript is brilliant, a literary masterpiece, and the Black experience portrayed so authentically that one might think it had been written by Mildred D. Taylor or Walter Dean Myers.

Are you seriously telling us that such a book would be rejected for publication simply because it wouldn't be eligible for the CSK?
I find it hard to believe that the Coretta Scott King Award has that much power in the publishing world. If it did, we would see a lot more African-American literature than we currently do.

Anonymous said...

Great article.

I don't think promoting any form of segregation is the way to go, whether its in the workplace, in the publishing industry, or by trying to promote a specific minority.

I think awards like this should celebrate the culture of it, not the colour of the award winner's skin. If the book skillfully portrays life as a Black American, then why should you care what colour the face is behind it? After all, isn't the entire purpose to celebrate Black American culture?

For those who think this would automatically mean that "white authors would take over"; let the authors who know what they're doing try for it. Nine times out of ten, it's going to be a black author because they've experienced the life they're writing about, and know best how to portray it. However, that doesn't mean that someone else can't take a shot at it. In fact, wouldn't you want to encourage other people to be open-minded enough to understand you? Isn't that a good thing? That's one more person who has broken out of racism's hold on society.

Dismissing an author because they don't have black skin is just as racist as if it was the other way around.

I am white, not a visible minority. I can't make you want to consider my words, but this is all just my opinion, freely expressed. Would I say the same if we were talking about "white" awards? Yeap. Segregation and racism in all its form disgusts me, and I'm not going to encourage it anywhere. (Are there any white awards? Can't say I've ever looked.)

And lastly, I supported Obama from afar because he seemed like he would be a decent person for the job, and because I prefer the Democrats to the Republicans. I didn't like some of Hilary Clinton's views on censorship in particular, despite also being a Democrat. Should I have rooted for Hilary instead because she's a fellow female?

Anonymous said...

(good to have you back, EA! :))

I often wonder if books with minority MCs/authors might get overlooked by other awards BECAUSE awards commitees think, well, it'll get a CSK award, so we don't have to bother with it.

Does that happen?

joelle said...

I love your post. I have also always found it strange when publishers will accept books by "writers of colour" or Native Americans ONLY. Or when contests specify that you must be Latino-American or African-American or of some other race even if your story fits the parameters of the contest. I have always wondered exactly how much hell would be raised if a publisher said, "We are looking for stories by white authors only." !!!! If I, as a distantly Danish American who emigrated to Canada, am only allowed to write about white distantly Danish Americans who emigrated to Canada, then that limits me quite a bit, don't you think? Am I allowed to tell a Southern story since I lived there for 4 years, or am I only allowed to write about Oregon since that's where I was born? If my husband tells me a southern story, can I get away with writing it because he's a southerner by birth? And what about boys? Can I write about boys even though I'm a woman? Anyway...I could go on and on..and maybe I will, over on my website though. Thanks for your interesting post.

joelle said...

I commented and then read the comments by others and now I have one more thing to say. I don't think there's anything wrong with a book award that tries to do what the CSK does. I think it's great. But what EA seems to be saying is what my father taught us when we were little.

Me: So there was this black kid at school and -
Dad: Why does it matter if he's black?
Me: Huh?
Dad: Does being black have anything to do with the story?
Me: Oh....noooo...Okay, so there was this kid at school and...

So why does it matter WHO writes the book and wins the award if the book accomplishes what the award is being awarded for? And if you decide that the author has to be of a certain race, then yes, that appears to be the racism that EA is talking about (if I understood her correctly, as this whole post is starting to get muddled in my mind and maybe I'm just confused).

The Children's Book Reporter said...

How encouraging it is to hear EA's remarks about something I have felt very strongly about for many years. I completely agree that it is wonderful to honor books and authors which promote equality and portray a race and its difficulties and triumphs honestly. However, I believe it to be quite insulting to say that only a black author can receive such an award.
To have such a stipulation implies that "this author is very talented"--for a black author. Such insinuations such as Sarah Laurenson's: "The problem that I see is taking this type of award and opening it up to any race sends mixed messages - one of which is that the whites are now taking over the CSK as there are far more white authors than blacks. So the probablity of a black author winning this award sinks to almost null" is exactly the reason I see the award as racist. This statement not only implies that black authors know less of their race than white authors would, it further implies that white authors are by default more talented. If the word "probability" refers to pure numbers of authors, then the statement implies a lack of intelligence and discretion on the part of the award's judges, who surely should be able to distinguish a well-written, well-conceived book that truly relates the black or African American experience from a lesser one.
Thank you for your calm logic, EA.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I'd like to say how impressed and grateful I am to my readers for how willing everyone is to have a reasoned discussion. I appreciate all your arguments, whether in agreement or diagreement!

Jonquil said...

Re white people who write about black people being marginalized... check out Debbie Reese's statistics. Roughly half of the books published about black Americans are by white people. That ain't marginalized.

Racism is not dead when we declare that all people of color are the same as white people, when the white people stop noticing their color. Racism is dead when people of color stop being treated worse worse because of their color.

You are saying that the world cannot become better unless we pretend that it already is better: "let's start from zero right now!" Well, it isn't zero. There are real people of color, alive right now, who are being told by other writers that they don't exist, and that nobody wants to read their writing. As long as that is true, having awards dedicated to saying "Look at this great black writer!" will be appropriate and necessary.

Editorial Anonymous said...

...But your example of Silver Phoenix wasn't an example of a publisher not wanting to publish an Asian writer. It was an example of a publisher not wanting to publish fiction about Asians.

Which is bullshit, no question. And a reason why there should be awards without regard for the author's race which encourage publishers to publish books about other races.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Emily, you said:

There is plenty of recognition out there for a non-black author who writes any kind of book...or a non-latino/latina author...

Except when most people read a book, they're not thinking about the race of the author. They judge the book on it's own merits. I mean, noone picks up a book by Terry Pratchett, enjoys it, and then decides that actually, the book sucked because the man on the back is a funny-looking British guy in a floppy hat.

Blacks and Latinos ARE eligible for the same awards as everyone else. So marking a book with a special 'race' award seems to say that either
1. This author is good with respect to other authors of the same race, but not overall.

or

2. That there are 'black' children's books, 'Latino' children's books and 'White' children's books, and you shoul;d stick with your own kind.

So then, ought interacial kids read half of each race? Should I try to find the appropriate blend of Irish, German, Italian, Lithuanian, English, Scottish and 'who knows because they changed their name and lied on all the forms' for my kids to read???

