Monday, August 20, 2012

TU BOOKS: Why Target an Author's Race in an Award?

TU Books, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery imprint of Lee and Low, recently announced their first annual New Visions Award. "The New Visions Award will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color," they say.

I wondered why the award was restricted to the race of the author rather than of the characters, and asked Stacy Whitman, editorial director of TU BOOKS, about her take on this sticky issue. Here's the email exchange between the two of us (shared with Stacy's permission):

Mitali: Hi Stacy. Just wondering why you decided to focus the award on "writers of color" rather than "main characters of color"?

Stacy: This is like the Lee and Low New Voices Award, which is aimed at discovering new voices of color, given that so many writers are white. Everyone is still welcome to submit to our regular submissions. Hope that clears it up.

Mitali: Yes and no. I've always wondered how Lee and Low defined "of color."

Stacy: It's a good question. Here's the answer Louise usually gives writers who ask about it for New Voices, which I'll be adapting as people start to ask me:
While our company does acknowledge and actively work with Caucasian authors and illustrators, our New Voices contest specifically promotes the work of new writers who are not Caucasian. We use the term “color” in the commonly accepted way to refer to those writers and readers who might otherwise be referred to as members of minority populations (African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans), but who are fast becoming larger and larger percentages of the United States population. We apologize if you find this terminology exclusionary, but it is meant merely to be descriptive. For want of a better term, we use what is in common usage throughout the country.

As a company founded with the mission of creating books in which children of color can see themselves in the stories they read, we feel it is critical to acknowledge these unheard voices. In the mainstream world of children’s publishing—statistically dominated by works by and about Caucasians—writers of color and their stories for children have and continue to slip through the cracks, making up a small percentage of the children’s books published each year. Aside from our small efforts to promote new writers from diverse communities, you will find there are national children’s book awards that have similar focuses, for example the Coretta Scott King Award which acknowledges African American authors and illustrators, and the Pura Belpré Award which acknowledges Latino authors and illustrators.
It can be tricky—I personally prefer the author to define themselves, rather than for myself to define it. And for me it includes multiracial people (Tobias Buckell, an editor of Diverse Energies, for example, is half black and half white, even though many people just looking at him would assume he is "just" white, which is a complicated genetic thing that society oversimplifies). But what it comes down to is that we're trying to help discover new voices from underrepresented groups through this contest.

Me: Thanks, this is helpful. My opinion is that with all the mixing and melding going on, any authentic experience of a writer will ring through in the fiction if we focus on the culture/race of the character rather than of the author. If an upper middle class Bengali woman like me writes about a poor Bengali fisherman's son (as I'm doing right now), I'm crossing huge borders of class, gender, and caste, but not race ... may I write this story? I certainly hope so, because I am! Anyway, the goal is to widen the choices of fiction for readers so that we're not all rooting solely for educated upper class heroes with European roots ... the question is how to get there.

Stacy: Exactly, and this is pretty much a two-pronged approach for us--encouraging everyone to submit to the main submissions, but also doing the contest in a hunt for more diversity among writers as well as in the stories.

ABOUT THE AWARD

TU BOOKS, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery imprint of LEE and LOW BOOKS, announces their first annual New Visions Award. The New Visions Award will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Authors who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published are eligible.

The Award winner will receive a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500. Manuscripts will be accepted through October 30, 2012. See the full submissions guidelines here.

The New Visions Award was established to help more authors of color break into publishing and begin long, successful careers, while also bringing more diverse stories to speculative fiction. The award is modeled after Lee and Low's successful New Voices Award, which was established in 2000 and is given annually to a picture book written by an unpublished author of color.

Monday, August 13, 2012

SCBWI Debuts On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award

PRESS RELEASE: August 5, 2012, LOS ANGELES — The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced the creation of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award at their 41st Annual Conference in Los Angeles. The annual award, established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children. The purpose of the grant is to inspire and foster the emergence of diverse writers and illustrators of children’s books.

The work will be judged by an SCBWI committee and two winners will each receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York to meet with editors and agents, a press release to all publishers, a year of free membership to SCBWI, and an SCBWI mentor for a year. Deadline for submission is November 15, 2012. The winners will be announced December 15, 2012. The On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award will be presented at the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. Submission guidelines and information can be found at www.scbwi.org under Awards and Grants.

The award was inspired in part by the SCBWI’s increasing efforts to foster under-represented voices in children’s literature. According to SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver, “Every child should have the opportunity to experience many and diverse of points of view. SCBWI is proud to contribute to this all-important effort to bring forth new voices.”

The grant was made possible through the generosity of Sue and Martin Schmitt of the 455 Foundation who state: "While our country is made up of beautifully varied cultures and ethnicities, too few are represented in the voices of children's books. We hope to encourage participation by those not well represented, and look forward to having these stories widely enjoyed by all children."

About Martin and Sue Schmitt

Martin and Sue Schmitt are the founders of We Can Build an Orphanage, sponsoring the Kay Angel orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti. The organization was established in 2007 with the mission to provide a home and education for abandoned children infected with or affected by AIDS in Jacmel, Haiti. The Schmitt’s generous and continuous efforts to support SCBWI’s long-term goals also co-sponsored the 2007 Global Voices Program, which highlighted Mongolian artists and authors. To find out more information about the Kay Angel orphanage please visit www.kayangel.org.

About SCBWI

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature. For more information about the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award, please visit www.scbwi.org, and click “Awards and Grants.”