Consider this a break from the lyrical non-fiction programming for just a paragraph or two.
So, you know when you have a birthday and people always ask, “hey, do you feel any older today?” I’ve answered that affirmatively just once in my life, and that was when I turned 20. I did feel different. I did feel like I had a past, and it was behind me, and there was this whole new decade awaiting me on the other side of the day.
Almost a month ago today, I celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday. I didn’t feel different on the day, not older. But I was changing—evolving—all the same. It started six weeks ago, when I attended YALLFEST in Charleston. There I was, standing in line stuffing biscuits in my face—I’d missed breakfast and was quickly missing lunch—while I waited with a hundred other young adult fiction readers for a discussion on writers’ neuroses. Here I was, hanging around with a bunch of people who were dealing with the same issues of anxiety and incompetence I often struggle with. It sounds so…stupid…when I tell you all that this is what I was waiting in line to see. Because what I ended up going to when the ballroom for that discussion was filled and I was still in line turned out to be so much more important.
“There’s still seats in the Walter Dean Myers Tribute if anyone wants to come see that.”
I chucked my box o’ biscuits in the trash and dashed out of line and through the doors. No way in hell was I going to park it on the pavement for another hour! I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who Walter Dean Myers was or why he was worthy of a tribute. (Suffice to say now I know, and I salute him.) But I waltzed into the almost-empty room just as the panel of authors was reminiscing about when they’d met Myers, who had passed in the summer. Coe Booth, Nikki Grimes, Ellen Hopkins, Varian Johnson, and moderator Kwame Alexander discussed their Myers Moments, talked about the man who wrote an astonishing number of books not just in his lifetime but in a single year (four, I think, was what he shot for. One a season.). And these books, so beautifully, honestly, lyrically written, focused on race. Not necessarily as an issue or the issue—though in many cases it was—but on the idea of broadening the main character archetype so it could encompass more than the white-skinned, middle-class default that I had assumed throughout my life as a reader. Until now.
I went to other talks as the day progressed, and the idea of reaching past the standard main character and the stereotypes that accompanied him or her was a constant. But the idea of race—not just black, but all ethnicities, all religions—stuck with me most. It changed me. Now I look at the world with new eyes, and I see it through the lens of Before and After. Before, I cared about female heroines because I was a girl and I wanted to read about people like me doing great, interesting, even normal things. But I didn’t notice race because I saw myself—an upper-middle class white girl—in most of the books I read. And that fine for me, as a reader. I didn’t want nor need anything else. After, I realized that what I hadn’t realized was a problem—no, even dismissed as not being my problem—is a gaping hole in society and popular culture. Now, I see a movie trailer (Exodus, anyone?) and I appreciate the special effects and the scale…and wonder where the rest of the world is, because surely Moses wasn’t white. And surely, there ought to be some Asians and Indians and Native Americans and Latinos in the mix somewhere, if we’re going ahead and taking liberties.
Now, I see injustice. I see how skewed we are. I see how lucky I am and have been and continue to be. And I want to change things. So, I’m evolving. And as I evolve, I find myself…angry. Angry at the world for how it perpetuates atrocities and sweeps them under the rug and continues to misunderstand. That, readers, is why I’ve not been to Ingenue lately. I’ve needed space to gain clarity and figure out exactly what it is that I think of certain things, and how I want to go about changing them.
My thoughts are still roiling, but I hope to return to you soon. I hope to add to the conversation, as this old year turns into the new. I wish you all a Merry Christmas—and a deeply commercial one, if that’s your bent. Happy Yule. I shall see you soon.
P.S. I lied. Sorry about the extra paragraphs.