I DETEST awards like CSK. Not because I can't win one, but because some really amazing authors/illustrators (KADIR NELSON!!!!!) get shelved into the "Black Books" (not the BBC show) ghetto and then get overlooked by all the other people who would enjoy them if the books were just treated like NORMAL good books.

Also, as a side note--what about Ezra Jack Keats? He was one of the first picture-book authors who really tried to portay urban black kids in the modern world.

But you know what? (I only found this out recently) He was white! Does that mean that "A Whistle for Willie" is suddenly not a good book anymore?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are in throes of fledgling social analysis, EA. Take two bell hooks and call me in the morning. Don't worry, they're only intellectual growing pains - and not nearly as insidoous or dehumanizing as true *racism in action*.

Sarah Laurenson said...

A clarification - I was talking about sheer numbers and not ability when I commented on the mixed messages. And I was also referring only to the message the action would send to the writing community - not the actual probability of who would win.

The scale is balanced way over on the racism against blacks side that removing this award from the racism against non-blacks seems to me like the wrong next move.

There was an article written recently about how much harder it is for black authors to break into publishing because publishing is full of white employees who do not understand/empathize/whatever with the black cultural experience.

To me, taking away an award from the black writing community further emphasizes they are not welcome at the table. (And that is not my personal opinion, but what I think is the current reality.)

takumashii said...

Consider the critical reception for the Octavian Nothing books.

Has M.T. Anderson received insufficient attention for writing some truly excellent books about a black main character, just because he's not eligible for the CSK? Did his ineligibility for the CSK prevent the Octavian Nothing books from getting published?

If a truly great author writes a truly great book about the black experience, about race in America, I think it's going to get the critical recognition it deserves, even if one particular award is not part of that critical recognition.

Chris said...

I have mixed feelings.

The problem with the CSK awards is its narrow focus. It can ONLY consider books written by African Americans ABOUT African American families.

So - for instance - if I write a book about an African child/family in South Africa, or a white child in Appalachia, I wouldn't be eligible.

How does that recognize and increase the ranks of African American authors in mainstream literature?

CSK has become almost a ghetto of its own. It seems as if AA authors are bypassed for major awards because they have a category of their own.

Publishers seem most interested in books from AA authors that fit the narrow CSk category because the competitive pool is less. What's worse, we do see the same names winning awards each year even as more AA authors try to break into the field.

Editors quietly tell me that Sales and Marketing don't consider African American authors to be "bankable."

So we have a catch 22, don't we? African Americans should be considered for major awards and aren't. CSK is their best chance to get noticed - but only if they write within a narrow category.

CSK would be a more useful force in rectifying the racism issue in publishing if it recognized AA authors of merit regardless of subject matter while the rest of us push for "inclusion" in the mainstream.

Instead - it is what it is - an attempt to rectify a problem but which may have - in fact - created an even bigger one. A way to deflect real discussion on the racism in publishing and reduce the range of work available for AA authors at the same time.

Kadir Nelson is a classic example. Why isn't Kadir Nelson considered for a Caldecott given his body of work and his brilliance? That's rhetorical. We already know the answer.

Now excuse me while I go off to write a story about a fictional crack-addicted basketball player with a heart of gold who lives in a New York brownstone with no trees and no heat but still manages to study for his finals and win the respect of the white principal sent to "fix" the school.

Why fight the system? :-(

Emily Kokie said...

It has been great to see a measured and rational discussion.

One point I wanted to add that I don't think has been particularly well made yet - the CSK award not only encourages art from African-American authors and illustrators, but it promotes the art of African-American authors and illustrators.

The promotional value of the CSK award still appears needed to help promote that the art of African-American authors and illustrators. Still very much of value. And maybe of greater value than any negative implications...or encouragement.

Jonquil said...

The publisher told an Asian woman that he wasn't willing to publish her fiction about Asians. That is both abstractly racist and personally, directly racist.

There are many, many opportunities for white people to publish their ideas about other races. There are far fewer opportunities for people of color to talk about their own lives -- and to have those books sold, once they are written. "The Education of Little Tree" has sold a lot more copies than Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", even though the latter, a best-seller, is by a Native American, and the former is a white racist's fantasy about what Native Americans are like.

The reason the CSK award is targeted at black writers is that writers of color still, right now in 2009, do not get the same opportunities as white writers. If you want to encourage black people to write, then it's completely appropriate to have an award for black writers.

Brian said...

I have less of a reaction to EA's post than I do to Sarah Laurenson's man-bashing response of May 17 2:44 pm.

Sarah claims that men recognize her contributions at work only when they're forced to (who forces them?), then she commits the exact same crime herself when she refuses to recognize their contributions and claims that men perpetuate their staying on top by hiring and promoting their own kind. Maybe the reason so many more men than women are bosses in her field is that in a male-dominated field, more men than woman have earned their positions. I'll bet plenty of men have also been burned out of a deserved promotion because the job went to another man (or woman) instead -- even one less qualified than they were. It happens everywhere.

Yes, it stings to see someone you feel is less deserving get a promotion you wanted. The Golden Child where I work is a woman. My student evaluations are higher than hers every single semester, but she's the one who gets the recognition and awards from the department. It's not that she's undeserving, the question is whether others might be more deserving but just keep getting overlooked because the attention is always on her. I'm sure everybody here -- male or female, black or white -- can relate a similar work experience. It's not necessarily sexism or racism. It happens to everyone.

For my part, I just quietly keep doing the best job I can, and maybe someday the department will notice. If they never do, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing I always did the best job I could.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow, Brian. I obviously touched a nerve there. Sorry to hear your efforts are not recognized. Hope that changes for you.

As for me, I do get recognized - maybe a bit too often. I get asked to do the last minute, behind schedule, oh my God we forgot, work and they do recognize my efforts in the form of cash thank you's. I'm not interested in a career in this field so watching the other women in my line of work get passed over or chopped first has been very instructive. My industry is full of ex-military white males. And yes, I believe they keep the white male tradition going whether it's a conscious decision or just the military tradition. The only departments that seem to be acceptable for a woman to rise to the top are Finance and HR.

So I believe, based on my experiences and observations, that sexism in my industry is as strong as racism. There are no black men at the top either. Black women? Not a chance.

The original point of all of that was that racism is still alive and strong in this country. And pervasive unfortunately.

joelle said...

