Nerd Award Season: Lesbian Authors Honored by American Library Association

Oh, award season, how you slay me! The anticipation! The crushing let downs of things I loved not getting recognized, followed by the buoyant happiness for those that did!

Right, so I’m not talking about the Golden Globes, the SAGs, or the Oscars, although I love those, too. I’m talking about a day that’s very special to those of us who belong to the best nerdom of all: the day the Youth Media Awards are presented at the American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Meeting. Librarians! Books for youth! A million categories! What a dream! And this year there were some great gay doozies, although not as many gay doozies as I really wanted in my heart of hearts. But are there ever?

Here’s a rundown of just some of the news:

Tamora Pierce wins the Margaret A. Edwards Award

The Margaret A. Edwards Award is the lifetime achievement award of young adult lit, honoring an author and their body of work for “for significant and lasting contribution” to the field. The award is no stranger to strong women, having honored so many of my favorite ladies in past, such as Judy Blume, Cynthia Voigt, Nancy Garden, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin, Francesca Lia Block, Jacqueline Woodson, Lois Lowry, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Tamora Pierce’s fantasy novels almost always include feminist themes, and quite often include queer ones, as well. In fact, almost any time I put out a call for suggestions for either fantasy novels or young adult novels, Tamora Pierce’s name always gets brought up. It’s my approximation that 92% of all lesbians love her. Give or take. But here’s my confession: I still have never read one of her multitude of books. In honor of this great award, however, I’d really like to actually take the leap. So tell me, fellow readers: What is her absolute GAYEST book? I’ll start from there.

The Rainbow Lists Announce Their Top Tens

A queer roundtable rounded and tabled by the ALA has been putting out two lists each year for the last five years: an Over the Rainbow List for adults, and a plain Rainbow List for young adults. Why do the adults get the more creative title, yo? Anyway, the roundtables examine hundreds of queer titles that have been nominated throughout the year. At the mid-winter meeting, they announce their lists of what they believe to be the highlights from those nominations, along with a Top 10 within those lists that are REALLY the best of the best.

The Over the Rainbow List’s Top 10 included an overwhelming amount of lady authors. The usual suspects were included, such as Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, and Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? There were also some titles I had never heard of, like Shannon Cain’s The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, a collection of short stories; Luisita Lopez Torregrosa’s Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, a luscious-sounding memoir by a journalist in the Philippines, and Transfigurations, which seems like a remarkable collection of photographs of the trans community by Jana Marcus (also named the Best LGBT Non-Fiction Book of 2012 in the Independent Publisher Book Awards), which I believe I need to get my hands on as soon as physically possible. The remarkable collections No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics and Love, Christopher Street: Reflections of New York were also given a nod.

The Rainbow List Top 10 recognized several of my favorite books of the year: Malindo Lo’s Adaptation, A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers, and Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, as well as The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon. I was also happy to see Lisa Jenn Bigelow’s Starting From Here in the Top 10, which I’m crediting as my book-I-loved-but-didn’t-shout-about-enough nomination from last year. I was equally bummed, and surprised, to not see Madeleine George’s The Difference Between You and Me make the top cut (while it was still included on the overall list).

A Gay Book With an Awesome Title Wins All the Awards Basically

Without a doubt, one of the books that’s created the most buzz from the award ceremonies today was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I have picked up this book and said, “I need to read this,” at least thirty times over the last year, if simply for the wonderful title and stunning cover alone. (A prolific author, this is a combo that’s not new for Saenz: whenever I see Last Night I Sang to the Monster, another crazy awesome title penned by him with an equally haunting cover, I get chills.) The only reason I didn’t ever actually read it was because I knew the story involved two boys, and I had so many lesbian books stacked in front of me to read first. Which, really, is a pretty silly reason.

But obviously I should have, because it set some sort of record this year. In addition to being a Rainbow List Top 10 pick, it won the Pura Belpre Award, an honor for an author “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience,” the first queer novel to be awarded in that field, and accordingly such an important milestone for that culture (as for every culture). It also won the Stonewall Award (more on that in a moment). And to top it all off, it also received a Printz Honor. The Printz is considered to be the creme de la creme in the young adult world, and Aristotle also marks one of the first real queer books—which I take to mean, a novel whose primary characters are gay—to make it into the Printz echelon.

OK, this actually isn’t quite true. Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love received an honor in 2000, which featured a lesbian as one of the main characters, and Garret Freymann-Wyr’s honor book My Heartbeat in 2003 featured a girl’s strange love-triangle-y relationship with her brother’s queer boyfriend. (Adam Rapp’s 2010 honor book Punkzilla also featured a gay brother.) But Hard Love focused mainly on the character’s straight male best friend falling in with her, and the troubles that caused, and My Heartbeat ended really strangely, and not really happily for the gay folks. To my knowledge, Aristotle is the first book that’s been honored that actually features two gay people in a meaningful relationship with each other as the main plot. Hallelujah. The Printz is a big deal: practically every librarian, and every bookstore, in the country will make sure they have copies of all the Printz and Newbery titles from today on. Read: from today on, there will be more queer books in kids’ hands.

And while I celebrate this book’s recognition, I do still look forward to the day when a queer-themed book takes home the actual top prize. I had a great conversation with one of my favorite authors about these awards the day before they were announced, and she told the story of editors and publishers telling writers such as herself that if they include gay characters in their books, they run the risk of not seeming as eligible for the top ALA awards—just “the gay one.”

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