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Diversity in YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults: Updated for 2014

By Malinda Lo

Last fall, I wrote about the diversity in the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, which are issued annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association. These lists are often used for collection development and can be very helpful in boosting awareness of a book. Because the 2014 BFYA list was released last month, I thought I’d update my analysis with this year’s data.

Defining My Terms

To briefly recap from last time, my analysis focuses on the following things:

  • The percentage of authors of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of main characters of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of LGBTQ main characters on the lists.
  • The percentage of disabled main characters on the lists.

While recognizing that all categorizations of race and ethnicity are imperfect, I broke down race/ethnicity as follows:

  • White – Characters with European origins (This definition is different from the US Census definition, which also includes those from the Middle East and Northern Africa, because I wanted to count Middle Eastern characters)
  • Asian – Characters with Asian origins including members of the Asian diaspora and South Asians
  • Black – Characters with African origins including African Americans
  • Latino – Hispanic and Latino Americans; characters from Latin America (Exception: Indigenous people are identified as Indigenous even if they’re from Latin America)
  • Mixed Race – Characters of mixed race backgrounds
  • Indigenous – Including American Indians and Indigenous peoples from around the world
  • Middle Eastern – Characters from the Middle East, e.g., Iran
  • SF/F of color – Characters from a secondary or futuristic science fiction or fantasy world who have a race that does not precisely match our contemporary US understandings, but which is situated as being nonwhite in that secondary or futuristic world

Authors of Color

The representation of authors of color on the BFYA lists continues to be regrettably poor, although in 2014 there was a small uptick in the percentage of authors of color to 10% (from 7.8% in 2013). Continue reading Diversity in YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults: Updated for 2014

Interview with YALSA President Shannon Peterson

shannonpeterson-yalsaAfter our post on diversity in the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, which are administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, YALSA’s president, Shannon Peterson, agreed to answer a few questions about BFYA. Be sure to also check out our interview with BFYA committee member Edith Campbell.

Diversity in YA: What do you believe is the purpose of the Best Fiction for Young Adults list, particularly in comparison to all the other lists and awards that are released every year by ALA’s various divisions?

Shannon Peterson: YALSA’s selection lists (including BFYA) are meant to support library workers in their collection development and reader’s advisory efforts with teens.

DiYA: According to the BFYA committee’s fuction statement, the titles on the BFYA list are “selected for their demonstrable or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult.” Who is this “young adult”that the statement refers to?

SP: YALSA defines young adults as youth who are the between the ages of 12 and 18.

DiYA: Do you believe that the BFYA list should attempt to be more broadly inclusive of diversity, including race, sexual orientation, and disability? Why or why not?

SP: The BFYA committee should continue to select the best titles published in a given year with the end of goal of providing a collection development tool to be used by librarians in diverse communities. Thinking more broadly, it’s clearly important for the YA lit community (publishers, authors, and librarians) to continue to explore questions of what constitutes “diverse” for today’s teens, how/whether available titles and the characters therein are protrayed and written authentically, and if the market accurately reflects its readership.

DiYA: Do you have any thoughts on why the percentage of authors of color on the BFYA lists is so low?

SP: It would be interesting to determine the breakdown of diverse titles (however that is defined) that are actually published for young adults in a given year and anazlyze the data of whether/how any given “best of” lists reflect what is available in the market. Knowing that information would provide a more clear representation of how selection committees are actually faring with the titles that they are given.

DiYA: Do you think the BFYA should attempt to be more inclusive of authors of color? Why or why not?

SP: The volunteers who come together to create YALSA’s selection and award committees should always strive to identify the best titles related to the function of their list, whether that be finding the best titles for reluctant readers (Quick Picks), the best titles on a particular theme available in paperback (Popular Paperbacks), the best titles by debut authors (Morris), or the best teen literature in a given calendar year (Printz).  Given the ever increasing number of young adult titles published in a given year — roughly 4,000 annually —this is a challenging task. YALSA is always looking for better ways to help our volunteers sort through these thousands of titles so that they can identify the best potential candidates for lists and awards.

Shannon Peterson is currently serving as the 2013–2014 YALSA President. She is also a book selector, programmer, and youth advocate in her role as Youth Services Manager at Kitsap Regional Library. She can be reached atspeterson@krl.org or via her Twitter handle @Shantasmagoria.