Here's the deal. Nowhere on my website does it say I'm white. If there weren't any pictures of me on it, you wouldn't know. If I was one of those writers who didn't like to promote myself and I wrote a book about a black family, and got an agent who loved it, and my agent sold it to a publisher, and it came out without an author picture, at what point does the CSK start asking what colour my skin is? I mean, obviously, the publisher is not going to submit it if they know I'm white, but what if they don't know? All I'm saying is if you write the book and it's worthy of the award, then it's worthy of the award and if you ask me what colour my skin is to find out if I'm actually eligible, then THAT IS RACISM.

Mommy C said...

Could I just point readers to a few writers I adore not for their ethnicity, but for their voice?

Kweku Asumang (African)
http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=kwasumang

David Bouchard (Metis)
www.davidbouchard.com

Michael Kusugak (Inuit)
www.michaelkusugak.com

nw said...

I'm not arguing either for or against the CSK award, but I would like to point out that out of ten Printz awards, two have gone to African American writers writing about African American characters. And two have gone to Asian American writers writing about Asian American characters. I don't think either group makes up 20% of the US population, or 20% of US writers.

ChristineTB said...

That's just the point. It DOESN'T encourage the art and illustrations of African American authors unless they write within a narrow category. Their books can only be recognized if they write about an African American family or person.

And the perception has become that our books are not good enough to make it into the Caldecott, Printz and Newbery categories. There is also a perception that our books are not well edited - that they're acquired for "other reasons."

How is that not a ghetto? How does that open the field for authors of color?

I agree that we need more "authentic" voices in the marketplace. For a long time, books about "us" were written by people who weren't intimately familiar with the culture. But I sit in on mock ALA discussions and the range of what is presented is not encouraging. Which is why we see the same people recognized over and over and over again.

I think CSK serves a purpose - but unless it better defines what that is, it will not solve the problem any time soon. I personally want to see authors of color considered more often for mainstream awards and encouraged to write books that broaden their opportunity to create a sustainable career in the field.

ae said...

Love that last paragraph. So true.

This has been a most interesting thread. Thanks for starting it.

This nation is indeed now a multicultural, multiracial place. Why not embrace that? :)

(I feel like singing that Phil Collins song "Show your true colors...")

Jan said...

Um, Little Tree has probably sold more copies because it's been in publication for over thirty years -- Pokey Little Puppy has outsold Alexie too but not because we're all doggists (we might be, but that's not a reasonable assumption).

When Alexie's book is over 30 years old, it might outsell what Little Tree has sold right now...of course, it also might not. So many more books are vying for the pocketbooks today compared to books of thirty years ago. There simply weren't nearly as many books on the market for the age group thirty years ago.

You'd really have to compare a racist Native American story published the same year as Alexie's for sales to be meaningful. And plus, you would have to compare two with the same level of...mature audience. Sadly, a book that is less edgy will sometimes also see greater sales just because too many parents are counting swear words than looking at content. So again, you might be counting the naughty-word-o-phobes rather than the racists.

Jonquil said...

I inadvertently got sidetracked last night.

You are confusing two goals: encouraging stories about black Americans and encouraging black American writers. The CSK award tries to do both.

It is important for black voices to be heard, because they tell different stories than white voices, or Asian voices, or Native American voices. With the best will in the world, listening carefully to my black friends, visiting their homes, reading their books, I will not -- cannot -- tell the same stories they do. And my stories about them are unlikely to give them that shock of recognition -- she gets what my life is like! -- that they can get from a black writer, or to give other people the shock of "oh, THAT's what it's like!" that they can get from a black writer.

It isn't that white writers shouldn't write about people of all cultures -- they should, we all should. It's that black voices are valuable all by themselves, that they are heard less often than white voices, and that is what the CSK awards are trying to address.

For one concrete example of "black voices being heard less often" -- go to the Romance section of the Barnes & Noble nearest you. Now go to the African-American Interest section. Notice how many romances are shelved there, but not in the romance section. Notice that they are literally segregated.

nw said...

I'm a white writer and former editor. I think the CSK is probably a good thing and certainly isn't hurting anyone. I'm sure there is racism in publishing, because there's racism everywhere--although my own experience over the past 20 years has been that publishers are desperate for good work by writers of color and therefore it is easier for these writers to get published and recognized. For similar reasons, it is also easier to sell a biography of a black or female historical figure than of a white male. (No, I don't think this is "reverse racism." I think it is the market.)

However.

While this discussion has been courteous and civilized, and that's great, I've seen a lot of very sloppy thinking.

Some statements have been simply counterfactual. Two people claimed that the Printz awards haven't been going to African American authors. This is incorrect and easily disproved by going to the Printz website and looking at the list of winners.

(Similarly, as I pointed out above, there IS an award for books that promote justice and equality, regardless of the writer's race: the Jane Addams award. I don't see what purpose would be served by converting the CSK into a second Jane Addams award.)

Some statements have been anecdotal and incomplete. Yes, one editor told Cindy Pon that Asian fantasy didn't sell. Not long afterward, her debut novel SILVER PHOENIX went to auction and sold in a three-book deal for lots and lots of money. It's not as though she struggled in obscurity for years because of pervasive anti-Asian attitudes in the publishing industry.

Some statements have just struck me as illogical. The CSK award is forcing black writers to write about black subjects? If you write about other subjects, how would any agent or editor know you were black? And if they don't know, how can they turn you down as "unbankable"?

I also think that there has been confusion caused by the time lag while EA approves posts, and now it's very difficult to tell which comments people are responding to.

Anonymous said...

Deirdre Mundy --

Ezra Jack Keats is white? I had no idea... Ah, THE SNOWY DAY...

re: the OP -- I commented earlier and I've now read the other posts, but if "Awards" in general are nothing more than a clever way to promote books (and I believe they are) what is so wrong with having only black authors be eligible for the award named after a black civil rights activist?

It places a spotlight on black authors. Which gets their books RECOGNITION, which turn into SALES. Why is that racist?

Are we now so arrogant that we think we have the right to tell an established award that they need to change to please us?

Are the coveted California Book Awards suddenly going to be contested because "only" Californians are eligible? Are the Printzs next in line because they don't accept picture book texts for consideration?

I don't get what the big deal is.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why anyone would want to end a prestigious award that encourages and celebrates black writers and illustrators. Just this morning I heard on National Public Radio that only one in four black teenage boys in New York City graduates with a Regents diploma. There is still inequality, lack of opportunity, disproportionate poverty, and other thorny unresolved issues that make becoming a writer or artist a tougher climb in minority communities. If the CSK award causes other major prizes to neglect minorities, then that's the fault of the other major prize judges - not the CSK.

