Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Unpopular opinions and the Edwards Award

Originally posted at my blog on January 22nd, 2008.

Scroll down on this page to the link to "Edwards Award goes to controversial anti-gay author" at YPulse's comment is: Ug. How did this happen? This feels like a mistake that no one will admit to.

You know what? If I were on this year's Edwards committee, I'd fully admit to that "mistake." Only it's not a mistake. Normally I like what YPulse has to say about books and reading, but in discussing the Edwards Award they completely missed the mark.

Kimberly Paone and Roger Sutton are absolutely right in their statements to School Library Journal. The politically correct answer is that it's icky that Orson Scott Card got what is more or less the YALSA Lifetime Achievement Award for a book, but political correctness does not and should not have any bearing on the Edwards Award. If we hold Orson Scott Card to a certain standard then we must hold ALL the recipients to that standard, and that would be ridiculous because the scope of the award is not based on an author's life or personal thoughts. It's based on his or her art and contribution to the YA genre. There's a possibility that in 10 years, David Levithan will be given the Edwards for Boy Meets Boy, and couldn't the same argument be made then, that his writing about positive, fun GLBT characters is somehow wrong and corrupting of teenagers? I may not feel that way personally, but I guarantee that many people do today and will ten years from now. If Card should be chastised and denied an award for speaking his mind on GLBT people, then couldn't Levithan be chastised and denied that same award for doing the same, only in the opposite direction?

In many aspects of life librarians have to separate the personal from the professional. There's one author whose books I don't like at all and usually don't recommend, but I think the author is a great person. I hated more than one book I voted for at Popular Paperbacks this year because I knew that despite my dislike of them, they fit the charge of the committee perfectly. I review for Kirkus and VOYA and my separation of personal and professional is tested on a near-daily basis when writing for those publications. Giving awards and positive reviews to books and authors is almost never a black-and-white issue.

Try again, YPulse. It's not all about you.


Gwenda said...

My issue is actually more about the award being for a book with some pretty questionable rhetoric beneath the story.

Brian Farrey said...

But what do you think of the question that Levithan raised,wondering if the committee would have still considered him for the award if Card was an outspoken anti-Semite or racist? The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is that it's playing Monday morning quarterback. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I got the impression (could be me reading into it) that some of the committee would have had second thoughts had they known before hand, no matter the committee's charter. You're right. It's hard to separate personal feelings from following your orders. That's come up a couple times in history.

It would be one thing if it was a question of whether or not to shelve the book. I wouldn't agree if the committee was responsible for deciding what books went on the shelf and they refused to put Card up their for his anti-gay beliefs. But one would think that by virtue of a "lifetime" achievement, one should look at the lifetime. The whole picture. I love that librarians are the first line of defense when someone tries to tell them what they can and can't have on their shelves. There are overtones in this discussion that lead me to believe some people may be confusing the two missions. I don't say that to put words in anyone's mouth. I say that only because it's the impression I get.

There were thousands of people who were outraged when Elia Kazan was given an honorary Oscar for his contributions to filmmaking when he was nearly solely responsible for the Hollywood Blacklist that ruined the lives and careers of scores of actors and writers. To many, the pain and suffering he caused was unforgivable and honoring him was to dishonor all those he'd hurt. But the Academy gave the award any way, right or wrong.

It may sound like I'm falling on one side of this issue but I'm really not. I have very mixed feelings about it all. I did stop reading Card years ago when I found out about his stances on homosexuality. I refused to continue putting money into the pocket of someone who preaches intolerance and hate. Did the committee fulfill their charter? Sure. Were their other authors more deservings? You bet, especially considering that not once did Card ever set out to write something geared toward teens. (I know, it's about influencing the teens, not necessarily catering to them.)

Give him a lifetime achievement for contributions to sci fi. Give him an award for most clever ways of working the word Bean into a sci fi series. But look at the complete whole picture when you're giving someone an award for their influence on others, especially when it's through the written word.

Liz B said...

Hey all, I'm late to work, will respond a bit after work tonight.

Anonymous said...

Very true! It amazes me how many people -- on all sides of every issue -- are gung-ho about freedom of speech AS LONG AS THE PERSON DOING THE SPEAKING AGREES WITH THEM. If you're going to defend freedom of speech, you need to defend EVERYBODY'S. And if you're recieving an award for a certain body of work, you shouldn't be judged on what you have done outside of your work.

Sam said...

Hey, no one's challenging his freedom to make those comments. But when one uses their freedom of speech, they must accept the consequences of their words.
And the consequence of being a bigot is that you should not get a lifetime achievement award.

Carlie Webber said...

Brian, I think the award would still be the same. Godwin's law aside, here's what's on YALSA's Edwards Award site: While the Margaret A. Edwards Award does honor a specific author for his or her lifetime contribution to young adult literature, it also singles out specific works by that author for special recognition.

Nowhere does it say that the author's personal thoughts, no matter what they are, should be up for consideration. Because of this, I agree with the committee's decision. I might not like what the author says or does outside of his books, but that's not the point. To the committee, Card's "lifetime" is defined not by what he thinks about the world at large, but what he writes in the genre.

I'm also very curious now: Who else would you have considered for this year's Edwards? It's such a hard award to give and unfortunately the committee proceedings are secret. I'm holding out for Pete Hautman's award someday.

SamRiddleBurger, I must be missing something in what you're saying. What does Card's bigotry have to do with his winning the Edwards for Ender's Game? And if the consequence of being a bigot is that you don't get a lifetime achievement award, can I tell the Edwards committee not to give the award to Stephenie Meyer in 10 years because I think many LDS beliefs are misogynist? Everyone's got some opinion that you and I disagree with and would find bigoted, I'm sure, but none of that has to do with the scope of the Edwards.

