|Francisco X. Stork, shown here speaking at the 2011 ALAN Workshop, was among authors whose books were removed from classrooms in Tucson, Arizona.|
Photo by Don Gallo
ALAN Online News - April 2012
|I've knocked the first waves of pollen off the back porch, and as I write this, birds chorus while the sun slips in and out of clouds. It's spring. |
It's also bittersweet. Communities affected by 2011's wave of natural disasters - tornadoes, floods, hurricanes - begin now to mark anniversaries of those days that changed their world. My awareness of the long-term effects of such disasters has grown in the last few months. My daughter in Ringgold, Georgia, was fortunate that the tornado that destroyed much of the town a year ago missed her house. My son in Minot, North Dakota, was not so lucky when flood waters swept through in June. He and his family are finally back in their home after months of repairs. For both Nick and Kat, wreckage and recovery have become part of their landscape, something impossible to grasp through photographs and videos alone. The scale of the damage was incredible.
Schools and libraries in places like Ringgold, Minot, Joplin, and Tuscaloosa are rebuilding their collections of books. Some have already moved back into renovated buildings, while others meet in alternative sites while awaiting the opening of a new school. Educators have comforted students whose families were affected, while coping with their own personal losses. How have teachers and librarians met these challenges? What happened in the initial wake of the disaster and what efforts continue today that ALAN members may assist with?
In this newsletter we have what I hope will be the first of several updates from communities who are rebuilding. Tracy Windle of Tuscaloosa describes what happened April 27th, 2011 and how schools are coping. If your community is among those rebuilding and you'd like to share your story about progress to date, please email me at email@example.com to include that information in future newsletters.
ALAN Online News
|Recruitment for ALAN|
Don't forget to encourage your colleagues to join. Here's a Membership Form
ALAN 2012 Workshop November 19-20, 2012
Make Reservations Now at MGM Grand in Las Vegas
As ALAN members have come to expect, the 2012 ALAN Workshop, Reaching Them All: ALAN Has Books for Everyone, in Las Vegas this coming November, is filled with authors: Teri S. Lesesne, Benjamin Alire S�enz and Lois Lowry will each present in an individual author spotlight. In addition, 58 other authors on fourteen panels will speak from the main stage. For the first time ever, an Authors Only Breakout Hour on Tuesday afternoon will offer a total of 30 more authors! The Monday morning kickoff speaker is ALAN's Executive Director, Teri S. Lesesne, aka Professor Nana, aka author of Making the Match: the Right Book for the Right Reader; Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers; and Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We'd Like Them to Be, aka Professor of Library Science at Sam Houston State University, aka blogger extraordinaire at http://professornana.live.journal.com. With the workshop theme, Reaching Them All: ALAN Has Books for Everyone, could there be a more perfect inspirational speaker? Teri will delight the audience of 500 teachers, librarians and teacher educators and get them in the mood for more!
Monday afternoon features Benjamin Alire S�enz, author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a tender telling of a friendship that begins with two high schoolers, Aristotle and Dante, and spreads to include both of their families. His other books include Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, and He Forgot to Say Goodbye. S�enz also has several bilingual books for younger readers. He has received the American Book Award and teaches in the MFA program at University of Texas, El Paso.
Late Tuesday morning, Lois Lowry will tell us how she brings together her new character Claire, from her latest book, Son, with Jonas and Gabriel from The Giver and Kira from Gathering Blue. The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994 and has impacted several generations of readers. Now, 18 years later, she takes us back into her magical prose.
The 2012 workshop will follow ALAN's long tradition of bringing you outstanding authors who write specifically for teens. On Sunday night, publishers will graciously host an author reception where workshop participants socialize with ALAN authors, and there are many of them.
From Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon, get ready to escape into the world of young adult literature for an awesome 46 hours - done like only ALAN can do it!
-cj Bott, ALAN President,
Mary Arnold, previous ALAN Board Member
Jennifer Buehler, ALAN Board Member
J. Bucky Carter, ALAN Board Member
Jeff Harr, ALAN Board Member
Jeff Kaplan, ALAN President Elect
|Ethnic Studies Ban Hits Tucson Hard|
YA and Canon Alike Take a Hit
Things in Tucson continue to go south (pun intended). Just when it seems nothing worse could happen, someone gets fired or the truth is once again held hostage, or some representative of the Arizona Department of Education or the Tucson Unified School Board makes an even more outrageous and racist claim. The recent announcement that the contract of Sean Arce, Director of the now defunct Mexican American Studies program for the Tucson Unified School District, was not renewed comes on the heels of another announcement: Arce was named winner of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People's History.