L Violet said...

I agree with EA that the way to achieve equality is to practice equality. I agree with posters here who say that race-based awards and publishing quotas ghetto-ize minorities as surely as Ebonics would have.

I hate it when agents specify that they're looking for "boy friendly" manuscripts. The entire world is "boy/male friendly". Agents might as well come out and say they only want to represent and sell to middle class, white males. Sexism is far more pervasive than racism, and it's evidently okay for the publishing world to overtly embrace it.

Saying "It's the market" is the oldest excuse for practicing discrimination.

L Violet said...

I agree with EA that the way to achieve equality is to practice equality. I agree with posters here who say that race-based awards and publishing quotas ghetto-ize minorities as surely as Ebonics would have.

Also, I hate it when agents specify that they're looking for "boy friendly" manuscripts. The entire world is "boy/male friendly". Agents might as well come out and say they only want to represent and sell to middle class, white males. Sexism is far more pervasive than racism, and it's evidently okay for the publishing world to overtly embrace it.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Violet-- The boy-friendly MS thing doesn't bother me--mostly because if you look at many of the MG books being published, they ARE more girl-targeted, and we are losing boy-readers. But it's not that publishers are discriminating against boy books--they don't get as many boy book submissions!

(And also, if you look at the schools and colleges we're losing boys all together-- a lot of universities have affirmative action for BOYS now...)

As for Keats--- Yup, it turns out he was Polish. (http://www.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/keats/biography.html ). Weird, isn't it. Because, reading his books I just assumed he was writing and illustrating his own childhood..... But apparently he made a conscious decision to feature black children in his books because he noticed a lack in the literature of the time....

min said...

Wow. I didn't know anyone could actually write these thoughts...I just THINK them. In my town, we have a 55% mexican population (we don't say "hispanic" because they're from Mexico, although I have to spend time explaining that before people mention that it's not 'P.C' to say Mexican). We are struggling with better rights for them, but the big picture in the U.S. is always, "white or black." As if that's all there is. Oprah certainly pushes this fact strongly with her "you don't have a background of terror and struggle like my ancestors" talk, but truly, it's not only about that. It's not a contest of whose ancestors went through the most misery and oppression. But as much as she is helping raise standards for African Americans, the mexicans in my town seem like the substandard of races. As if there's now a list of categories for them, and Jose is at the bottom.
My kids have yet to see a black person in real life, but their classrooms, sports teams, swim lessons, etc certainly show a slice of life that is never portrayed in books or t.v.

Anonymous said...

Right. : )

The question is whether the aim of the group is to encourage more stories featuring AA heroes and heroines, or whether the aim is to encourage more AA creatives to become writers.

The Astrea foundation does a similar thing for lesbians -- awarding an annual 10,000 grant to a lesbian writing about lesbian issues.

The Lambda Report, on the other hand, hands out awards for works that feature strong gay and lesbian characters regardless of the sexuality of the author.

Dare I say that we need both?

On the other hand I don't know how editors know the race or sexuality of any author. The real focus on ending racism and sexism and homophobia is by eradicating it or pointing to it in the stories published...regardless of the skin, gender, or sexuality of the author.

That's truly what needs to be promoted...freedom and equality in books.

Anonymous said...

QUOTE: "... I hate it when agents specify that they're looking for "boy friendly" manuscripts. The entire world is "boy/male friendly". Agents might as well come out and say they only want to represent and sell to middle class, white males. Sexism is far more pervasive than racism, and it's evidently okay for the publishing world to overtly embrace it..."

L Violet, surely you must be joking?

Where in YA are only boy books being pursued? Walk down any bookstore aisle and there are I'd say one boy MC book for every ten female MC books, and that's being generous. In fact, that's one lament of "boy MC" YA authors -- since so many more girls read YA than boys, it's tougher to get published with a boy MC. And you suffer from lower sales.

Even John Green, whose MC are boys still has covers geared to teen girls. What boy is gonna lug around a book with Margo on the cover?

If there are agents seeking boy friendly books, I think that's great. They're probably trying to add something different to their stable of writers.

KT Horning said...

NW wrote: Some statements have just struck me as illogical. The CSK award is forcing black writers to write about black subjects? If you write about other subjects, how would any agent or editor know you were black? And if they don't know, how can they turn you down as "unbankable"?

Right you are, NW. Even authors and illustrators known to be Black are able to write and illustrate other things. I haven't noticed anyone telling Donald Crews to stop writing about trucks and trains, or Jerry Pinkney to stop illustrating Hans Christian Andersen, or Greg Foley to stop writing about bears. To go back to the CCBC's statistics that I quoted earlier, of the 83 books published in 2008 by Black authors and illustrators, 17 were about topics that had no African-American cultural content. So again, this argument rests on a false notion.

It seems to me that a lot of assumptions and worst case scenarios are being thrown around here. I haven't seen any negative impact on children's books caused by the Coretta Scott King Award, and all the hypothetical situations posted here have turned out to be just that -- hypothetical.

One misconception I'd like to correct -- having served on the Newbery Committee twice, I can say that, in my experience, I have never heard anyone on the committee say, "This is a great book but we don't need to recognize it because the CSK Award committee will." Why would anyone ever think that was the case? If it were true, we would never see books by African-American authors win the Newbery or Newbery honors. There's no official agreement or line of communication between the two committees; they're not even sponsored by the same groups within ALA.

Every award has terms and conditions that have been very carefully thought out and that are carefully considered and applied when selecting the winners. Every award also has traditions and a history that is celebrated and honored. It is the height of arrogance for anyone --particularly a bunch of well-meaning non-racist white people -- to tell the CSK Award committee that their terms and traditions are racist, and that their award stymies progress.

MelissaPEA said...

I understand the point of the original post, but I disagree. I'm white and I have a book about slavery coming out soon. I have no problem with the fact that there are certain awards I'm ineligible for based on my race. It's nice that any group chooses to give an award in the first place. There's certainly no societal obligation to hand out awards. It's within their rights to determine the parameters and eligibility for awards. Opening up the award to all races would not even put an itty-bitty Band-Aid on race relations. It might even worsen race relations, if the committee made all races eligible to receive an award that had been historically given in honor of African-Americans.

I am impressed with the thoughtful replies to this post and the discussion it generated.

