Thursday, July 31, 2008

Y.A. and O.K.

Several weeks ago in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, an essay appeared by Margo Rabb discussing the way books that are written with adults in mind end up being marketed for Young Adults. She gave a number of examples from Peter Cameron to Martha Southgate, who like Rabb, had expected their novels to be published for adults and were initially disappointed to find that the books sold for younger audiences. Phrases such as "condescension towards Y.A." or "unabashed disinterest" from literary acquaintances were quoted from various writers, who, in my reading of the essay, considered themselves initially above the genre. Of-course many admitted how much better their books did in the Y.A. marketplace, as well as how gratifying it was to receive appreciative letters from kids. I've experienced from time to time a certain condescension from those who ask me what kind of writing I do. Once an artist whose work I had highlighted in my first book The Painter's Eye: Learning to Look at Contemporary American Art asked me if I was still writing those little stories. It wasn't worth explaining to her that the book was a first in terms of giving young people a way of entering a dialogue about new art. I was guilty, however, of thinking later that I should have told her it was a crossover book or that it had been double-shelved in museum bookstores. Yet from my first novel A Season In Between (1979) to the books about artists that I write today, I have always had young readers in mind. In fiction, it was the voice and age of the main character that designated the audience. Perhaps Catcher in the Rye was the first Young Adult novel, but it was published for adults. Yet it spawned a new genre of young adult fiction. The rewards for me now from writing non-fiction lie both in the research and writing, but also in the knowledge that I am introducing subjects, such as poetry inspired by art, or artists, such as Louise Bourgeois or Jackson Pollock, for the fist time to younger audiences. By the way if I ever need to research a topic, such as the Civil War or baseball, the best reference books are written for children. The material is well researched, condensed, and beautifully presented both through visuals and language.

On another note, I took my grandchildren, Alexander (age 8) and Coco (age 5) to a concert in Aspen of Billy the Kid by Aaron Copland. Neither child, who live in New York City, knew the words "outlaw," "stagecoach," or even the "Wild West." We went to the Explorer bookstore the next day. Only one new book about the West existed there, but it was for Young Adults, called Cowboy Stories by Barry Moser (forgive me if I have the title wrong..I cannot seem to check it out without losing this blog entirely..Linda needs to give me more blogging lessons). We ambled over to the library. It had a couple of picture books about cowboys and the West. But it seems as if not much has been written recently. We turned on the computer back at my house. Alexander and I searched the web. It was filled with information. But we read nothing that told an enticing story. I think I'll go to the rodeo this weekend. Maybe I'll be inspired. Happy Reading to everyone.

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