The Horton award is given by the Zinn Education Project, an organization that believes "through taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past, we can help equip students with the analytical tools to make sense of - and improve - the world today" (Zinn). The award is named for Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. According to the Civil Rights Digital Library: Between 1932 and 1962, the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, provided a valuable training ground for two generations of southern labor organizers and Civil Rights activists. During the 1930s and 1940s, the school was instrumental in unionizing textile, timber, and mine workers throughout the region, often working in concert with national organizations such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the 1950s, Highlander became a seedbed of Civil Rights activism, holding regular educational workshops to promote nonviolent protest and encourage black voter registration.
Myles Horton's students at Highlander included Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Rosa Parks, all of whom would become emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement. "We Shall Overcome," often recognized as the anthem of the Movement, was adapted from a gospel song by Horton's wife, Zilphia.
After southern newspaper ran frequent attacks on the school for allegedly generating racial unrest and promoting communism, the state of Tennessee revoked the Highlander Folk School's charter in 1961. Which are almost exactly the charges against the Mexican American Studies Program filed by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) against the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).
For those who have not been following this series of events, a quick recap in chronological order may be helpful.
1998: TUSD initiated the La Raza Studies Department in an effort to improve the retention and graduation rates among Latino students. The program yielded some pretty impressive results. More than 97% of students in the program graduated from high school, compared to 44% nationally, and 70% entered college compared to 24% nationally. Students scored higher on the AIMS test compared to other Hispanic students who did not take the classes.
2006: Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers, speaks to students at Tucson Magnet High School that "Republicans hate Latinos" (Sagara), after which ADE Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne sends Assistant Superintendent and fellow Republican Margaret Garcia Dugan to Tucson to give a speech on recognizing stereotyping of the nature allegedly committed by Huerta. Dugan's own ethnic loyalty was challenged by students attending her presentation. (Page) Horne attacks the Mexican American Studies program in the media, asking for TUSD to examine and eliminate it. A new school board votes 4-1 to retain the program despite Horne's diatribes.
2008, 2009: Superintendent Horne enlists AZ Representative Steve Montenegro to draft legislation to ban "Ethnic Studies," which Montenegro introduces in the House Education committee, failing to cite any statistics on the educational impact of the bill but, rather, descrying it as "anti-American, racist . . . [and] otherwise unfit for teaching in public schools" (Lundholm, 1047). AS Senator Russell Pearce, author of Arizona's SB 1070 sponsors a bill to ban any sort of campus activities or classes that promote ethnic solidarity in Arizona's public schools. This legislation fails to get traction two years in a row in the Arizona Legislature.
2010 (May ): Three weeks after the enactment of Arizona's SB 1070, legislation requiring people stopped by police on suspicion of having committed a crime to present documents proving their citizenship, the bill banning Ethnic Studies HB 2281 also passes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times on May 12, 2010: A bill that aims to ban ethnic studies in Arizona schools was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, cheering critics who called such classes divisive and alarming others who said it's yet another law targeting Latinos in the state. (Santa Cruz)
According to the bill: Section 15-112. "Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement" states
A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1) Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as
2010 (October 18): Anticipating the law's passage, [Curtis Acosta] and 10 other Tucson high school teachers filed a lawsuit Oct. 18, 2010, against the superintendent of public instruction (Horne has since moved up to attorney general of Arizona) and the Board of Education, maintaining House Bill 2281 violates the First and 14th Amendments (Fleming).
2010 (December 30): The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, in agreement with TUSD Superintendent of Schools, John Pedicone, unanimously passes the "Resolution to Implement Ethnic Studies in Tucson Unified School District in Accordance with All Applicable Laws."
2010 (December 30): Just days before leaving office, Tom Horne declares the TUSD Mexican Studies program to be in violation of the law. He does not observe any of the classes but, rather, bases his judgment on his own perusal of the textbooks and his conversation with five former teachers of the class (Lundholm, 1043). Horne says the only way TUSD can be in compliance with state statute is to completely discontinue the program (1043).
2011: Newly elected ADE Superintendent, John Hupenthal, hires an educational consulting firm to complete a study of the program at the cost of $110,000. Consultants evaluate the textbooks, observe classes, conduct interviews and focus groups with people connected with the program and conclude that it in no way violates the state law. Hupenthal vacates the firm's findings and issues his own findings in June that conclude the program violates three of the four tests in 15-112 based on his "independent research" (1044). It is interesting to note that Hupenthal was a member of the Arizona Senate who had added amendments to the bill while in office.
2011 (December 27): Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal rules that Mexican American Studies as taught in TUSD violates H.B. 2281 (now A.R.S. 15-111 and 112), as written, validating ADE's power to withhold 10 percent of Tucson Unified School District's funding.