Diane said...

Many thanks to KT Horning for mentioning awards' terms and criteria! What is so often troublesome in discussions about awards is the lack of clear understanding about what the actual purpose of the award.

In some of the comments above, it's asserted that "It (the CSK) can only consider books WRITTEN by African Americans ABOUT African American families." Not true. See below for specific wording about what topics are eligible. I know this doesn't directly address the debate over the necessity of limiting the awards to people of a particular ethnicity, but I hope it puts to bed the misconception about the eligible subject matter.

Here are the actual terms and criteria, from the CSK Web site at

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/emiert/cskbookawards/bylaws.cfm

ARTICLE II. PURPOSES OF THE CSK TASK FORCE

Section 1: The main purpose of the Task Force is to annually grant the Coretta Scott King Award to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding contributions to literature for children and young adults. The Coretta Scott King Award is given to encourage the artistic expression of the black experience via literature and the graphic arts including: biographical, social, historical, and social history treatments. The books are selected because they promote an understanding and appreciation of the black culture and experience. The Award is further designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue his work for peace and world brotherhood.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Thanks for injecting, actual, y'know, FACTS into the discussion, Dianne. =)

Ok, I've been thinking this afternoon, and I think maybe CSK isn't the CAUSE of the problem, but a symptom.

Because it's not that white kids won't read books by black authors or about black kids --- I know when I was young I LOVED anything by Virginia Hamilton---and I was also a fan of "Roll of Thunder"

The problem is that a lot of kids, black or white, have trouble FINDING these books, especially since many book stores segregate them. And if you're a kid who likes Harry Potter, you'll look in the fiction section for more books, not the 'African-American' section.

On the other hand, when a book gets an award sticker, it gets placed face out in a easy-to-find shiny place, librarians direct kids to it, etc....

But the segregation aspect is the problematic one, I think.

I know Paula Chase Hyman has talked about how much she did NOT want her Del Rio Bay books to be labeled "African American." Her main character is black, but the books are high-school cheerleading novels that would appeal to any race.

So I guess the question is, how do we STOP segregating children's books?

ChristineTB said...

“Bankable" isn't my word. It's a word I've heard from more than one publisher I trust. I asked for honesty - I got it and am grateful to know where the roadblocks are.

I can tell personal stories and show you battle scars of friends. Black friends who get positive nibbles on a manuscript - then meet the editors in person and see the genuine smile replaced by a forced one. Friends who are changing their names or deleting photos from websites to keep race hidden. Or a white author at a large house whose publisher lamented that her book about an AA character wasn't eligible for a CSK and didn't bother to submit it for other awards. And “mysteriously” couldn’t make it available to librarians who asked for it directly – and were – instead – offered a substitute - her next book featuring a white protagonist. Or show you scholarship applications for an annual conference in which most AA authors (published or not) write virtually identical laments about the state of publishing for them - that it is demoralizing and they feel pigeonholed.

People will continue to point to statistics, or those few books that passed the muster and say "See! It's not so bad." It's like saying race is no longer an issue now that Obama is in office.

While I think some publishers think more broadly, many others do not.

Do some AA authors write mainstream? - yep - you've seen the names on this thread. They've been around for a long time, and the publishers can count on their names to sell copies. It's the next generation coming up I'm worried about.

It's disheartening for people to dismiss the personal experiences of any author just because they, themselves haven't seen it that way or experienced it themselves.

I'd love it if CSK encouraged AA authors by allowing them to write outside of a narrow box.

Or showcased books written by people of any race that showcased AA life.

But life is what it is - isn't it?

Paula said...

Great discussion!

First: we interviewed Deborah Taylor, chair of the CSK committee last month over at The Brown Bookshelf.

We did so, because a similiar discussion, to EA's post, circulated the web right before awards season. We wanted to know how she felt about some of the current views. So I hope folks go check it out.

Second, as Deidre pointed out - I fought pretty hard to have my book covers race-neutral b/c I wanted the books to appeal to any teen reader who had a thing for teen lit like mine.

I felt a photo of a Black girl would signal to other readers that they couldn't relate.

And while I don't regret it, honestly, it may have backfired. In the end, b/c the books did not have an African American depicted on the front, my pub felt like the Af Am readers bypassed it thus sales weren't anywhere near what they or I expected.

So the last three books went to photo covers featuring a multi-culti cast. But by then - since it was a series - what was done was done.

If I had to do it all over again, I'd still do the same thing. We all do our part to change the system, even if it's just a tiny change.

But, I agree that
The problem is that a lot of kids, black or white, have trouble FINDING these booksWhen I browse my local chain, there are rows and rows of some of the same books while I have to squint and hunt for the teen lit books I know of by African American authors (including my own) - at least the ones that aren't CSK-material.

I realize this is hardly an issue exclusive to books by African Americans, just reinforcing Deidre's statement that it can be very challenging to find Af Am teen lit, in particular.

I think, in an effort to target the low-hanging fruit, publishers tend to focus their attention on making sure the cover screams "Hey Black teen, this is for you." Not sure much more promo effort is put into the books beyond that in most cases.

Like it's been stated, it's a system issue. And the CSK is a symptom of the system's problems.

True enough, the focus of the CSK is fairly narrow. It covers a pretty specific type of book by a Black author.

Still, getting rid of race-based awards in an effort to right things is the tail wagging the dog.

ChristineTB said...

Thanks Diane for that clarification. I appreciate the specific award language.

What is more troublesome is that's not what we get, it's not what publisher's often talk about, and it's not the criterian I've been asked use in 5 years of Mock discussions. I'll certainly take this question back to people I know who have served on the committee in past years. Perhaps the "gist" had been paraphrased.

Regardless - there is a saying "Perception is Reality." The perception - even within the ranks - is that the field is narrower than that.

And I did "mispeak" re: family. I meant African American life is the specific term often used. Not Africa, not any other subject.

But the point is still valid - it serves to encourage more stories of AA culture in the US, but not necessarily opens the opportunities for those authors in other ways.

I look forward to opening a local discussion on the topic. Perhaps we'll re-open this discussion next year? Or perhaps, future ALA judges are listening and realize broader interpretations might be useful.

christine tripp said...

How many black authors (or Asian or Hispanic, for that matter?) have won the Printz? The Newbery? The Caldecot?

Just as a point of interest, Christopher Paul Curtis won the Newberry (and the CSK) for "Bud Not Buddy".