Jen Robinson said...

I agree with Carlie and Rockinlibrarian. It's not an award for Card's beliefs. It's an award for a specific sub-set of his work - his young adult books. And I would say this if he had written anti-semitic or racist views outside of the works in question. I don't agree with his views personally, any more than I would if they were racist or exclusionary in any other way, but the criteria of the award is about the books, not about views expressed elsewhere. Of course I'll also defend anyone's right to choose not to read Card's books, because of those views. But that's a personal, individual decision.

Anonymous said...

So, Levithan would've been content if the award was given to someone who wrote about gender issues in a way that he agrees with.

Makes me wonder how Levithan feels about authors who have outspoken opinions on abortion, stem cells, specific religions and euthenasia getting awards.

Anonymous said...

I dont' have strong feelings about the Edwards Award either way, but I don't think the comparison of Levithan to Card in the original post is accurate. In one instance, you're talking about someone who is trying to limit civil rights of others, while in the other you're talking about someone working to expand them. And saying that Stephenie Meyer shouldn't be given the award because she is Mormon is not the same thing either. If she herself publicly states misogynist beliefs and calls for limiting women's rights, then it is relevant and could/should possibly be considered in giving her an award. It's a slippery slope of how much and what to consider outside of an author's published works and I'm not sure if I'd be comfortable with that, but I don't think these two particular comparisons are valid.

Liz B said...

I think it's about the book, period, not about statements/writings outside the books being considered. And the Edwards Award is ultimately about the work, not the person who creates the work. Again and again the policies and procedures point not towards the actions of the person (did they donate to charities? work on habitat for humanity?) but questions about the books.

Some authors are idiots and create great works; works that shine, that may contradict their stated opinions, to the point where it can be difficult to reconcile the creator and what is created. Which is why, for me, the point is -- the work. Be it film, picture, or book. And, for what its worth, some people are great individuals and the books? Not so hot.

I also feel strongly that in addition to it being about the book, that freedom of speech is about more than championing the speech I agree with. It's championing the freedom of speech for those I disagree with. I dread the idea of a litmus test, of a checklist of the beliefs an award winner should have, complete with the list of what to consider in determining those beliefs. Published works? Published where? What about blogs? Comments to blogs? Emails? Letters?

Would the past Edwards winners survive that type of scrutiny?

Do we look at the whole of a person? Comments to Roger's Horn Book blog indicate that Card is, like all of us, a complex person. Do we look at only one aspect of a person -- and why indeed get into that, when, it's about the book, not judging the person?

I recently was reading the livejournal of an author I love, have met in person and think is fun, and was caught off guard by a comment I found very anti my religion. And that means.... I still like his books, despite the disappointment in him as a person. And should he get an Edwards Award, I would feel it is warranted.

I remember the controversy over Kazan. I found it fascinating to see who in the audience sat and who stood and cheered.

To use film for another example: I have a huge problem with Woody Allen. He slept with his stepdaughter; the sister of his children. Every time I see an actor I like work with him, I think less of that actor. I still watch his films (but only in circumstances were I am not directly paying for them.) Hannah and Her Sisters remains one of my most favorite films, ever. I am most amazed that someone who creates the films he has can do what he did. Yet, if he were to get a lifetime achievement for his work, would I object? No. Because his work is brilliant. Even if he himself is not.

andalucy said...

I am amazed that an author's religious beliefs are being used against him in this way.

Maybe some people should just not read any books written by Mormons. You know, just to be on the safe side.

andalucy said...

I posted some thoughts about this here:

Peter Bromberg said...

Hi Liz,

Ideally, the Edwards award is about honoring the art, not the artist, and I agree that Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow (perhaps even more so.) are fine works. But...

I think to myself, if OSC was writing that Blacks, Jews, or Women (or any other group that has been historically discriminated against in our country, but now enjoys the full benefits of citizenship) were "[not to] be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within... society" would our profession see fit to bestow awards upon his work? My honest answer is no, we wouldn’t. I’m willing to bet that if Mel Gibson tomorrow penned the 21st century equivalent of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, hell would freeze over before he received an award from a library association.

So in an ideal world, I’m with you, let’s honor good art, and the views of the artist be damned. But we don’t live in such a compartmentalized world. When we honor art, the artist is invariably cast in that honor's soft glow as well.

It’s not an easy call. It’s not a clear line. And I’m not completely comfortable on either side of this issue. But I’m more comfortable with the idea of passing OSC over and giving the Edwards award to someone who is not spouting hateful speech, aimed at demonizing and disenfranchising our fellow human beings.

[recycling alert: comment appeared in slightly different form over at Pattern Recognition]

Tyler Rousseau said...

I would hate to think that George Clooney would be denied an Oscar because of outspokeness towards the Bush Administration (during a time when it was considered unpopular to do so).

I would also hate to think that Charles Heston would be denied a lifetime acheivement awards for his contributions to Sci-Fi films based on his Second Ammendment beliefs (for which, I wholly disagree with him).

I think we have to separate the artist from the artwork. Once we start denying awards based on personal beliefs, I think we negate the awards themselves.

In my opinion, I think OSC's sexuality comments are absolutely asinine, but he still has a right to them. And, if that's the case, he has the right to express them in whatever non-violent form he chooses.

Should he get an award for those comments? No.

But should he get an award based on Ender's Game? Yes.