2012 (January 10): The TUSD votes 4-1 to discontinue the Mexican American Studies program.
2012 (January 17): The following books are boxed and relocated to the TUSD storage facility: Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to AZTLAN, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acu�a; Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire; and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow. District spokesperson Cara Rene says the books are not banned from school libraries but will not be used in classes (Gersema). For a complete list of additional books from courses in the now defunct Mexican American Studies Program, see Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. According to Tucson officials, these books remain available in school libraries.
2012 (April): School Board member Michael Hicks and TUSD teacher Curtis Acosta are interviewed on The Daily Show.
2012 (April): Constitutionality of the law, as challenged by 10 TUSD teachers will be examined at the federal level by Judge Wallace Tashima of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The elimination of the courses which used these books amounts to 10 giant steps backwards to all the teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and scholars who have tried to provide quality, engaging literature that represents as many ways to be a human being as we know of after so many years of the elitist (and boring) DOWM curriculum, as Ted Hipple referred to it (dead, old, white men).
Among these books are many we have been promoting heavily for their power to help young people make sense of the world and understand the valuable part they have to play in it. The loss of these classes means the quieting of the voices of Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, Jane Yolen, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sandra Cisneros, Isabella Allende, Matt de la Pe�a, bell hooks, Malcom X, Francisco Jimenez, Luis Rodriguez, Rudolfo Anaya, Martin Luther King, and even our own local treasures, Ofelia Zepeda and Stella Pope Duarte. Lori Carlson's collections of Latino/a and Native American pieces are boxed and stored, too. The voice of Cesar Chavez, for whom the center square in
downtown Phoenix is named, has been removed, as well as the voice of our own United
States President, Barack Obama.
Which brings us to now, April 16, 2012, a few days after the TUSD school board voted 3-2 not to renew the contract of Mexican American Studies Director Sean Arce in a heavily protested school board meeting. This is also a few days after Arce won the Horton Award for his efforts to teach the truth about history and politics in the Southwest. Perhaps no one said it better than Myle's Horton himself when the state of Tennessee attempted to bring an end to the efforts of the Highlander Folk School: "A school is an idea, and you can't padlock an idea" (Zinn).
And you can't keep books in boxes forever.
Past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE
Past co-editor of The ALAN Review.
Resident of Chandler, Arizona
Fleming, Susan Domagalski. "A Teacher Put to the Test." Willamette University The Scene. Winter 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. http://www.willamette.edu/scene/editions/2012/winter/feature/26/index.html
Gersema, Emily. "Tucson District Denies Ban of Mexican-American Books." Arizona Republic. 17 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/01/17/20120117tucson district-denies-ban-mexican-american-books.html
"Highlander Folk School 25th Anniversary." Civil Rights Digital Library. 11 7 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. http://crdl.usg.edu/events/highlander_25th/?Welcome
Huicochea, Alexis. "TUSD Board Shuts Down Mexican American Studies." Arizona Daily Star. 11 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. http://azstarnet.com/news/local/education/precollegiate/tusd-board-shuts-down-mex-american-studies/article_89674600-5584-58a8-9a0f-4020113900f9.html#ixzz1sFaPHtFI
Lundholm, Nicholas B. "Cutting Class: Why Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban Won't Ban Ethnic Studies." Arizona Law Review 53.1041: 1041-1088.
Menkart, Deborah. April 2, 2012. "Zinn Education Project Honors Sean Arce." Teaching a People's History: Zinn Education Project. 2 4 2012. Retrieved 16 4 2012 from http://zinnedproject.org/news/news-articles
Page, Clarence. "Ethnic Studies Can Unite Us." Chicago Tribune. 16 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-clarence-page-100316- column,0,6783724.column
Reese, Debbie. "Mexican American Studies Reading List." American Indians in Children's Literature. 15 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2012/01/mexican-american-studies-department.html
Sagara, Eric. "'Hate-Speak' at School Draws Scrutiny." Tucson Citizen. 13 4 2006. Web. 16 4 2012. http://tucsoncitizen.com/morgue/2006/04/13/9256-hate-speak-at-school-draws-scrutiny/
Santa Cruz, Nicole. "Arizona Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies Signed into Law." Los Angeles Times. 12 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/12/nation/la-na-ethnic-studies-20100512
Column sponsored by the ALAN Censorship Committee
The ALAN Censorship Committee invites you to learn more about our recent activities, offers of support, and available resources:
Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, asked ALAN to write to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to defend his book as appropriate for and read by students under 17. Here's a bit more context from Stephen:
They [members of the MPAA] have given the movie an R rating, but they have been very open in wanting to help us find our way to a PG-13 and the millions of 13 to 17 year olds who need this movie and its message. There will be an appeal with the MPAA in about a week, and I thought it would be worthwhile to speak to educators about the book. A letter from ALAN about the book and its merits to help young readers deal with difficult issues would help a great deal.