Interview With Edith Campbell, BFYA Committee Member

Edith Campbell is a reference/instruction librarian at Indiana State University who blogs about books for teens of color at Crazy Quilt Edi and tweets @CrazyQuilts. She is also serving on this year’s Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, and agreed to answer a few questions for Diversity in YA about how she became involved with BFYA and how it all works.

Update 9/25/13: The responses Edith Campbell provided in the interview were hers and do not reflect opinions of YALSA or the BFYA committee.

Diversity in YA: How did you become involved with the BFYA committee, and why did you want to be on the committee?

Edith Campbell: I completed an online YALSA form last fall to volunteer for a variety of committees. I was interested in BFYA because I know there aren’t many librarians of color active on this or any selection committee. I wanted to be actively involved in creating opportunities for authors of color and not just complaining about it. I was asked to be part of a couple of other YALSA committees, but BFYA is so time consuming that it’s the only YALSA committee I’m on this year.

DiYA: According to the BFYA policies and procedures, anyone may nominate a work of YA fiction for BFYA. Then, a committee member must second this “field nomination” in order for the committee to actively consider it. Do you know about what proportion of nominated titles come from “the field”?

EC: Very few nominations come in as field nominations. I’d estimate fewer than a fifth.

DiYA: Can you take me through the procedures of what you’ve been doing while on this committee? For example, how do you decide which books to read? Do you communicate with your fellow committee members about what you’re reading over the course of the year?

EC: While we’re free to read any YA fiction that has been released during the appropriate part of the year, we’ve decided for each of us to address a particular genre. Some may focus on younger teens while others focus on mystery, romance or supernatural. That helps us tp be certain we’re addressing a wide range of reading interests. We’re sent a wide variety of books throughout the year. I sometimes select what to read from what I’ve been sent but we can also work through BFYA to request books. I notice we don’t seem to get many books from authors of color or that address diversity when it comes to religion, ethnicity or ability level and I often request those. Committee members do discuss our readings throughout the year.

DiYA: Who sends you these books to consider?

EC: We’re sent books by the publishers.

DiYA: Every year at ALA Midwinter there are sessions in which teen readers are invited to give their opinions on the BFYA nominations. What is the purpose of these sessions? Do the teens’ opinions have any bearing on the BFYA committee’s decisions?

EC: Teen interest plays a huge role in our selections. Many committee members are able to hear from teens in their own libraries, but we’re all able to hear from teens at midwinter and ALA in June. What these teens say is constantly referred to during our sessions. Teens opinions are extremely important to us.

DiYA: Does diversity (race, sexual orientation, disability) figure in your deliberations? Why or why not?

EC: I will not dislike a book because it lacks diversity. I don’t want authors thinking they need to force diversity (in any way) for a story to be well told. However, when there are characters of color present, when we’re reading about characters of different sexual orientations, different physical or mental abilities, I cannot help but consider how genuine these characters are. For a book to be good, characters have to be more than stereotypes. Their presence needs to have a real meaning in the story.

Then too, there needs to be an overall presence of diversity in the books we select. Librarians all over the country use this list to select books for teens in their libraries. That to me indicates a need for a very diverse list of books. So, yes, diversity does figure into my deliberations.

For more on the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, read our analysis of diversity in the BFYA.

Diversity in ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults

By Malinda Lo

Updated on Sept. 19, 2013, with these corrections.

Every January, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, releases the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. This list includes novels, short story collections, and novels in verse that were published in the past 16 months. These titles, according to YALSA, “are recommended reading for ages 12 to 18.”

As librarian and blogger Kelly Jensen explained to me, “I think the BFYA is useful for librarians who don’t know YA lit well, who may be the only librarians in their library or system, or who have been tossed into teen librarianship without the background that would help them in building a collection. I think people use BFYA as a collection building tool, which has a lot of merit to it.”

Thus, because the BFYA lists are used for collection development — and because the adjective “best” indicates that these titles are of high quality — being included on a BFYA list can help both sales and book buzz. (Full disclosure: My novel Huntress, published by Little, Brown, was on the 2012 BFYA list.) Indeed, the ALA’s various lists and awards can be extremely significant in terms of a YA book’s overall success — and thus, the author’s literary career.

The BFYA lists are typically fairly long, including approximately 100 titles, which suggests that there’s room for plenty of diversity. The question is: How much diversity is included in the BFYA lists? That is what I set out to discover. Continue reading Diversity in ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults