The President’s Connection ALAN and YA Lit—Growing Up Together
In 1967, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton was published along with Mr. and Mrs. Bo-Jo Jones by Ann Head and The Contender by Robert Lipsyte. The Pigman by Paul Zindel followed shortly after, and the new age of Young Adult Literature took root. Teens could finally read about characters who looked like, dressed like, sounded like, and had problems just like they did.
“During those years, NCTE created a new structure to encourage development of assemblies, each with a special focus. In 1973, 25 people signed up and paid one dollar to begin the process of forming the A ssembly on L iterature for A dolescents of the N ational Council of Teachers of English, which came to be known as ALAN. Marguerite Archer took the first presidency. In New Orleans the next year, with its own constitution, ALAN became official” ( Nilsen, 1999, p. 330 ). M. Jerry Weiss, who is still active in the assembly today, followed Archer as president. Jerry remembers those early days, and his continuing involvement has helped ALAN grow:
There is no doubt ALAN has promoted the use of YA books mainly in middle schools and has helped remedial reading teachers find interesting materials they could use with students. I convinced IRA and NCTE to have Featured Author Strands because if teachers couldn’t stay for the workshops, they still ought to be able to hear and meet YA authors. Publishers loved that idea. Once I was a part of getting ALAN really going, I worked on anti-censorship programs. In any way I could, I worked to get authors involved with teachers. (M. J. Weiss, personal communication, September 5, 2011).
After the first convention in 1973, ALAN President Marguerite Archer sent out a two-page summary of events, which she followed with a four-page News from ALAN , Vol.1, No. 1 in August of the same year; this brief newsletter was the beginning of The ALAN Review , or TAR , as we know it today. Alleen Pace Nilsen then convinced Ken Donelson to coedit this new publication. Alleen’s husband Don later became ALAN Humor Editor. Soon Alleen, Don, Ken and his wife began a tradition of writing, copying, organizing, creating mailing lists, sorting by zip code, and sending off 200 copies of the then ALAN Newsletter (from “The Beginnings of The ALAN Review by Alleen Pace Nilsen, which appeared in Two Decades of The ALAN Review , NCTE, p. 330). “Clip and File” reviews were included in these early newsletters.
TAR has continued to grow in influence and volume. Jim Blasingame, ALAN President 2009, coedited TAR with Lori Goodson during 2003–2009. Jim shares some of the ways that TAR has advanced. He says:
During our years we expanded TAR s page count and added a square binding [perfect binding]. We attempted to explore new topics and young adult literature that blazed new trails, including indigenous peoples, disabled characters, and transgendered protagonists. We also saw the advent of technology and the rise of books with social media, blogs, smart phones and video games that were a normal part of the teenage experience but provided new issues from cyberbullying to online match-making and their dangers. We loved the annual cover design process in which we attempted to choose nine covers that reflected what had been the big hits of the previous year—not an easy reduction to make! (J. Blasingame, personal communication, August 24 , 2011)
ALAN has also grown in its online presence. In 2000, President Teri Lesesne asked David Gill to “give ALAN a home,” and the ALAN website was born, eventually securing its own URL— http://www.alan-ya.org . When David became ALAN president in 2007, Matt Skillen became webmaster until 2011, when David returned to take ALAN to another level.
The site has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, and with the advent of social media, the site will become more of an online community than a static site. The next year  will bring an even larger community and more features—none of which were imaginable way back at the turn of the century. (D. Gill, personal communication, August 24 , 2011)
As more authors and more teens discovered each other, it wasn’t long before awards were created for this growing field. Listed below are just a few of the national awards and the first title each honored:
- Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Lillie Patterson in 1970 for her book, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace . http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/ emiert/cskbookawards
- In 1974, the first ALAN Award was given to Stephen Judy (now Tchudi) and G. Robert Carlsen at the ALAN Breakfast. The ALAN Executive Board had created the ALAN Award to recognize an individual who had impacted the ALAN community as an author, publisher, librarian, teacher, or officer of the ALAN organization. http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/
- The Margaret A. Edwards Award was established in 1988 and was given to S. E. Hinton for her body of work, which began with The Outsiders . http://www.ala.org/template.cfm?template=/CFApps/awards_info
- In 1996, the National Book Award’s first YA winner was given to Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez. http://www.nationalbook.org/nbawinners
- In 2000, The American Library Association (ALA), presented the first Michael L. Printz Award, named for a Topeka, Kansas, librarian, to Walter Dean Myers for his innovative book, Monster . http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/printzaward
- ALAN’s Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award was first awarded in 2009 to Steven Kluger for his novel, My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park . http://www.alan-ya.org/ameliaelizabeth-walden-award/
- In 2010, for his inspiring and seemingly limitedness body of work, Walter Dean Myers became the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/emiert/cskbookawards/
The ALAN Workshop also continued to increase the number of presenting authors. In 1980, President Hugh Agee featured six speakers during his workshop, including authors Sue Ellen Bridgers and Ouida Sebestyen. ALAN President Don Gallo had ten authors on his 1987 Los Angeles program. In 1991, ALAN President Joan Kay-well presented 26 authors in her workshop. ALAN President Connie Zitlow featured 29 authors in 2000. And President Wendy Glenn invited 48 authors to her 2011 Chicago workshop. Every year, publishers, teacher-educators, and high school and junior high/middle school teachers also presented.
