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Almost and Missed Opportunities

I lost a world the other day.
Has anybody found?
You’ll know it by the row of stars
Around its forehead bound.
A rich man might not notice it;
Yet to my frugal eye
Of more esteem than ducats.
Oh, find it, sir, for me!
Emily Dickinson
Almost
Within my reach!
I could have touched!
I might have chanced that way!
Soft sauntered through the village,
Sauntered as soft away!
So unsuspected violets
Within the fields lie low,
Too late for striving fingers
That passed, an hour ago.
Emily Dickinson
 Last week was a difficult one and when I found these poems after a disappointing movie about Emily Dickinson, they captured how I felt. A possible world is suddenly farther out of reach, I don’t know what’s going to happen. As I’ve been reading my various friends’ lists and hearing the fear and worry and knowing that I’m a fairly privileged position which means I need to find ways to step up. For me as an educator and librarian, that means teaching young people to be highly critical of the world around them, think about what sites they get their news from and to do all I can to promote and consume diverse media.
These past two weekends and week were the Rehoboth Film Festival and this year, many of the films felt like missed opportunities; not horrible, but not great. I’m going to start with the two films that actually made me incredibly happy and hopeful.
Fire Song is a film that felt like watching an incredibly well made contemporary YA novel come to life and was a perfect example of own voices. Fire Song happens within a small town in Northern Ontario with a focus on a hurting community of Anishnabe youth with at its center, Shane, a gay young man who’s sister recently committed suicide. This wasn’t an easy film to watch as it deals honestly with poverty, addiction, suicide, homophobia and sexual assault but the ending was hopeful.

The other film that made me smile was about the creation of Austin City Limits, a wonderful movie called A Song for You. This movie was made with the full cooperation of everyone involved in Austin City Limits and is full of music and wonderful pictures. One of my favorite aspects was how much the actual archive was highlighted as they showed where all the episodes are stored away. It made me smile because its a reminder of how a local show can become national while still having at its heart sharing good music.

A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story SXSW World Premiere Trailer from keith maitland on Vimeo.

The third film that I want to talk about is one that felt full of missed chances and also in some ways hit too close emotionally to what happened with the election. A Quiet Passion is a biographical movie about Emily Dickinson and it was frustrating. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, she didn’t travel far from home throughout her life but carried on long term correspondence and did become reclusive in her later life. The movie takes this information and turns Emily into an unhappy and tragic figure with dialogue that feels recited.

Making a movie about a major author is always complicated and using their own words can be a wonderful way to let them speak for themselves, but how the words are spoken effects everything. A Quiet Passion uses Dickinson’s poetry along with what seemed to be inspired perhaps by letters and other writing, but seems to have forgotten that even in the 19th century, people don’t speak how they write. Becoming Jane was able to show a vibrant world and capture some of the life in Austen’s writing as Shakespeare in Love did as well. Both of those movies took inspiration from the words but didn’t use them as strictures. I left the movie wishing that Emily Dickinson’s life hadn’t been presented as so narrow, it felt a great disservice to her. The reason that it made me think of the election is that the movie was written and directed by a man who seems to have only chosen to see Emily Dickinson through one lens and not presented someone who feels real. This happened with Clinton who had articles written about her likability which didn’t seem balanced by her competence. I’m planning on reading Emily Dickinson biographies and more of her wonderful poetry to find out all I can about this amazing woman poet.

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Where I don’t have to explain: Yuletide and Chessiecon

As I look forward into this new year, I keep thinking about how powerful it is to have places where I don’t have to explain what I love or why. I’m lucky that for me, most of the times when I have to explain are related to my hobbies but there are times I find myself defending online life, young adult literature and that genre media has value. This is tiring but I feel that its important especially for young people, being told that something that fills you with creativity doesn’t matter can be crushing. As a librarian, I strive to provide this for my patrons whenever I can, taking on the role of explaining to adults that this is why fandom matters.

In my personal life, I miss being close to people of like minds and find myself happiest when I find these connections. In the next year, I’m hoping to move to a part of the country where I don’t have to explain as much and so I can be an advocate for young people feeling as if their likes aren’t seen.

In November and December, I had two experiences where I didn’t have to explain myself that revitalized me. One happens every year, Yuletide, the multi-fandom fanfic exchange that occurs every holiday season, this was my fifth year writing in it and its become a big part of my holidays. The main reason I love it so much is that every story is written as a gift to a stranger in a fandom that’s shared by writer and giftee. This shared knowledge allows for stories that might not normally be written and when the archive is open and all the authors are anonymous, new fandoms are discovered. Every year that I’ve done Yuletide, I’ve stretched myself in terms of my writing as I examine a form of media I love from another angle and find others who adore the same characters and worlds.

After Thanksgiving, I went to Chessiecon, a science fiction/fantasy convention and as soon as I walked in the hotel door, I began to smile. Around me were all the signs of modern fandom; clothing, jewelry, costumes, small and large markers saying I love this world. I was slightly nervous as I’d never attended this con before but I knew that I would meet friends and one of my favorite authors was there. Once I was settled, I sat down to hear first Seanan McGuire and later Tamora Pierce read and answer questions from their fans. Among all these strangers were words and worlds created by authors who cared and I loved it. Later, I met up with my friends and throughout the con there were these moments of sharing and discovering fandoms. A step that’s often present of explaining the love for something was gone because the question was a matter of which fandom and which part and what do you create? I discovered authors, artists and heard discussions that wouldn’t feel out of place in the librarian community.