ALAN submitted a letter (as did our sister organization, YALSA, and other individual advocates). The ALAN letter included the following rationale:
The novel reflects the lived experiences of adolescents and is thus highly relevant to teen readers. Given these readers' inspired responses to the story, the novel is used by teachers and promoted by librarians in hundreds of school communities across the United States. It is a staple text in teacher preparation programs that focus on training secondary English candidates to be effective teachers of
literature. In places where it is not advocated or accepted given the controversial (but essential) realities it addresses, the novel has gone underground to become a cult classic; one could arguably claim it is The Catcher in the Rye for this generation of teen readers.
Indeed, the novel tackles the complexities inherent in coming of age, a period of life filled with confusion, joy, pressure, angst, and infinite spirit. This means the content is honest, real, and potentially troubling for some. However, Chbosky presents these issues candidly, refusing to be sentimental or sappy and, instead, honoring his readers' experiences in a way that demonstrates respect for them as adolescents and as people learning to be who they want and need to become.
Readers witness the consequences of the characters' actions and are encouraged to think critically about responses to challenges in their own lives; they are afforded the opportunity to live vicariously through the characters on the page before they face difficult decisions in their nonfiction world.
The result of these shared efforts? The rating has been changed to PG-13. Speaking loudly matters indeed.
Facing a Challenge?
The ALAN Censorship Committee hosts an outreach team designed to offer personalized support to teachers, librarians, and others who seek guidance in the face of attacks or are in need of anti-censorship information and direction that extend beyond that available on the SpeakLoudly microsite (please see below).
Possible responses include the naming of a committee member willing to serve as a support person throughout the process of attack, guidance in completing district/school paperwork centered on censorship attacks, the provision of letters of support when the full committee and ALAN Executive Committee deem appropriate, and others that arise as necessary.
If you or someone you know needs support, please feel free to contact the Committee Chair directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Announcing the SpeakLoudly Microsite!
The ALAN Censorship Committee is pleased and proud to unveil the SpeakLoudly microsite. The space serves as a forum for conversation and sharing, as well as a one-stop center for anti-censorship resources. At the site, you'll find news on challenges in schools, libraries, and communities (old, new, and pending); suggestions on preparing for and responding to a challenge; position and policy statements; classroom, school, and library activities and resources; research and writings on censorship; links to sister organizations that support anti-censorship efforts; and links to organizations that support censorship to help us better understand censors' motivations and arguments.
To access the microsite:
1) Log-on to the ALAN online community (http://community.alan-ya.org/Home/).
2) Select "Groups" from the menu along the top of the page.
3) Scroll down or search for the group, "SpeakLoudly."
4) Click on the link, "Visit Microsite," located just below the group name.
ALAN Online Community members are encouraged to submit other materials for possible inclusion on the site. Please send these to email@example.com.
|Slate of Candidates for ALAN Board, President-Elect Set
The slate for the next 3 ALAN Board of Directors has been set and features Barb Dean, Sean Kottke, Mark Letcher, Jennifer Miller, Cleo Rahmy, and Laura Renzi. The slate for the next President-Elect will feature Walter M. Mayes and Daria Plumb. The elections commitee included Bucky Carter (Chair), Ricki Ginsberg, Barbara Ward, Kaa Hinton-Johson and last year's Chair, Angie Johnson. There will be a final paper ballot coming your way in late spring.
Look for biographical information on the candidates to be posted soon on ALAN's website. Log into ALAN's Connected Community using your email for your user name and your last name for your password.
In other ALAN election news, changes to the constitution were approved by the membership, and the approved version is posted on the website.
One Year Later: The View from Tuscaloosa
The evening of April 27, 2011, changed my life forever. It was on this day that an F4 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama destroying homes, businesses, and schools. Even though it was a very short amount of time that the tornado stayed on the ground, as I huddled in my hall bathroom and listened to a local news station on my weather radio, I knew there would be those that would not survive.
The hours immediately after the tornado were full of shock. As I strolled down 15th Street, I felt like I was in a war zone. It looked like a bomb exploded. As people began to emerge from their hiding places, the look of shock and horror registered on their zombie-like faces. It was at this point in the evening, that people started aimlessly walking up and down the streets as they tried to take in the shock and horror of seeing our beloved city in ruin. People walked for hours and into the next
morning as the emergency responders for the city assessed the damage and began to give emergency aid to those who were trapped or injured.