Hope Vestergaard said...

Sidestepping the CSK issue for a moment and responding to other comments, I have a hard time with many of the assumptions about inequalities in publishing. We can't infer causality from the fact that a low percentage of published authors are minorities. We shouldn't cluck because the percentages don't reflect the percentages of the population at large. Better question: what percentage of minority writers trying to be published are successful, compared to what percentage of non-minorities try to get published and are successful? We also can't assume that small percentages of published books representing non-majority culture means that publishers won't/don't want to publish this kind of book. Better question: what percentage of submitted manuscripts represent non-majority culture? Compare this number to the percentages for non-minority books. There's also a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum: publishers want to sell books. If books about minority culture aren't selling, why is that? Because there aren't enough great ones available? Because they aren't publicized? Because the economy is in the tank? (These reasons can all explain the failure of a "majority" book, too, btw.) I agree that generations of inequality are still impacting writers and readers today but it seems like more of a societal issue than the fault of publishing as an institution. Until I see better numbers, anyway.

Zetta Elliott said...

This conversation is much more encouraging than the one on Horn Book a few months back, but I'd still encourage everyone to go to the CCBC website and really LOOK at those stats. For years, less than 3% of all published books for children have been written by black people, and as Ms. Horning points out, more black-oriented books are written by folks who aren't black. I truly wish the folks who object to the CSK as "racist" would put HALF as much energy into decrying the obvious racism of the publishing industry itself. It doesn't bother you that we live in a diverse, multiracial society and yet less than THREE PERCENT of books for children are authored by black people? Equally discouraging stats apply to other people of color. Why not blog about THAT? I'm the black author of an award-winning picture book; I've got 20 unpublished manuscripts and can't find an agent willing to take me on, or an editor willing to look at my work. I've turned to self-publishing for my YA novel, and might have to stay on that path even though it diminishes young readers' access to my work. The publishing industry has proven it can't regulate itself when it comes to diversity, so it would be great if more white bloggers stood up as ALLIES and started to demand greater diversity on behalf of EVERYONE who loves children's lit.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is off-topic, but doesn't it seem like everyone feels they're being discriminated against? The women think they're being passed over in favor of the men, the men think they're being passed over in favor of the women, AAs think they're being underrepresented in awards and EA started the thread proposing that the CSK overlooks worthy writers of other races. I listen to people complain about it all the time at work, and I do too. But I try to think of it as karma--sometimes the good things come my way; sometimes they go to someone else.

BuffySquirrel said...

Okay, Brian, now whitewash away the reasons why the field is male-dominated in the first place.

KT Horning said...

Zetta, thanks for calling our attention to your self-published YA novel. I loved your picture book "Bird" and will look forward to reading "A Wish After Midnight."

That points to yet another important piece of the picture -- books published by small presses devoted to diversity, like Children's Book Press, Just Us Books, and Zetta's publisher, Lee & Low. They have made a real difference, particularly when it comes to finding new authors and illustrators. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most of them only publish picture books, so it can be especially hard for a novelist to break in.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Council on Interracial Books for Children used to run a contest for unpublished Black authors, and that's how Sharon Bell Mathis, Walter Dean Myers, and Mildred D. Taylor all got discovered.

They also ran a regular feature called "Art Directors Take Notice" where they published sample art by artists of color, next to a photo of the artist and contact info. There you will find people like Donald Crews, the Dillons, and a very young Pat Cummings. What's sad is there is lots of great art there by Latino artists who were never encouraged in the children's book world. Where are they now? Wherever it is, I hope at least some of them were able to make a living as artists.

Delux said...

I am utterly astonished at the assumptions inherent in so many of these comments.

Particularly that the CSK awards have so much influence in Black creative communities that they actually exert some sort of control what Black authors actually choose to write about.

Do the people saying these things actually engage with members of Black arts communities?

that says, if you're NOT black, there's no point writing/illustrating a book about black people, because you and the book will be marginalized. No it doesnt. It says 'here's an award for Black people writing about Black people.'

If it's that important, well, anyone who wants to can make an award for "people of any race who further the understanding of what it means to be black."

jdcoughlin said...

I support your premise that the playing field needs to be evened. But this award has a historical context that should not be dismissed or redefined so easily. To attempt to do so is to diminish the men and women who brought about the change in the first place. This award can be open to one segment of our race out of respect for those histories while be enjoyed and celebrated by everyone.

Mitali Perkins said...

My advice is to leave the CSK alone and check for the proverbial logs in our own eyes.

We're a community of adults with the same goal -- getting great stories into the hearts and minds of young people.

What if we each make a change that's relatively risky?

Writers, let's improve our craft until we're creating such great stories nobody has an excuse not to buy them. Let's ask ourselves questions about how and why we're representing race in our writing.

Editors, acquire another book or two that makes you squirm a bit with a sense of your own cultural illiteracy and/or privilege.

Publicity people, champion another title that grownups might not think will sell because you GET that this is not your mother's market.Librarians and teachers, book talk or assign a new title featuring a protagonist from a completely different class or ethnic group than your audience.

Booksellers, handsell another title or two that at first glance might not be picked up by the demographic coming into your store.

Readers and bloggers, cross an extra border this summer. Parents, bring your kids with you.

I know so many of you taking these kinds of risks, and we celebrate them. Let's push each other to more.

The reason this conversation matters so much is because we know that stories can change the world. Didactism aside, they can heal, restore, reconcile, convict, and inspire. The exciting thing is that we're in charge of the most powerful stories of all -- the ones that serve the next generation.

Sorry for the sermon. I'm off to try and write a better book.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Mitali.
There is a black box that limits the subject matter black authors can get published, but it's not the fault of the CSK awards. It's the publishing industry's. Editors pitch black projects to black authors. And during Black History Month, publishing houses justify why white authors can write about black themes. White authors have the latitude to cross over. Their black counterparts often do not (superstars/illustrators excepted).
Regardless of the field of endeavor, the playing field is not level. Black folks are not allowed as much cross-cultural creative range or as many missteps. The gap and the divide persist. Many white folks don't (and never will) get it, because they don't have to in the skin they're in.
The CSK awards are needed to shine the light on excellent black books and on those books' creators. Children of color need to know that they can become authors and illustrators, too.

Diane said...

Delux, I could not agree more. No one award can be all things to all people. Each one has its own particular focus.

There already are awards for people of any ethnicity. It's true that historically they have been won most often by whites, but that has begun to change, probably for a number of reasons. How, though, does that take away from the CSK's validity?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I love what a thoughtful discussion this is.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your points of view!

Deirdre Mundy said...

One other thing I've been thinking about...

Would it be ok to have an award that celebrated "WASP Males writing about WASP Males?"

Why or why not?

What about "A resident of Milwaukee writing about residents of Milwaukee?"

How about "A Catholic writing about Catholics?"

"A Buddhist writing about Buddhists?"

When is it acceptable for an award to be exclusive and when is it not?

Why is it considered to have an all-female sorority, but not an all-male country club?

To me, the CSK is sort of borderline in this sense--on the one hand, they want to honor members of a certain group, and they're free to do so....

BUT if someone was giving out WASP awards, would there be an outcry?

Also, how do these awards targeted for an ethnic group decide what constitutes an "African-American" or a "Hispanic?"

Would a recent immigrant from Etheopia be eligible for CSK? What about Egypt? What about Libya?

Are you Hispanic if your Italian grandparents moved to Argentina, and then your parents moved to the US?

What if you're multi-racial? Who is 'Black' enough to recieve CSK?

Or what if you were adopted? And you're not really sure of your race, you're just guessing based on physical charactaristics?

I guess one problem I have with race-based awards, scholarships, etc is that race ISN'T really clear cut. So how do you decide who's in and who's out?

BuffySquirrel said...

Would it be ok to have an award that celebrated "WASP Males writing about WASP Males?"I think it's called the Booker.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Buffy, you nearly made me spit all over my monitor with that comment. =) Good one!

But I hadn't realized Nadine Gordimer was a man. =) And J.M. Coetzee isn't anglo-saxon.

Actually, reading down the list of winners on the Wikipedia entry, the Booker has gone to a really diverse group--Africans, Asians, South Asians, Irish, Brits.... It may be more diverse than the Newberry for the same span of years!

But I'm too tired to do a comparison, so I'll leave that up to someone else. =)

ae said...

Go Dierdre!

ChristineTB said...

Well said, Mitali! Well said,

When you're facing a profit and loss calculation/discussion in which Sales and Marketing are heavily involved the numbers for any author are daunting - regardless of color. But more so for authors of different ethnicities.

Maybe publishing should break out of it's own narrow box. If that happened -- if publishers started looking more closely at the target audience (the child/youth/teen) they'd get a few surprises and this discussion would be moot.

L Violet said...

Anonymous May 18, 2009 1:07 PM,

I don't know about YA agents and publishers. I have read agents' public statements that they want "boy-friendly" picture books.

Not only is the world already boy-friendly, it's well known that girls will read about boys but boys will not read about girls. That's the fault of society, not of publishing, but publishing workers ought not to encourage it--just as they should not encourage racist reading habits.

Deirdre Mundy said...

LV- As far as I can tell from my experience (toddler son), Boys don't want picture books about boys OR girls.

They want books about dogs, trucks, and dinosaurs. Or maybe that's just my crazy sun (20 months old and has memorized 'Go dog go' and 'Dinosaur roar!')

ae said...

Toddlers identify with books about sounds and repetition. You could be a purple cricket and chirp purple. Purple chirp purple chirp.

They love the classic nursery rhymes (my kids and I did and still do) but I think nowadays like everything... there has to be that additional sales hook (more reasons to buy a book than one thing of appeal). The competition for everything has increased trifold. The more hooks the better.


And EVERYONE wants to write a picture book. I swear EVERYONE. :)

socialtalker@yahoo.com said...

Thank you for your superb example of how racism works today. i will use it in my own teachings.
your rant starts off quite condescending and goes downhill from there.
Editorial Anonymous supposedly decries racism while at the same time showing typical race baiting behavior of singling out a black example AND declaring her connotation as the definitive definition of when racism is over.

"Racism" ends when the lives and economic, social, cultural and pychological well being of black folks around the world are independent of the control and domination of whites and anyone else.
your intolerance of our independence is what will continue the divisiveness, not some goofy, braindead definition of identity being a colorless "human".


This article shows no reason for singling out the CSK award from the thousands of awards given with all kinds of particular qualifers ie a certain country, region, lauguage sex, etc. this is class race baiting.

there is NOTHING that has EVER stopped whites from feeling the complete freedom to exploit black culture/life in any way they like and feel they have the perfect right to do so however vulgar and twisted the interpetation. this entire argument is completely disengenious as to be downright insulting.

whats ironic is that whites control the vast majority of black culture in many industries, books, music, shows etc. and most of what is created is garbage. but thats not thats the main racist issue for aronson, this nameless writ or other white elites, there can be no peace in the land unless they have full control of even the measures of what and how black folks see as their best.

I cant stomach the thought of someone like this EA character editing black children's books. I feel a renewed commitment to save and build black publishing companies. this is war, for real.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Social Talker, you said:

"Racism" ends when the lives and economic, social, cultural and pychological well being of black folks around the world are independent of the control and domination of whites and anyone else.


---

I'm not sure that anyone living in a society can have a life truly independant of control and domination. There will always be rules, they will always be applied unfairly (Look at all the great communist nations, who had/have an upper class of the politically connected and an underclass of the politically oppressed), and there will always be some people who feel that the current level of oppression and domination is unacceptable.

That said, I would understand your point if you meant that you didn't want blacks oppressed BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK.

I also think that, in some ways, the modern US has made great strides. We've basically replaced the ETHNIC overclass with an EDUCATIONAL overclass. If you're black and go to Harvard, you can be in the overclass. If you're 100% WASP and you don't go to college at all, have fun working at Target, sir, cause that's where you're stuck.

I used to think this was a fine state of things (yey meritocracy!, but after moving to an area where most people DON'T have degrees from any college, much less an elite one, I'm not really any fonder of this new form of sorting, as opposed to the old one.

But I also think that racism is kept alive by the very people who argue it must be conquered.

I mean, seriously, a class black woman, through education and hard work, exceled in school, rose to become provost of Stanford and Secretary of State. But because she was the wrong party, civil rights activists called her 'uncle Tom' and a 'house slave.'

But if she'd served the previous president, she'd be a hero in the fight against racism.

Racism doesn't end until minorities aren't considered 'race-traitors' for joining the wrong political party. Racism doesn't end until, when an athlete wins the masters, he's not asked what his victory means to black Americans. Racism doesn't end until race doesn't MATTER any more than 'My grandma came from Italy and so I make her cookie recipe' matters. (And it used to matter, about 2 generations ago...so things can change....)

