At least half – if not two-thirds – of the essays in Drinking Diaries (a newly published book spawned by the blog of the same name) are downers. That stands to reason: alcohol is a depressant, and as I've written before in this series, historically women have borne its consequences more severely than men.
If the book sometimes feels like a long self-help meeting—with one story after another about hitting bottom, living with the consequences of a parent's or friend's drinking or simply realizing it's time to slow down—there are also moments of complexity and nuance. Rita Williams's lyric essay, "The Root Cellar," is hardly about drinking at all: it's actually about class and racial identity, and how her failure to deliver a bottle of homemade dandelion wine on time bore disastrous consequences for a coworker. Jane Friedman's "Drinking as a Genuine Vocation" made me want to be her friend for life, and Samantha Dunn's "Slake," about her mother's death due to alcoholism (that is, but due to an untreated infection from falling on broken glass) resists easy answers about the causes of her mother's thirst for booze.
Last Thursday, we hosted a community forum on identity and sexuality in YA lit at Portland State University. The forum was led by a group of panelists including Sara Ryan, a YA author who also works as the Teen Services Coordinator for the Multnomah County Library; Carter Sickels, author of The Evening Hour, who recently had a letter published in The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves; Michelle R. McCann, a children's book editor and author who teaches "Publishing for Young Adults" at PSU; and Vanessa La Torre, who is the Bilingual Youth HIV Education Coordinator at the Cascade AIDS Project. Our panel was moderated by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, a senior at Cleveland High School, who writes about music for her blog, The September Gurl, and is the Reviews Editor for the Cleveland Clarion.
Our panel sat down to talk about identity and sexuality in YA lit, discussing books that changed their perception of youth identity and expression, how important it is for youth to be allowed to read and discuss books with diverse portrayals of sexuality and identity, and how we can change the fact that many identities and experiences are still underrepresented in YA lit.
Kate Zambreno has had a busy couple of years. In 2010, she published her first novel, O Fallen Angel, followed by Green Girl a year later. Her latest book, the just-published Heroines, is a personal narrative woven with the rich and often overlooked history of a group of modernist women writers she calls "a union of forgotten or erased wives."
Zambreno carries readers through the lives of women like Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivienne Eliot, Jane Bowles, and Jean Rhys, using the lens of their experiences to dissect her own role as an emerging writer and a new wife, and challenging the negative stereotypes around women writing subjectively by doing just that. The result is a brave, enlightening, and brutally honest historical inquiry that will leave readers with an urgent desire to tell their own stories.
Listen up, Beyond Judy Blume fans! Are you going to be in Portland next Thursday, November 8th? Do you have friends in Portland who love YA lit? We hope you'll join us for a conversation about identity and sexuality in YA lit.
We're big fans of Sara Ryan, and super excited that she's going to be participating in our Beyond Judy Blume forum in Portland on November 8th. Sara Ryan is the author of YA faves Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts, and is responsible for various comics and short stories. In addition to being an award-winning author, she's also the Teen Services Specialist at the Multnomah County Library. She has admited that it's challenging to be both a librarian and a writer: "I worry about conflict of interest, probably excessively, and I often don't get a lot of sleep." But she wears her many hats well, and even found time to talk to us about her work this week.
Positive images of transgender women in American culture have been few and far between. Television shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and films like TransAmerica have increased visibility of the MTF community over the years, but there is still a lot of progress to be made, and one person who stands to help change that is Brooklyn, New York native Ceyenne Doroshow. Growing up transgender, cooking became her way of escaping the sometimes confusing and harsh realities of her life. Inspired to write her own book after a prison conviction, Doroshow is ready to share her wisdom—and her delicious recipes—with the world.
Bitch Media spent this last weekend at Wordstock, Portland's very own literary festival, and the largest of its kind in the Northwest. In addition to meeting a bunch of people with a fierce love of all things literary (thanks to those who stopped by the Bitch table!), a few of us sat in on author readings and panel discussions throughout the weekend. One panel, called "Out on the Page", asked the question, "Is straight American ready for queer characters?" David Levithan, Carter Sickles, and Christopher Frizzelle answered questions posed by Aaron Scott.
Did you hear that Bitch hosted a YA book club in Portland last week? We discussed Down to the Bone, a YA novel by Mayra Lazara Dole about Shai, a Cuban American teen in Miami who is kicked out of her school and home after her secret relationship with a girl is exposed. Down to the Bone was originally released in 2008, but Dole published an updated version with Bella Books earlier this year. Our book club loved the book, in large part because of the vibrant queer community that Shai falls into after being kicked out of her school and home. Bitch recently caught up with Dole, who told us why she wrote Down to the Bone, why she loves The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and what we can expect from her next.
There are many great YA books that feature queer teens who also struggle with loneliness and unhappiness, and most of us will probably agree that these books shouldn't disappear, as many queer teens do struggle with these things. But when queer teens go to novels looking to find people like themselves, they should also be able to find characters they can relate to who have friends they can relate to! And there are books that feature characters who are already part of or are able to find or create vibrant communities of queer teens and allies.
What YA books have you found with vibrant communities of queer characters? Let us know in the comments!
Perhaps you caught sight of Polkadot, Talcott Broadhead's forthcoming gender non-binary children's book series, when the project reached its Kickstarter goal in April. In this Q&A, author Broadhead talks about how Polkadot will differ from other children's books in which gender identity is central to the story, why celebrating trans* and non-binary identities in children's lit is so important, and dishes on their favorite children's and YA books.