Exploring Adolescent Identities through YA literature
Baltimore, MD, November 2019
From Steven T. Bickmore, 2019 ALAN President:
An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.
I didn’t think it was my job to accept what everyone said I was and who I should be.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
During the last 15 years perhaps no adolescent novel has helped us think about identity as clearly as Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese(2006). It is important in several ways. First, the graphic format breaks down many of our preconceptions about format and genre. Second, Yang defined identity on his own terms and through his own exploration into family, tradition, culture, and societal expectations.
With this theme I am interested in how authors of young adult literature define themselves, their characters, and their themes. I hope that you are interested in this as well. I am less interested in how we tend to group them at festivals, conferences, reading lists, classrooms, and through awards. Clearly, we have to find ways to talk about authors and books. In this year’s workshop I hope we can find a way to listen carefully to how authors and the adolescents they observe and represent identify themselves.
At the 2019 ALAN workshop, we celebrate adolescent identity. We will look at the authors’ works as they present and define this concept. We will do our best to resist labels that are imposed as opposed to those that writers and adolescent select for themselves.
Hopefully, as we listen, we can gain a new appreciation for why we need diverse books. As we advocate for social justice we can strive to use the words the authors provide and incorporate the themes and descriptions they produce. While others may try to construct barriers and legislate away various identities, we might listen to individuals. Then, as a result, we might more actively offer students “Mirror, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Bishop, 1990). Mirrors in which they can see themselves, windows through which they can see others, and sliding doors they can use to enter the word and present themselves and their own identity.
Through keynote addresses, panel discussion, author conversations, and breakout sessions, we will explore questions such as:
- How do authors express identify in the books they write?
- How do we, as professionals, frame discussions of identity in our syllabi and in our discussions with students and colleagues?
- How are adolescents expressing their identities? Are books only about them or where can we or do we find their voices?
- How does YA lit take on traditional identity terms—race, class, and gender while it embrace others—ethnicity, religious labels, or the LGBTQ spectrum?
Please join us in Baltimore, where we’ll learn from authors, editors, teachers, librarians and students who express their personal identities– on the page, in schools, and in the community at large.