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Nonfiction Matters
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I Just Feel Sad

I Was Going to Post Here About the CSK Debate over at Read Roger

and I feel sad about that — as I’ll explain. But I feel sadder about the terrible news from Denver, where Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz of Perrot Library were killed in a car accident. I have known Kate forever and she is (I have to use present tense for her, this is all so new) so alive, so present, so dynamic, that this seems simply impossible. There is not a library world without Kate. I have no idea what personal or institutional plans are in the works but any of you who knew Kate and Kathy will surely feel as I do, sad.

I am sad as well about the argument and tone over at RR. Jackie Woodson, Deb Taylor, and Roger seem think that my reason (I can speak only for myself) for raising questions about what it means to define someone by a race has something to do with my desire as a white person (or as an author working with white artists) to qualify for CSK. No. That has nothing to do with it, at all. Period.

I am sad because Jackie’s gust of excitement in her post to CCBC on the 28th was beautiful — it is terrific news that so many talented people won awards in Denver. I wish that moment were not soured. Readers of this blog will recall how enthusiastically I wrote about We Are the Ship months ago. But when Roger asked, in his blog, about the CSK rules it pointed to an intellectual issue which I think is important and must be discussed: what is race? What is ethnicity?

We have just been through an election cycle in which Obama was opposed by some (I heard this from African Americans and also whites) on the grounds that he was not African-American, because he had no family history of American enslavement. Similarly, when I recently spoke in a New York City public school where all the students were "of color" the deep division in the school was between those teachers and students who are African-American as conventionally described, and recent immigrants from the Caribbean — whose ancestors were also enslaved Africans, but who had no experience of North American slavery. For both Obama and a large faction at that school, African-American was not a "race" but rather a particular history.

These questions of ethnicity, identity, and history grow even more tangled when one speaks of Hispanic. So I think it in no way diminishes the accomplishments of the artists celebrated at ALA to raise a set of questions about how we go about defining race and ethnciity in awards for young people. And so I feel sad, sad that sincere questions have been treated as some kind of white man’s grab for prizes, and not serious matters that we all ought to be airing together. As Dennis Overbye said in that great article — science is about the exchange of ideas, not about settling on one approved view. 

I simply don’t get what is wrong about airing concerns about classifications and definitions that are, outside of children’s books, very much a matter of discussion and debate. That, I would think, is exactly what we should be doing.


  1. Nan Hoekstra says:

    Sadness is so evident in your sentences. You are open. That is a hard part – the openness. Sometimes I do not speak out of fear that I will be misunderstood – or that I will be exposed as ignorant or wrong. We must agree to let this conversation unfold and unfold – we are all learning and listening and moving toward understanding and resolution.

  2. Yeah, that Read Roger strand got weirdly ad hominem and then just silly, but race as a mutable social construct is certainly not a shocking notion, especially to anyone who spends time in urban playgrounds. My guess is that CSK guidelines will change before too long. And my hope, just because it’s getting a little ridiculous, is that the ALA stops creating new awards, identity-based or otherwise, and re-focuses on getting new books into the hands of kids who actually need them. That, I bet, is what got great people like Kate McClelland into librarianship in the first place.

  3. I had read Roger’s blog and appreciate seeing your point of view. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think the discussion you have started is valuable and important and hope it continues to unfold.

  4. I had read Roger’s blog and appreciate seeing your point of view. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think the discussion you have started is valuable and important and hope it continues to unfold.