First, Read Nancy’s Comment on "Tell All"
She argues the LGBT kids need to read about the suicides of HM’s lovers because suicide is such a problem/concern for them. She says that they need role models, but they also need a place to read about this issue. That makes sense, but it forces us to go back and question a basic term: what is a "role model" in nonfiction? How does a book serve the function of depicting a person that way? We’ve discussed this endlessly in fiction — the old didactic version: be a "good child" like saintly Johnny and you will please your parents and go to heaven; be bad and Struwwelpater will slice off your thumbs, has gone out of style. We agree in fiction that a three dimensional character teenagers can believe in, not a cardboard cutout, is best. But what exactly is a role model in nonfiction — where the life is the life? That is, the person’s life exists independently of how we want to shape it on the page. Aren’t we guilt of the same forced didacticism that we abjure in fiction if we pick and choose what we say about a person so that they become more of a "role model"?
I think this goes back to what I asked at first — the place of public and private. A person may well be a role model in his or her public acts — taking a stand, speaking out, writing eloquently, etc. There the person chooses to act in ways that we can clearly model to our readers: X took a risk, organized, learned from his/her setbacks, made the world a better place. But in private human beings are, well, human — weak, greedy, lustful, egotistical. I have to say I disagree with Kathleen/JFK — history is not gossip at all. History is causes, ideas, movements, change — with a sprinkling of gossip along the way.
So then the question becomes how to use the salacious appeal of gossip (Oneida), the depth of human tragedy (the deaths of HM’s lovers), so that it enhances our ability to portray public accomplishment. And, at what point do these cross — at what point is private life so entangled with, or at odds with, public accomplishment that they cannot be separated? I don’t think we as an adult society have a clear answer, and so we as authors writing for teenagers have to forge our own paths.