As news of the devastation spread, I quickly began to hear stories of survival from those who took shelter in the tiniest rooms of their homes and businesses. Luckily, K-12 schools were closed for the day because of the impending bad weather, so no students, teachers, or staff were in school buildings. The University of Alabama was still open, but the University police department quickly coerced people into buildings of safety. Professors, students, and staff hunkered down into the lowest level of buildings as the storm passed. Many students lived in the area around the University in apartments and homes as well as many professors and staff. Later, I would learn that three professors in the College of Education were in their homes when the tornado hit. Luckily, they and their families survived. But, as the day went on, I learned that six University of Alabama students did not.
Most of the businesses and homes were destroyed in the path of the tornado. Among them, were three elementary schools, Alberta Elementary, University Place Elementary, and Holt Elementary. Even though the shells of the University Place and Holt were still standing, the contents of the buildings were completely destroyed. Alberta Elementary was totally destroyed. Only the slab of the building remained. All three schools' libraries were destroyed in the storm.
Even though the schools were closed for several weeks due to power loss and the destruction,the school communities struggled to find places to meet and scramble for resources. Within days, Holt Elementary was relocated to an old middle school building and the other two schools combined with other schools that had empty classrooms. When each school settled into a routine to finish the school year, the librarians struggled with trying to put a make-shift library together in order to give students the comfort of library time and reading books.
One year later, the schools are still struggling with trying to cope with the devastation. All three schools are surviving on donations from organizations across the United States. These donations from other schools, businesses and people who just wanted to help have made a big difference in helping the teachers and school children cope with the loss of their schools. The librarians of the three schools are still trying to implement library time with their students, re-catalog resources, and
meet the needs of their teachers and students. The process is overwhelming.
Amidst these feelings of sadness and anxiety, the librarians and other school personnel have maintained a positive attitude in the rebuilding of their schools. As the one-year anniversary approaches, the Tuscaloosa community is still coping with grief and sadness over the loss of those who did not survive. Even though the healing process for the city of Tuscaloosa is slow, homes are being rebuilt, businesses are reopening, and schools are maintaining daily routines, we know that
with the continued help and support from others, the city will continue to thrive.
Anyone is interested in contributing to the schools can make donations to the following addresses:
315 McFarland BLVD E
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
University Place Elementary
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
c/o Lloyd Wood Middle School
2300 26th Avenue
Northport, AL 35476
- Tracy Windle, Doctoral Candidate
University of Alabama
|Deadlines for ALAN Foundation and Gallo Grants|
|ALAN Foundation Grant for research in young adult literature: Applications due September 15th.
Gallo Grants for early career educators to attend ALAN Workshop for the first time: Applications due September first.
Find more information about both grant programs at http://community.alan-ya.org/ALANYA/ALAN/Grants/
YA Literature and Reading in Popular Media
Thanks to the release of The Hunger Games film on March 23, the media swoon once again over YA lit. The blockbuster film generated many more articles and videos than I could ever begin to link to here, but one that generated a lot of commentary was Hunger Games Tweets, a Tumblr that included a number of Tweets from people who were completely shocked that certain characters in the film were African American. Discussion of how we read race continues at that site.
On a lighter note, if you don't have time to catch the film during this end-of-the-school-year rush, you can see a much shorter re-enactment by Beanie Babies on YouTube.
Joan Kaywell and others forwarded a New York Times Room for Debate on the power and young adult literature and why so many adults are now reading it.
Another NYT piece making the rounds (thanks, Ebony Thomas and JoBeth Allen for this forward) is Teach the Books, Touch the Heart by Claire Needell Hollander. This passionate defense of teaching literature to ALL students and not just test-prep comes as schools slog through standardized testing season.
If you find links you'd like sent out via the newsletter, please pass them along. You can also post via the ALAN website, via a discussion or blog.
Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas Reflects on Grad School, Graduation, and New Directions in YA Literature
Spotlight on an ALAN Member
Some of us met you first on the Rutgers Child_Lit listserv. I remember a few years ago when you were considering going back for your doctorate. What ultimately convinced you to go for it?
After finishing undergrad at Florida A&M University in 1999, I worked as an English language arts teacher in the Detroit Public Schools for six years, and then in Ann Arbor Public Schools for one year. I had every intention of being a career teacher. I chose to become a teacher after one semester as a pre-business major. I felt the call to teach even as a young child, but had been steered away from the profession because I was "smart." I can honestly say that I enjoyed teaching a great deal, and quietly mourned the loss of a profession that defined my young adult life the entire time I was in graduate school. It has only been within the past year or two that my default setting has shifted from K-12 teacher to professor.
Several life events converged that ultimately led me to graduate school. First, I fell in love with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series toward the end of my first year of teaching. I hadn't fallen for a book series like that since I was 12 years old. At age 22, I was just leaving my teen years, so the stories were quite captivating. Becoming a Potter fan made me admit that my love for fantasy, fairy tales, and all things kidlit wasn't something I was destined to leave behind in childhood. While waiting for new Potter stories, I revisited many of the tales I'd known and loved, and began to read new ones. I had just begun my master's degree program in English at Wayne State University and was originally planning to concentrate in creative writing. I wanted to get a subject-area masters for the pay raise, so that I could adjunct once in a while on the college level, and because I dreamed about becoming a novelist while still keeping my teaching job.
By the mid-2000s, I was well known among certain quarters of Harry Potter fandom as a commentator, fanfiction author, website moderator, and member of the committee for the first-ever Potter fandom convention, Nimbus-2003. At the same time, I was meeting professors and instructors of children's literature on the college level, first at Wayne State and through Potter fandom, and later, through the Rutgers Child_Lit listserv. After completing coursework in nineteenth century British and American literature, I decided to write my master's thesis on my favorite children's book, Anne of Green Gables, and a canon classic featuring girls that both satisfied and frustrated me,
The Detroit Public Schools system has been in financial and academic trouble for decades, due to many factors. That trouble led to the repeated layoff and recall of teachers without seniority in oversupplied fields. I received layoff notices in April 2004, on Christmas Eve 2004, and in April 2005. In the meantime, my English professors at Wayne State, a few fandomers, and some of the regulars on the Child_Lit listserv suggested that I consider a doctoral program. I was intrigued but also intimidated and frightened by the idea. I wanted to stay in or near Detroit. I was fortunate that University of Michigan's competitive but excellent Joint Program in English and Education accepted me as a student.
(I thought about applying to some of the well-known children's literature doctoral programs here or in the UK, but my mother asked me not to leave. Our extended family is very tight-knit and that was a difficult time for us. I was doing some partial caretaking for elderly relatives, and helping my sisters out, too. So I made the decision to stay in Detroit.)
You finished your degree at Michigan in 2010, and I saw a picture of you sitting just behind President Obama when he spoke at Michigan's graduation that spring. That must have been an incredible experience. Would you share just a little about that day?
My friends and I were all so excited and pleased that President Obama would be the commencement speaker. Normally, Michigan's commencement is geared toward undergrads. Most of the time doctoral graduates are hooded in a separate ceremony on another day. However, practically everyone graduating in the class of 2010 decided to walk because of the president our generation helped to elect. (I have friends who were still in their doctoral programs who walked with their non-terminal master's degrees just to be in the Big House that day.)
One morning in early spring, the School of Education sent out an announcement, asking for a graduating student to be their flagbearer. There was no mention that we'd meet the president, but I was hopeful. The primary attraction at the time was that the flagbearer would be provided with regalia free of charge. (I could not afford my doctoral robes, cap, and hood at the time and still don't have them -- I'm saving up!) So I was the first person who emailed the dean's secretary that day. It was very University of Michigan. They could have made it such a competitive thing, but Michigan really does teach an esprit de corps when it comes to your fellow Wolverines.
I did get the opportunity to meet President Obama, very briefly, before the ceremony. He shook the hands of everyone on the dais backstage and took group pictures. It was wonderful.
As states move toward Common Core and an emphasis on what some might consider the more traditional canon for high school readers, what future do you see for YA literature?
I feel as if politicians and powerful stakeholders in K-12 education will soon find that their assumptions about young adult literature are erroneous. Those writing the standards are like people in much of our (post-)postmodern, early 21st century society. We are engaging in serious categorical mistakes whenever we talk about any Big Ideas these days, because very few people realize that the ground is shifting under our feet. We talk so much about what kids are and are not reading, without realizing that this generation of children and young adults are obsessed with texts and stories - when we expand our notions of what constitutes a text.
The social media generation is absolutely consuming (and consumed by) texts. My experiences in the Potter fandom in my early to mid-20s before the advent of the social media era helped me know where to look for this kind of rich, out-of-school digital reader response. Every major YA stand-alone book, book series, TV series, movie franchise, and comic and graphic novel series has a fandom. Without adult supervision, without prompting from an assignment, these teens and young adults are doing what I did. They are writing passionate essays about what they are reading on Twitter (TwitLonger), Tumblr, Facebook, etc. They are writing not only fan stories, but are creating elaborate fan artwork, videos, and sophisticated manips.
