No More All-Male Panels: a pledge in solidarity with #kidlitwomen

We’re celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. #kidlitwomen

The pledge:
My panels will not be all-male.

We define a panel as a group of three or more people, not including the moderator. If only one woman is included, she must be a panelist, although we also support inclusion of more women as moderators. We will show preference to panels that include intersectional representation.

Addendum: “panels” is how this pledge is framed, but it applies equally to lineups for conferences and book festivals.

It’s not hard to come up reasons to refrain from making this pledge. Anyone who’s not an event organizer can legitimately say that they’re not the ones issuing faculty invitations. Event fees are how many of us make a living, and voluntarily giving them up is a palpable sacrifice. Chris Barton has some very helpful thoughts on that. Constructively handling social media criticism requires fortitude, delicacy, and vast amounts of mental energy. There will very likely be objections to me claiming airtime in a dialogue that is rightfully centered on those of us who aren’t cisgender men, and those objections will have merit. Making this pledge more than a mouthful of empty words means acting in ways that will make me feel uncomfortable and exposed, sometimes intensely so.

But speaking as a cisgender man, what kind of ally am I if I prioritize my own comfort over the gender-driven inequities faced by my colleagues every single day? What kind of ally am I if I silently cheer on people working to fight gender bias at their own risk without doing any of the work or assuming any of the risk myself? Not much of an ally, really. Maybe not any kind of an ally.

Fortunately,there are very concrete, straightforward ways I can be an ally. For example, I don’t organize events myself, but I can pro-actively communicate with event organizers who extend their invitations to me. I can ask who the other presenters/panelists are, and if it’s an exclusively male lineup, I can voice my concern, and suggest names of people who aren’t men that could be added. In the worst-case scenario, I can respectfully decline the invitation while clearly articulating why.

I can also pro-actively inform the people I regularly work with on events about this pledge, and have them build it into our working process. This includes publicists, school visit coordinators, booking agents, and sometimes our agents and editors. Some of those people and organizations – the Author Village, for example – already do this; consider working with them if you can. We should obviously hold ourselves to the same standard when pitching our own panel ideas to event organizers, and we mustn’t forget that intersectionality is essential. As author Tracey Baptiste says, without intersectionality, the movement will fail.

There are resources with much more information than I’m providing here. Kate Messner’s March 9 post for #kidlitwomen provides a very thorough breakdown of concerns and action items. Feminist Philosophers’ Gendered Conference Campaign is rooted in the world of academia, but their FAQ page is very useful for us too. And developmental economist Owen Barder’s pledge for men in the business world provided a helpful antecedent.

This pledge won’t bring an end to mistakes, oversights, and moments of personal frailty. It will not protect me or anyone else who pledges with me from criticism, and rightfully so. However, I believe our declared intentions have importance, limited and perishable though that importance may be.

There will always be moments along the way when we ask “what else can I do?” There’s an answer that’s always right, of course: try harder. I hope anyone who identifies as male will take this pledge with me by leaving a comment to that effect. The invitation is a standing one.

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Scholastic Reads!

Arthur A. Levine being interviewed for the Scholastic Reads podcast
*sniff* I love my editor.

Why yes, in fact I WAS interviewed for the Scholastic Reads Podcast, thank you for asking.

I started writing my first manuscript ten years ago. Two years later I attended my first SCBWI Summer Conference, where I heard a certain editor deliver a keynote about picture books that included a single, sly photographic reference to a certain boy wizard. The year after that I exercised my newfound children’s/YA book discovery muscles by picking up a book about a character named Marcelo, whose story absolutely floored me with its depth of feeling and love for humanity. If someone had walked up to me at that time and said “hey, I know it seems like Arthur A. Levine and Francisco Stork exist on an entirely different plane of literary reality from you, but in 7 years you’re going to be featured in a Scholastic podcast with both of them,” I might have said “HOW GULLIBLE DO YOU THINK I AM?” Or maybe “EXACTLY HOW MUCH HAVE YOU HAD TO DRINK?”

Now, of course, things are different; Arthur’s both my editor and one of my very closest friends, and I’ve met and done events with Francisco, who’s every bit as big-hearted and generous as people say he is. Still, I wouldn’t have predicted this back then. Me sharing the spotlight with one of the finest novelists of our generation and one of the most acclaimed and successful editors of all time? I mean, come on, that would have been totally bananas.

Safety, healing, and TWO NAOMIS

Cover image for TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick
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Safety and healing, safety and healing. I was interviewed in SLJ a ways back, and one of the questions was about having parents in my book who are, you know, alive, and also loving and engaged with their child. I don’t view that as a requirement for MG fiction, but it is a quality I love about TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick.

TWO NAOMIS is about two girls who live with the aftereffects of divorce, and I have to admit that I was struck by the way the book’s four divorced parents are portrayed. I know from experience that divorce is a difficult, even traumatic experience for the adults involved, and it’s undeniably traumatic for the children involved, but I like it very much that TWO NAOMIS doesn’t frame the pain families experience from divorce in terms of personal failings on the part of the parents. They’re presented very much as people with frailties, strengths, hopes, and desires that are thoroughly, understandably human.

The two Naomis themselves struggle with things that are equally real, and unquestionably huge in the scope of their lives and experiences to date, but they’re not in ULTIMATE PERIL or anything. This isn’t the story of Nine-Fingered Naomi and the Ring of Doom, and I love that, especially during these days of grief and horror. I love the intimate scope of this book, I love its unstinting embrace of everyday humanity, and I love the fact that the girls, despite their very real struggles, are blessed with four collective parents who are involved, engaged, striving, and loving.

