We're happy to have Paula Chase Hyman, YA author of the hit Del Rio Bay High series and co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, a showcase of African American children's and YA literature.
What type of writer would I have been without Judy Blume’s brutally honest portrayals of adolescence – bumps, bruises and glorious firsts included?
What type of writer would I have been without Mildred D. Taylor’s enthralling tales of 1930’s era racism and a family’s love helping its children to overcome it?
What type of writer would I have been without Francine Pascal’s deliciously soap operaish telling of twins growing up enveloped in everything white privilege had to offer?
I don’t know. And lucky for my readers, they won’t ever have to find out. I write without fear because of Blume. Without shame of how silly or fluffy my character’s escapades because of Pascal and with brutal honesty because of Taylor. Does it matter that two of my literary influences are White and only one Black? That, other than writing for children, they hold nothing in common as writers? That they’re each from a totally different niche within YA…and actually Mildred D. Taylor is likely considered middle grade?
No. None of it matters. Because, at the heart, a reader is drawn to what’s real in a book. Even in the most fantastical book, readers are drawn to the very real experience of the characters and in Taylor, Blume and Pascal’s books my craving for different slices of life was fed over and over again.
This and only this, is what I want for today’s young readers. And at the risk of sounding like a total know-it-all, it should be what any adult wants for a young reader. I don’t care what feeds their craving just that they have lots to choose from. Book options should always be like a buffet, never like a sit-down dinner. And right now, what the industry offers is too much like a sit-down dinner: chicken, fish or beef – standard offerings under the guise of something for everyone simply because they’re three different meats available.
But what about the veggie dish? What about people who like lots of seasoning on their meat or those who are too sensitive to have anything but a dash of salt? What of those who can’t stand carrots but love broccoli? Am I to believe all fish lovers like the exact same type of fish? What if the fish is salmon but I like tuna? What if it’s baked chicken and I prefer chicken Parmesan? Filet, when I enjoy a good, fatty ribeye?
Maybe I’m a cock-eyed optimist or maybe there’s simply no way this shouldn’t be common sense more than twenty-five years beyond my own teen years. But in a literary landscape where Laurie Halse Anderson can write Chains, the story of a slave girl, why shouldn’t I or Sherri Smith be able to write Wintergirls, without a raised eyebrow, without the main character fighting some sort of racial demons?
The secret is, we can. We have. Spread the word!
The generation of women writers who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s i.e. early post civil rights and during Reaganomics, are adding new flavors to the menu, attempting to force the industry to offer a buffet. But when they finally do, people must be there forks ready to dig in. Are you ready?
Read more of Paula at her blog and The Brown Bookshelf. Paula lives in Maryland with her family where she is currently working on her latest work. She's pretty tight-lipped about the details, but I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.