Finally, where my generation saw authors and other creatives as mythic beings we'd see once in a blue moon at a talk, or that we'd write a fan letter to, this generation of readers are interacting with authors multimodally. John Green and Neil Gaiman are just two examples among many whose readers eagerly follow them via blog and Twitter. Cassandra Clare, originally a Potter fandom friend of mine, has a Tumblr that's well followed. Cecily von Ziegesar, the creator of Alloy Entertainment's Gossip Girl book series, Tweets every week about her opinions on the TV show, which couldn't be more different from her stories. Some of my favorite sister-authors like Zetta Elliott, Sharon Flake, and a whole host of others also are present digitally, and talk about their work as they comment on the larger field.
What does this all mean? The landscape of YA literature, who's writing it, who's reading it, what counts as "reading" and "writing," and what counts as YA literature itself is rapidly changing. I'm sure I'll always love text best and first because I grew up and came of age in the late 20th century. However, because of my nascent research as a new professor in the field and my own experiences as a reader and fan, I'm not so sure that I want to lament what's going on here without getting a handle on it first.
Please tell us about the book(s) you'll soon have published.
Reading African American Experiences in the Obama Era: Theory, Advocacy, Activism
was published in March 2012 by Peter Lang. Co-edited by myself and Dr. Shanesha R.F. Brooks-Tatum of the Atlanta University Center, the edited volume was inspired by our experiences as graduate students writing our dissertations during the meteoric rise of Barack Obama. Here's what we wrote at the time:
"The full social and political impact of the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States has yet to be determined. Specific attention has been paid to the election's impact on the African American community, for whom the early twenty-first century has been both the best and the worst of times, but how do we tell the story of the Obama era as it relates to the Black community? The Black middle and upper-middle classes have expanded considerably in the two generations since the Civil Rights movements of the middle 20th century. The number of African Americans with post-secondary education has skyrocketed, and Black representation across many professions has increased. Many of the most visible Americans hail from African descent, from Chris Rock to Oprah Winfrey. Additionally, immigrants from the African diaspora are among the nation's most successful new entrepreneurs, health professionals, and intellectuals.
However, there is an expanding gap between these success stories and the growing Black underclass. For those African Americans who live in impoverished urban and rural communities, life has become desperate indeed. The corporate takeover of agricultural production in the South and the de-industrialization of American's urban centers have devastated historic Black communities. Where schools, churches, and community centers once thrived, urban blight, failing school systems, and a palpable sense of despair have led to a sharp increase in troubled families, unsafe neighborhoods, and poor mental and physical health. What then, is the impact of our black President and First Lady when black communities face strident challenges in the face of such widespread success?
Of course, hasty generalizations do not present an accurate picture of what it means to be "Black in America" in the present moment. The lived experiences of African-American men, women, and children in 2010 are complex, multifaceted, and differ from individual to individual. Yet when we look at the broad picture, some common themes emerge.
The election of President Barack Obama has been considered a triumph for Black America. However, many thinkers, scholars, and educators are warning of the dangers inherent in Obama's rise to the top of American politics and life. A few of these dangers include:
- the perpetuation of the meritocractic myth ("He did it through hard work and sacrifice - why can't you?"),
- the sentiment that the election of the first president of African descent rights all wrongs and transports us into a post-racial era,
- the increased blindness towards the continued, unequal suffering in Black communities on many levels (economic, educational, social, structural, etc.).
This timely and essential work considers what is at stake in triumph of a victorious 2008 election, and the danger inherent in the current historical moment. Although many prominent voices are chronicling this exciting era, from Professor Cornel West to CNN's Black in America, we seek to explore the implications of history and contemporary society for students, teachers, and activists on the ground in both Black communities and integrated contexts. We especially seek to speak to the language and literacy education of our young people. Future students, activists, teachers, and scholars will look for accounts about the impact of the early 21st century on the language and literate lives of African American children, teens, and young adults. We see this volume as one of the texts current and future generations will utilize as they take stock of the Obama Era.
The purpose of this book is to provide students, teachers, and activists with conceptual tools and practical strategies to apply as we read the "word" of multimodal texts and the 21st century "world", and to encourage readers to ask themselves what this moment means for the language and literacy teaching of African-American life. We are scholars, teacher educators, researchers, and community activists of African descent who hail from a variety of perspectives. We will demonstrate how to encourage dialogue across the curriculum and the community, with an emphasis on the role of new media and popular culture. In doing so, we consciously encourage movement away from passive consumption of texts and experiences, and towards thoughtful analysis of this moment in time.
It was a book that I had to write before starting my career as a scholar. I feel very proud about the introduction that Shanesha and I wrote together, and about my chapter in the volume, "The Next Chapter of Our Story: Rethinking African American Metanarratives in Schooling and Society." It helped set my research agenda for the first decade of my career as a scholar. There is so much more that I'd like to say about what I've written above that's specifically about adolescent literatures and literacies.
