Dreaming the Future of YA Literature, Part 3

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

As we close this out “I read YA” week, guest blogger Curtis L. Crisler explains why there’s still a great disparity when it comes to YA books for young black male readers. Crisler’s bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.

While the popularity of YA lit is at an all-time high, the number of books featuring protagonists of color remains extremely low. YALSA’s “Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014” shows that only 3% of characters in the books on their list were categorized as “Black.” Walter Dean Myers’ recent New York Times op-ed cites stats revealing that less than 3% of children’s books were about black people. The industry perception is that young black males are not reading, so fewer resources are put into publishing books for them. One could wonder as they browse any YA section and never see a young black male face on the cover if that has anything to do with it. Add to that the lack of subject matter that speaks to their experiences as young men of color in America. Through my work, I hope to continue to converse with young black male readers to reverse this trend. Dreamist is a universal coming-of-age narrative, but I believe it provides a rare glimpse into the mind of a young person of color, something I feel is lacking in today’s mainstream YA lit. In the words of my protagonist, Malik as he learns to overcome his fears about leaving his old life behind and creating a new life for himself:

“There is nothing fading away in my life. Everything is becoming better, newer. I see beyond the fear. I accept my responsibilities. For change is change.”

I believe that readers of color should see themselves living and breathing in the books that they read, and not just as wise or wily character sketches, but as fully developed protagonists and main characters. The future of YA lit is promising, indeed, but there’s a greater promise yet to be fulfilled.

Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKINDa poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. He will be featured this fall as the “Future of African American Poetry” during Furious Flower’s decennial celebration at James Madison University.

Dreaming the Future of YA Literature, Part 2

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

IreadYA! Week, Sponsored by Scholastic

During “I read YA” week, notable YA authors are being asked about their favorite books. Today, our guest blogger, Curtis L. Crisler, discusses which book inspired him the most as a young adult, and how that experience informs his own writing to this day. His bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.

My Favorite YA Book:  

I would probably have to say that To Kill a Mockingbird inspired me the most. I love how Harper Lee responded to the question, “Why have you never written another book?” Lee reportedly “said all she had to say” in that book, according to the Selma Times-Journal:

The novel is many stories on many different levels: The tale of a 6-year-old girl as she tried to keep up with her brother and recover from her mother’s death; the tale of an attorney who puts his belief in equality under the law to work in a courtroom filled with bias and hatred for his black client; a tale of a small town that could have been anywhere in the South prior to the civil rights struggle; and a story about all of us and our growing up with values given us by our parents.

I am always learning more about this book as time goes by. Each time I go back to it, I wish I could write a book like this. I feel there is so much to voice for the voiceless. I am still connecting and writing for them, as well as for myself.

Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKIND, a poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Dreaming the Future of YA Literature, Part I

IreadYA! Week

IreadYA! Week

 During this “I read YA” week, guest blogger Curtis L. Crisler shares some of his insights on writing young adult literature and the need for more books featuring protagonists of color. His bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.

Why I Wrote Dreamist:

Dreamist represents how a young adult actually thinks about things in his life, and represents a voice that fully partakes of the environment he inhabits. Malik truly respects and loves his family and friends. I wanted to focus on that, and let him illustrate that not “all” young adults are lackadaisical or just waiting for their parents to die to reap the benefits of what said parents acquired in their lives. Here in “Session II” of the novel, Malik, (away at college for the summer), reflects upon his “Nana”:

When looking at the pictures from Memphis, Tennessee, I recall Nana bringing our family together. She ran everything. Nobody gave her any lip. Grandma Marie always made sure that I knew where I came from, and how so many in our family fought so hard for the acres of land that she had her house built on. The house rested in the background of a fading gray polaroid. It had been a big house for just Nana, but she had outlived her first two sons, Mike and Bobby, and raised all six of her other children there until they left to have their own lives and families. She had showed us where Morgan Freeman lived and took us to Graceland, which was crazy. We got to eat at Corky’s until we couldn’t eat any more BBQ. The folks on Beale Street were so fun, and so was the music. When Granddaddy Sonny Joe and Nana got divorced, it hurt the whole family.

Nana preached to me to never take life for granted, to love it with each breath. Unfortunately, as I grew up, this became more important than ever, due to those I would lose.

Young adults have a voice, and we have to listen so that they can bring that voice out, and not be ashamed or bothered by it. I hope Malik does that.

Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKIND, a poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.

When the Worlds of Art Collide

A poet’s spontaneous stroll through a gallery in the Philippines has led to a history-making collaboration. Angela Narciso Torres, Poetry Grand Prize Winner of the 2013 Willow Books Literature Awards, will be releasing her prize-winning collection on September 30, Blood Orange. The richly detailed cover of the book is the result of a collaboration between Narciso Torres and acclaimed Filipino artist Hermes Alegre, who was unveiling a brand new painting, “Catalina,” at an exhibition of The Saturday Group of Artists at EDSA Shangri-la Plaza, Manila, Philippines. The next installment of his Aura series, Alegre’s painting immediately caught the eye of Narciso Torres, who happened to be visiting her ancestral home this past summer and heard about Alegre’s exhibition.  photo with Hermes

“The minute I saw the painting, I knew,” Angela said. “I had been searching quite a while for the right image to capture the spirit of this collection. Now, I feel the pieces have fallen into place.”

Part memoir, part love letter to the Philippines of her youth, Blood Orange has received critical acclaim for its ability to be “at once vividly present in the moment and fully attuned to the under-dwelling currents of history.”

The Willow Books Literature Awards recognize literary excellence in prose and poetry by writers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The Grand Prize winners were selected from a field of ten finalists. The prose winner is Angie Chuang and the Editor’s Choice winner is Rich Villar.

High Water Everywhere

High Water Everywhere

As our team prepares for the release of the long-awaited new book of poetry by Gary Copeland Lilley, we find ourselves taking a moment to pause and reflect on the tragic event that informs this collection, the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. The 115th anniversary of this event will occur this fall, and Gary’s mission is to shed more light upon this pivotal moment in American history. High Water Everywhere tells the somewhat lesser-known story of discord in Wilmington, North Carolina in the wake of Reconstruction after the Civil War:  white supremacists staged a coup d’etat two days after a fusionist government consisting of a white mayor and biracial city council were elected to office. This act of overthrowing an elected government is arguably the only known coup in United States history. Hear the story in Gary’s own words from an interview in 2011:

A few years ago I read a tiny notice in a prominent newspaper apologizing for its participation, as part of the propaganda wing, in a campaign that led to the 1898 massacre of African-Americans in Wilmington, NC. I had never heard of it. It is not taught or talked about in the state. I was born in North Carolina, and returned to the state when I was twelve to live in a segregated community and to attend its segregated schools. I did not understand why we blacks were living under a system of apartheid. That was in 1963.

History shows that following the Civil War the south experienced the social conflicts that arise with fundamental change: the hopes of newly freed citizens juxtaposed against the desires to preserve the old antebellum ways. The self-proclaimed White Supremacy Campaign ended Reconstruction and put muscle into Jim Crow. Its leaders became the state’s governors and congressmen. That North Carolina event, the political maneuvering and the massacre, altered the trajectory of freedom, and it remains the only coup d’etat in American history. I have chosen, I am compelled, to bring that history forward, further into the light, through the medium that I have—poetry. With that goal I have tried to create a series of poetic dispatches. (from “Notes on the four poems,” Willow Springs Literary Magazine, 2011)

With High Water Everywhere, Gary has honored his promise to tell such an important story.