But I think a lot of the people who claim to be militantly fighting AGAINST racism are actually perpetuating it-- which (Warning-extreme cynicism approaching--) makes sense, because if racism actually STOPPED being an issue, a lot of people who spend so much time talking/protesting/getting elected would be out of a job........

Sarah Laurenson said...

"Without anger, there would be no social change." The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

socialtalker - I do hope you channel that anger into building those publishing companies.

socialtalker said...

this "Deirdre Mundy" person is spouting typical grade school level logic that american conservatives love to repeat these days. 90% of it is worthless as a basis for useful discussion, and i dont look to follow my previous comments with much further discussion because, frankly i dont have to the time nor the inclination to say much else on this blog. nevertheless, i do want to say that 1. i dont fall for the "it's class not race" con. 2. the ramblings about individual successful blacks and the last jibe about protest careers were laughably so laughably off the mark its apparently she doesnt even understand my point. good thing is, however, whether she understands it or not is completely irrelevant.

michaelTO61 said...

This has been an interesting discussion. What I've gleaned from this is that there is racism in publishing. That part of the problem with Writers of color getting their work printed is that there are not that many people of color making these decisions. So there is a systemic problem of racism that is active. But it seems to me that you, EA, should not be blaming CSK award for this problem. This award was developed at a time when the playing field was not balanced and it's still not. And instead of pointing to Coretta Scott Kings legacy and saying something is wrong with that why don't you as a white person take it upon yourself to fix the systemic problems that keep excluding authors of color. You should look to your own community and fix what's there before you start throwing stones at the Black community. Why is it up to us to fix a problem that your community has created over the past three hundred some odd years. That smacks of a bit too much privilege.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Social-- Sorry to upset you--I think you missed the point of my Condi Rice allusion.

(Note--I don't agree with all her policies and politics, but I DO think she is brilliant and hard-working and deserved her position. I also think that she has a right to espouse whatever politics and policies she judges best...)

My point is, that, in the end, I think racism is a problem of treating people as undifferentiated groups rather than as individuals.

So anyone who says "Blacks should believe X, and any black who doesn't believe x is (insert racist insult here)" is a racist, regardless of their skin color. Because color of skin does not dictate a person's beliefs.

Likewise (bringing this back to books!) if someone tells a black author her writing is insufficiently 'black', or that her topics and plots and characters aren't 'serious' enough or aren't conveying the right message for a black author, he is a racist, no matter what his color.

And this seems to be the current problem with the CSK, based on the conversation. It's deeming some topics (African-American history and family life) appropriate 'black' subject matter, and others (fantasy, scifi, light humor) seem to be discouraged.

Maybe the answer is more awards, with a broader range. Maybe the answer is to try to get publishers to branch out a little more, or to encourage black authors to branch out (more scifi and fantasy, please! Yey Virginia Hamilton!)

But, in the end, to conquer racism, we need to stop seeing black children's authors as primarily 'black', and start seeing them as primarily 'authors.'

ae said...

It has been a long day and I am bushwacked..... but just to say, EA you are wonderful and I am so glad you brought up this topic and your thoughts....you rock...

jamie naidoo said...

It is clear through this passionate discussion that there needs to be more opportunities for dialog related to culture, ethnicity, class, etc. as they are presented within the diverse field of children's literature. Awards such as the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré were created because of the stereotypes and cultural inaccuracies perpetuated in children's books and the overall dearth in authentic children's literature representing black and Latino cultural experiences. Authors and illustrators that were black or Latino were not always given the opportunity to create quality books about their culture. Instead, it was Anglo authors/illustrators that created books about the "other."
While we could forever debate who has the "right to write," our ultimate goal should be to make high quality, authentic, and accurate literature about all cultures available to children. All children deserve to see themselves positively represented within the literature that they encounter. Awards such as the Belpre and CSK allow voices previously silenced to create books that represent their experiences within America.
Someone who is Latino or African American is not limited to writing only about their culture and there are those authors/illustrators that prefer not to create books about their cultural group. However, there are those within a particular culture that do see it as their right (or obligation) to create literature about their experiences.
Ultimately, it is possible for someone from outside a culture to write about a culture that isn't their own and do a good job. If that person isn't eligible for an award such as the Belpré, then they still have an opportunity to win other awards such as the Americas. Most authors/illustrators do not create a work with the intent that they might win an award for their effort. The award is an added bonus - icing on the cake.
Cultural specific awards are needed to raise an awareness of the types of books being published about various groups of people. Someone posted that there should be awards for everything and every cultural group. It is important to look at the body of literature available about various cultural groups. If the majority of books available about a culture perpetuate stereotypes or are relatively few in number, then perhaps we should consider finding ways to increase books about that culture through something such as a literary award. There are numerous books available that represent many different aspects of the Anglo experience; an award specific to Anglos is not needed as the majority of books that represent the culture do not perpetuate stereotypes.
If I as a white male were to illustrate a book about young Latinas, then no my work would not be considered for the Belpré because I was not Latino. However, I could be considered for the Caldecott, Jane Addams, Americas, or any number of other awards. So, I'm not eligible for the Belpré Award - is it the end of the world? Am I any more dissatisfied with my work because I have created a book that is not eligible for a particular award? I think not. This same book is not eligible for the Newbery and if it does not contain lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters, then the book would never make ALA's Rainbow List. When I want to create a piece of work, I do it to honor and respect a particular culture not because I think I can win an award. Yes, awards can help boost the sales of a book but they are not the end-all important goal for creating a piece of literature representing a particular culture. The ultimate goal is to create culturally authentic and accurate literature that reflects the lives of children.

Anonymous said...

Where is the questioning of the newbery award? The Caldecott? I mean the pigeon can drive the bus but Ashley Bryan still has to sit in the back?
There has been racism (if not overt than screamingly tacit) in the major awards and in the publishing world for years. That is in part the reason for the creation of the CSK award, to finally attempt to bring some equality into publishing and to celebrate diversity in literature.
How many African Americans have won the newbery? The Caldecott? It was a sad day indeed for the horn book when they referenced your blog in a recent issue, making it seem that you were actually presenting an intellectual argument.
In that same issue there was a wonderful piece written by Nikki Grimes, I would point you in that direction for a well needed history lesson.
It is shocking to see that you have such a terrible grasp on what the CSK award means. Your misguided attempts to explain what the CSK is "saying" is true ignorance in action.