The two Naomis live in an atmosphere that never feels devoid of hope, sweet, blessed hope, and the possibility of experiencing safety and healing feels real from start to finish, not just for the Naomis, but also for readers of their story.

The EMLA Retreat

I’ve been very public with my enthusiasm for social media, including both Twitter and Facebook – many, many good things have happened for me through those channels – but I’ve always been aware of their limitations, even if I don’t often bother to enumerate them. There are ways in which I’m good at using social media – here on Facebook, for example, I’m capable of expressing thoughts and emotions with candor, clarity, and vulnerability, although like most people I do try to practice caution and curate what I say (with admittedly debatable success, at times). And of course, online communication is inherently and unavoidably incomplete; our physical presence is part of the fullness of our humanity.

I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles with the complexities of transitioning from online friendship to in-person friendship. I do believe online friendships can be meaningful and real, even if they are incomplete by nature, but face-to-face contact rightfully carries the potential for massive changes in perception. And my insecurities about those potential changes in perception are legion, because my ability to openly and emotionally communicate is far more hampered when I’m actually in the room where it happens (Hamilton FTW).

Five years ago I met a very large group of authors, illustrators, and agents with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, simultaneously, most of them for the first time, and in a setting that was anything but low intensity. It was my first EMLA client retreat, and I was very, very anxious. I had friends there, people I’d grown to cherish without having met in person, and I felt confident that those friendships would persist no matter what happened at the retreat, but the prospect of meeting EVERYONE at once had my inner engine of insecurity revving high. I was feeling so hopeful and so uncertain at the same time; I wanted to feel like I belonged in that community. I wanted that so, so badly.

This year’s retreat is now over. It wasn’t an entirely seamless experience, because my personal and professional lives have been very eventful this year, and our industry is once again staggering through a barrage of controversy. I had to work hard to find my psychic footing, and the effort I had to make in order to engage was not inconsequential, but in the end the work paid off. I remembered how much has changed for me since my first desperately hopeful arrival five years ago. I realized, with relief, that my feelings of safety among this group of people have continued to grow. I realized that the structures and contexts that help me express my feelings of gratitude, affection, and connection to the people I see at this event each year are still there, and still function.

I remembered how lucky I am to have found my place at EMLA. I remembered I’m not alone in that feeling, and that I’ve played my own role in generating that feeling in my friends and colleagues. I remembered that my hopes about joining this community, which were so high and so fragile, have been realized more fully and powerfully than I imagined they could be. I’m so sad to be leaving, and I’m so grateful for that sadness, because it’s a responsive, reactive sadness. The sadness is only here now because it was preceded by so much meaning, so much love, and so much joy.

Unidentified Suburban Object: Fishbowl of Prizes

How Can You Win a Whacky Fishbowl of KidLit Prizes?
(Including a signed copy of Mike Jung’s middle grade novel and other Jung-ian author treasures…)

  1. Catch sight of Mike Jung’s new children’s book,
    Unidentified Suburban Object on shelves or online.
  2. Snap a picture & share it on your social media.
  3. Hashtag the post with #USOSighting.

Curious City will follow the hashtag like a slathering shark on a shimmering school of silver swordfish.

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On 6/1/16, one random #USOSighting hashtagger will be contacted with the electric news that they have won the Unidentified Suburban Object Fishbowl of Prizes! (That winner will have 4 days to respond before we swim on to other fish in the sea.)

Blurbshare.

That’s terrible, isn’t it? Blurbshare. Sounds like a poorly branded social media app. Anyway, review copies of Unidentified Suburban Object are available on Edelweiss, which is fun news, if a bit nerve-racking because people are going to have, you know, opinions and whatnot. I shall therefore soothe myself by sharing a blurb. The book has received blurbs from some truly fantastic people – Ellen Oh, for example. Author of the Prophecy series. Author of the forthcoming MG novel Spirit Hunters. Founder and president of We Need Diverse Books™. Super-badass. Ellen’s one of my heroes, and this blurb means the world to me. I’m also entertained by the asterisked note from Scholastic. Behold!

“How much do I love this book? Unidentified Suburban Object is a wonderfully heartwarming and seriously funny tale about a Korean girl who has always felt alien . . . only to discover [REDACTED].* Mike Jung has a talent for writing books that I wish I had written instead. Curse you, Mike Jung!!!!”
— Ellen Oh, founder of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and author of The Prophecy Series

*Are you kidding? We’re not giving this away! You have to read the book!

Fresh Off The Boat, yo!

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On today’s episode of Children’s Writer Having Happy Fun Times: I’ve been tremendously enjoying my super-intermittent Twitter conversation with FRESH OFF THE BOAT star Hudson Yang, whose desire to play Vincent Wu in the imaginary movie version of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES put a nearly unhinged note of cheer into my day. I offered to send him a signed copy of the book, to which he responded with an enthusiastic yes, and how great is it that he’s excited to have a signed copy of my book? Young fella’s a Hollywood star, after all, and I imagine he has opportunities to meet all kinds of starry-eye-inducing people – his Twitter avatar’s a picture of himself with NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, for crying out loud. He’s still happy about getting a signed book from an obscure dude like me, though. Remarkable. I want to serve up major, major props to Hudson, who seriously made my day, and Hudson’s dad, who I’ve discovered I have more than one mutual friend with, and who’s clearly putting a foot way up in the hindquarters of that whole “raising a family” thing. ‪#‎fotb‬