When I’m not writing here, I am very likely covering literature elsewhere. I’ve been a book reviewer and occasional industry commentator for close to a decade now. So, last September, when two authors spoke out about a publisher’s suggestion of removing a gay character from their young adult novel as a condition for accepting the manuscript, of course I quickly learned about it through my usual channels. In subsequent weeks, others told their own stories, suggesting this wasn’t an isolated incident.
Authors Rachel Manija Brown (who happens to write for one of the same magazines as me) and Sherwood Smith brought to light an endemic problem in publishing where LGBT viewpoints are not simply underrepresented, but sometimes actively avoided. This seems to be particularly an issue with YA publishing, probably for the same reason people will say they are for gay rights, but not in an elementary school (as some commenters argued here).
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t a question of sex. The vast majority of YA novels will and do have a love interest, but usually will not have explicit sex. Brown and Smith tell us that there was nothing more than kissing in their story. Sex is a part of life but being gay doesn’t hold any more sexual implications than being hetero does.
The silver lining of this incident is that it not only got people talking about representing different viewpoints in fiction for all ages, it prompted some practical suggestions for achieving this. Several lists started popping up of great reads featuring LGBT viewpoints. Since the Brown and Smith novel was actually apocalyptic science fiction, the genre community stepped up to spread the message far and wide.
I’d more or less forgotten about this until this press release came in on one of my staff lists from Lethe Press:
2012 Over the Rainbow List-74 LGBT Books for Adult Readers!
What is the Over the Rainbow List? No, itís not songs cut from The Wizard of Oz or Wicked. The fine folk of the GLBT-Round Table of the ALA have assembled a list of 74 books that offer positive and valued portrayals of queer men and women. Lethe happened to have a few. . . .
The American Library Association, in cooperation with the Social Responsibilities Round Table, has put out this list for several years now. What’s currently available is only an initial list, with detailed annotations to come later, but it represents a couple of months of nominations and careful deliberation by members of the joint task force, to determine only the very cream of the LBGT crop for 2011. After all that trimming, it’s still a sizable list, which puts the lie to publishers claiming people won’t read books like this.
I’m not suggesting you need to read anything on this list simply out of support. Rather, I think those of us who are readers are likely to miss out on a lot of great stuff if we don’t explore different authors, genres and themes in our reading. I’ve been a dedicated science fiction fan for years. A couple years ago, I read this post about overlooked stories and novels written by women and people of color and it made me question the lack of diversity in my reading.
Shortly thereafter I picked up Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, which is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read. I’d love to see a similar anthology with LGBT themes. But meanwhile, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and select an item or three from the ALA’s list. If you’re a high-volume reader, you surely know this as well as I do: different is good.
Photo credit: Eric Rolph