You had another major announcement recently on the listserv. Would you tell us a little about the move and your plans?
This year (July 2012), I'll be starting a new position as an assistant professor of literacy education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. I am preparing to teach courses in secondary literacy, as well as children's and young adult literature.
Currently, I am working on a number of projects in my two streams of research. My emphasis as a literacy scholar is that I am fascinated by the category mistakes/errors that people are making when discoursing about early 21st century phenomena that, I suspect, we haven't developed the language for yet. There were postwar, 1960s/1970s, and then 1980s era ways of speaking about, defining, and conceptualizing everything. Yet we live in a different world. My dissertation tells the story of an action research project that I designed to help high school English teachers use the tools of discourse analysis to understand that what they think they're communicating to their students isn't actually what their students are getting out of their words. I see that phenomenon everywhere. It's led to the destruction of our public discourse at a time when we have more digital megaphones than ever to get our opinions across. So, I'll be working on that for the next decade or so, specifically looking at school-based and out of school literacy learning environments (e.g., libraries, community centers, etc.).
The other research that is near and dear to my heart, and what I'd like to contribute to the children's and young adult literature world, is to look at how the experiences of young people of color (especially, but not exclusively, young people of African descent) are represented in texts (broadly construed) that aren't necessarily for, by, or about POC. My two articles in the field thus far are about the way that Philip Pullman represented a multiracial protagonist, and asking for us as a field to expand what we mean by "urban" YA literature. (Gossip Girls is urban YA literature too, to the point that New York City is the other main character in both the novel series and the book, but it's rarely viewed as such. So what do we really mean when we say urban? Do we mean multicultural/ multiethnic/multiracial? If so, we should say that, acknowledging that not all people of color live in cities.)
I'm very interested in the ways in which POC characters (and readers, and interactants with text) "transgress" spaces where they aren't (traditionally) supposed to be. I rarely have been the imagined reader, I'd suspect, for most of the fiction that I've read. I like speculative fiction best, so I would like to eventually write about how characters of color are faring in what I see as (often) all-white or majority-white magical or future worlds. In my chapter in Jamie Naidoo Campbell's and Sarah Park's forthcoming volume, Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading, I write:
"If there are few (or zero) young African American detectives, doctors, crime fighters, superheroes, brave soldiers and knights, or princesses in our stories, what ideas about the humanity, the diversity within, and the inherent worth might young people from other cultures take away from their readings? What might Black kids and teens themselves come to believe about their inherent worth? How does this affect the development of young readers' imaginations, dreams, and aspirations?"
My chapter is specifically about African American juvenile fiction, but this goes for all youth characters who are not represented or who are underrepresented in our stories -- teens of color, GLBT youth, young people from different cultures and religions, young people who are differently abled physically, mentally, or emotionally. As someone asked me recently during an online discussion of The Hunger Games, will we ever see a time when a youngster of color is the next Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, or Edward Cullen? I believe that the answer is : "Sooner than we may have thought." Anything that I can do through my criticism, teaching, mentoring, and role as participant and observer in reader communities to hasten that day, I would like to do.
Calls for Manuscripts and Proposals
The ALAN Review
Winter 2013 Theme: Flash Back-Forge Ahead: Dynamism and Transformation in Young Adult Literature
In her Fall 2011 President's Column, Wendy Glenn reflects that our field manages to "successfully shift and sway with time and changing elements, while maintaining a core commitment to young people and the books written for them." For this call, we wonder, like Glenn, what topics, voices, and forms have shaped our field and what we anticipate those future ones will be. What titles endure and why? Which ones are poised to become readers' favorites? As we pursue the next trend in young adult literature, what should we be careful not to lose? What will our future roles as young adult literature advocates be and with whom should we be forging relationships? This theme is meant to be open to interpretation, and we welcome manuscripts addressing pedagogy as well as theoretical concerns. General submissions are also welcome. Submission deadline: July 1.
Summer 2013 Theme: 40th Anniversary Issue
While we will be soliciting articles from past ALAN presidents and editors as well as influential young adult authors, we welcome submissions that reflect on the past 40 years of ALAN. Submission deadline: November 1, 2012.
The ALAN Review: Stories from the Field Editors' Note: Stories from the Field invites readers to share a story about young adult literature. This section features brief vignettes (approximately 300 words) from practicing teachers and librarians who would like to share their interactions with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators around young adult literature. Please send your stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall 2012/Winter 2013 Theme: In Defense of Young Adult Texts: Common Core State Standards and the Demand for Increased K-12 Text Complexity - Deadline: September 1, 2012. Contact email@example.com for more information.
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