ALAN has been growing in part because the number of young adult books has also been growing. In the late 1960s, the number of YA titles published each year only reached single digits. Bowker Books in Print (online and in print by subscription at http://www.bowker.com/index ) reports higher numbers in this millennium: 4,787 YA titles in 2004; 5,300 in 2005; 5,059 in 2006; 5,933 in 2007; and 5,028 in 2008. YA books in all genres are expanding in libraries and book stores.
Nancy Garden has helped nurture the growth of books containing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning characters (LGBTQ).
Since 1982 when my novel Annie on My Mind was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, our trickle of an LGBTQ YA sub-genre has become a steady stream.
We’ve gone from not having gay or lesbian (or bisexual or transgender) main characters to having them regularly, plus a suddenly growing, albeit small, number of transgender protagonists, and—still rarely—an occasional bisexual one.
We’ve gone from almost all White protagonists to a growing number of African American and Hispanic ones, and a handful of main characters from other ethnic groups.
We’ve gone from telling primarily coming-out stories—which I think will always be important in our books—to stories also focusing on other aspects of LGBTQ kids’ lives and touching on more universal themes.
We’ve gone from very solemn stories to those sprinkled with welcome humor.
The mainstream press still produces the majority of LGBTQ YA books. But recently, an increasing number of authors of our books are self-publishing, and gay presses—notably Alyson Publications—occasionally do a YA title, and just recently Victoria Brownworth has started a new LGBT YA house, Tiny Satchel Press.So despite the shaky state of print publishing in general, the steady stream of our sub-genre still seems to be growing. I am optimistic about its future, especially since LGBT adults in general have become increasingly conscious of the problems our youth still face—and some of those adults are bound to be writers, editors, and publishers who know how much books can help validate, encourage, and support beleaguered kids. (N. Garden, personal communication, August 20, 2011)
Other genres have grown as well. Though fantasy books have always been part of YA titles, Harry Potter came into our lives in 1997 and changed the world’s view of fantasy books forever, and there are still more coming. Steampunk, “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early1990s” is on the rise again ( Wikipedia.org/wiki/steampunk#Origin ).
YA literature is also introducing readers to people and cultures in other parts of the world. VOYA ( Voice of Youth Advocates ) Review Editor Lisa Kurdyla says, “ VOYA has seen a marked increase in the number of titles for young adults that include protagonists of many different cultures. Notably, Asian and Hispanic characters have increased significantly. Many of these titles specifically explore their heritages and cultures, and how the characters ‘fit in’ with life in America” (personal communication, September 5, 2011). I agree. I belong to a YA book group that prepared a bibliography, “The Richness of Many Cultures Represented in YA Books—2005 to 2010,” containing 143 titles, which we presented during an ALAN breakout in 2009 ( email email@example.com for a copy). Diversity in YA Fiction ( http://www.diversityinya.com/ ) is another great place to find new and old titles representing a wealth of diversity. Even with this new awareness of the many cultures and ethnicities in our world, many more books are needed to help us understand people around the world, particularly books set in the present.
John Mason, Director of Library and Educational Marketing for Trade Books at Scholastic, and former ALAN Board Member, believes young adult literature has had several effects on the publishing world.
The huge popularity of Harry Potter proved that books for young readers in hardcover could sell in the millions, and that in this age of computer games, social networking, and smart-phones, people still like to curl up with a good book. The Hunger Games has pushed the envelope for “crossover” young adult books—books that adults will buy and read for themselves— thus blurring the line between “young adult” and “adult” and giving more visibility to young adult books in our society in general. The Printz Award and the National Book Award have also contributed greatly to bringing more respect and recognition to writing for young adults. So all in all, I think we are in a golden age for young adult books, and more and more people are discovering that some of the best writing anywhere is in books for young adults. ( J. Mason, personal communication, August 24, 2011)
There are more YA books now then 10 years ago—a new wealth of books for teens to read, books that do not insult them but include them all. The field of YA books, however, is not without its problems, as Robert Lipstye points out.
Forty-four years after The Contender , which was early in the creation of YA, it’s a full-blown genre with heroes and history. And cycles. This one is interesting because the revenue stream is so important to so many publishers and the quality is stunning (M. T. Anderson!), yet most of the books are the equivalent of processed food—well-made, carefully engineered, cynically marketed commodities with little nutrition and possibly long-term negative side-effects on individual health. You can argue, for example, that Twilight is really a reworking of Romeo and Juliet , but it is also an escape into unreality at a time when kids—particularly with video games, social networking, etc.—need to face the issues that are overwhelming their world. YA should be an extension of teaching, not of mindless entertainment. There’s a responsibility here that is not being met, particularly by publishers. But I’m confident that the cycle will move on—if the world doesn’t implode first. (R. Lipsyte, personal communication, September 2, 2011)
The theme for the 2012 ALAN workshop is “Reaching Them All, ALAN Has Books for Everyone.” This means books for boys, books for girls, for challenged readers, brilliant readers, LGBTQ teens, teens in other countries, teens from other countries who now live here, Christian kids, Jewish kids, Muslim kids, non-believing kids, kids with problems at home—alcoholism, illnesses, incest, divorce—as well as kids from happy, fun-loving homes, homes with two moms or two dads or one mom or one dad or one of each or grandparents, teens who live in cyberspace, teens who can’t afford a computer— young adults, all young adults .
I hope to see you in Las Vegas in 2012 for the next ALAN workshop. The acronym officially stands for the A ssembly on L iterature for A dolescents of the N ational Council of Teachers of English. Personally, I prefer A dolescent L iterature, A lways N eeded.
Nilsen , A. P. (1999). The beginnings of The ALAN Review . In P. P. Kelly & R. C. Small, Jr. (Eds.), Two decades of The ALAN Review. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.