Yesterday, the Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA Midwinter and as the winners were a diverse mixture, I’ve thought of panels I attended at Chessiecon. One of the best panels was about diversity in young fiction with a focus and to begin with, the authors came from a mix of ethnicities and discussed that there are its important to use all types of diversity and make certain every character feels like a true person. At the moment, I’m dipping in and out of a wonderful anthology of ya lit about girls being engineers that was edited by one of the speakers called Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets and so far all the stories are great. Another panel that was intriguing but didn’t work as well as I think was expected was about young adult literature and what does it mean and how is it changing? The highlight of this entire panel was hearing Tamora Pierce talking about the history of young adult literature as she’s experienced it. It was a big reminder of how many of these distinctions are created publishers and that authors don’t have as much choice as it might seem. Another panel that has been in my mind due to discussions around Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about the idea of a Mary Sue. Much of what came out of that panel was that Mary Sue is an awkward label, that has outgrown its origins within the Star Trek fandom and the part that matters is to create well rounded and complicated characters.

I hope in the next year to find places where I can be among people that I don’t have to explain and where I can discover new angles on the world. A reason I’m a librarian and active in fandom is because in both places, there’s a joy in sharing what’s loved and an openness in finding something new that someone else loves.

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#Weneeddiversebooks and dangers of genre

Last week the Weneeddiversebooks campaign ran on Twitter, Tumblr and other social media outlets, it was inspiring to read and see all the different voices. For my own small part, I read more diverse books and tried to be more conscious of what I was reading. As a white, privileged youth librarian, its important for me to listen and do all I can to promote authentic voices so that new readers can see themselves in the books that they’re reading. A company that is doing an amazing job of promoting diversity and listening to all the voices is Lee and Low Books who on their blog and other social media highlight other publishers and the discussion around the need for diverse books. One of the interesting side effects of this campaign was that it drew me to a number of thoughtful movies on Netflix that look into how key representation is and I would recommend them. To begin with, a movie about a singing group from Australia called The Sapphires, this movie is a wonderful mix of gorgeous music, the pain of racism and the Vietnam war. A shame of how its been promoted is that Chris O’Dowd, who is the manager in some cover art is highlighted when he’s very much a co-star to the four women.

Then the other two that I want to highlight are documentaries that deal with who is presenting the voice of a marginalized people. Sholem Aleichem: Laughter in the Darkness about the Yiddish author who’s stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof and helped the diaspora of Jews from Eastern Europe see themselves within literature. The documentary is wonderful in its use of archival photographs and footage along with actors reading Sholem Aleichem’s works in character. Watching it happened to coincide with a copy of The Golem and the Jinni finally becoming available at the library and the documentary gave me a greater understanding of the background for the Golem’s world.

Lastly I watched Reel Injun, a film about the harm caused by movie portrayals of Native Americans in film. The director Neil Diamond travels across the United States connecting with places and people to understand what was behind the choices made about Native Americans in film and what’s being done to change the ideas. It’s a clever use of the road trip format to go through history and enlightening.

At the moment all of these movies are available on Netflix Streaming along with other outlets.

Recently a matter of stereotyping in terms of books especially Young Adult novels featuring women happened with my father and I wanted to share it as it shows how books can be lost. When I was at ALA Midwinter, I picked up a copy of Expiration Day at the Tor publishing booth, because I had seen it mentioned on their website. I didn’t read it until I was on a plane and then I blew through it, amazed and fascinated. My review is here.

When I finished it, I knew that I had to recommend it to my father who has been reading science-fiction since he was a boy and this was one of the most thoughtful books about robots and artificial intelligence that I’d encountered in a while. Science fiction is a genre I enjoy but I tend more towards fantasy, but this book completely pulled me with the characters and set up. My parents in the last week had been getting ready for a trip and that means lots of clearing up, so my father has been looking over books and magazines. He saw Expiration Day, skimmed the back and decided it wasn’t for him and I got annoyed, because the cover with the back of a young woman’s head and the description which reads like a different book, he wasn’t convinced. I told him to not judge it on how it looks, gave him a synopsis of the story and then a few days later, I found him sitting and engrossed in Expiration Day. I was glad that I was able to change his mind, but it worries me how many people who consider themselves science fiction readers will pass over a book that has a girl or a YA feel to it.

I don’t know what the best answer is to this, because the strange aspect is this book was written by a man and its one I’d recommend to teenagers. I thought it did a masterful job covering the complications of growing up, but it doesn’t fit perfectly into either box. So going by the norms of science fiction writing culture, it should do better than a woman writing about robots yet because it’s portrayed as more YA, it won’t be. The best answer I have for now is to promote Expiration Day and link to The Book Smugglers’ review of it and keep pushing against the dangers of judging too much by genre. Genre to me is a place to begin, but shouldn’t be the first and last way of choosing to read a book. I know what I prefer in a book and of late I find it more in YA, fantasy and romance, but I don’t want to miss any book since it doesn’t stay in one of those boxes.

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