Sunday, October 11, 2015

About Meg Rosoff's next book...

Eds. note: Edith Campbell's Facebook page where Meg Rosoff went off on diversity is now set to public view. At the bottom of this post, I am adding links to responses to Rosoff.

Last night, friend and colleague Edith Campbell's page on Facebook had a visit from writer, Meg Rosoff, who objected in shameful ways to calls for diversity. Rosoff said kids who are looking for representations of themselves should "read a newspaper" and that people calling for diversity should "write a pamphlet" about it. She said that books don't have agendas. She said a lot of things.

Edi wrote it up at her site. Go read it. It sparked a great deal of conversation on Twitter.

Are you wondering what Rosoff's response to all of this is? Here you go:

God, Rosoff, you are something else. Last year, I started to read her Picture Me Gone. It was on the short list for the National Book Award. I got to this part and quit reading:

"Indian squaw"? At that point in Picture Me Gone her characters are in a cafe. Items on the wall are what look very old. She didn't need that line about that painting in her book. Removing it wouldn't change the book at all. Having it there, however, is a microaggression. She's using a slur.

I wonder what words she uses to describe that "native American woman" in her next book? I have lots of questions about that plot. Why is the black kid in love with that woman? What is her nation? What is her name?

She hasn't written characters like this before. My guess is she's trying to cash in on the call for diversity. But, as her remarks on Edi's page show, she is no ally to the call for diversity.

I'm hitting the upload button on this post. I may be back with updates...

Update, Oct 11, 2015, 4:27 PM
Back to add links to blog posts in response to Rosoff.

October 12, 2015, 10:22 AM
More posts:

October 14, 2015, 3:35 PM
More posts:

October 15, 2015, 2:25 PM
More posts:

October 16, 2015, 8:45 AM


K T Horning said...

I don't think this is a real book. I think it was her attempt to be funny by insulting as many people as she could in 140 characters or less.

She is blocking people right and left on Twitter today because she doesn't want to hear any voice other than her own.

Anonymous said...

That's the thing about being white. You truly don't have to learn if you don't want to. You can surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear, and silence everyone else. It's #1 on Peggy McIntosh's list.

k8 said...

Based on this tweet from October 3rd, I think it is real: So, the question becomes, how much of it is Mal Peet and how much of it is her.

Anonymous said...

I tell you something, according to Wikipedia, she is Jewish, and as another Jewish woman, I am ashamed and appalled. These same arguments have been used to dismiss Jewish art and literature. I am someone who thinks that our long history of persecution (which is of course not over) means that we have an obligation to our ancestors to stand with those persecuted today, and her willful refusal to do that is shameful.


Anonymous said...

Kaye's piece is so great. I reblogged it on my Tumblr and added more thoughts to it. And I'm so thankful and pleased that so many others are writing good, public pieces responding to it and showing people just what the problem is. Behavior like hers may look delicate, but it's just as ugly as more public and violent displays of racism and bigotry.

Cheriee Weichel said...

I remember reading Picture Me Gone and feeling sick and appalled to read the word squaw in a children's book and it not being challenged. It's use was just so unnecessary and insulting.
Here is my review

K T Horning said...

There's also this response from Ibi Zoboi, posted yesterday:

Shelley Souza said...

Hello Everyone,

Let me begin by saying I am not white. My parents were from Goa, India, my father emigrated to London in 1949, my mother followed in 1950. I was born a year later, lived there until I was thirty. I have since lived in the United States. I was an extreme minority during my growing years in England. Central London had so few Indians, that from the age of three until eleven, I was the only brown-skinned child in first my day nursery and later the two primary schools I attended.

I happened to read the thread that has generated this blog response because Laura Atkins (whom I do not know) appeared on my Facebook home page. She had mentioned Meg Rosoff and because Meg is a Facebook friend (and a personal friend), I suppose Facebook decided I should also get to know “a Laura Atkins” (as Jane Austen might have written it).

Although Laura’s posting of Edith Edi Campbell’s post and the ensuing thread appeared on my home page, and I was able to read all of it, I was not able to comment. Therefore, I hope, since the comments are moderated, you will permit my observations; which will be at variance with many of those who have already commented here, and possibly be in disagreement with that of the blogpost writer.

First, I would like to quote what was actually said because that seems to have been like touchpaper to dynamite. And, second, I would like to share my own very definite experience of growing up a minority in London where racism is always simmering under the polite veneer of British pleases and thank yous. (As an American friend once said, “The British are born saying, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’”)

Here is what Edith Edi Campbell said:
I would say there are so few books for queer black boys, but there are just too few books for all our marginalized young people.

Here is what Meg Rosoff wrote in reply:
There are not too few books for marginalised young people. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them. You don't have to read about a queer black boy to read a book about a marginalised child. The children's book world is getting far too literal about what "needs" to be represented. You don't read Crime and Punishment to find out about Russian criminals. Or Alice in Wonderland to know about rabbits. Good literature expands your mind. It doesn't have the "job" of being a mirror.

Anyone who knows Meg Rosoff, who has met her, has spent time with her, who has read her books, will understand that she speaks first and foremost for the freedom of a writer to write what speaks most personally to them, and strongly advocates against writers being forced to meet marketplace demands and agendas. With her “The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what “needs” to be represented” she was not saying anything against anyone; she was merely stating the obvious that every writer battles against—the marketplace demands that stifle real creativity.

If her first comment is read without imputing to it any malice towards Edith Edi Campbell, or anything against the author whose book Ms. Campbell seemed happy to be promoting; if one had given Meg Rosoff as much the benefit of the doubt of good intentions as many on the thread seem to have given themselves, and accorded to Ms. Campbell, perhaps a great deal of the emotionality—and, frankly, unnecessary ad hominem attacks and vitriol against Meg Rosoff—might have been avoided. And, instead, a truly thoughtful discussion on diversity in children’s books could have ensued.

Meg Rosoff is in a position, as an esteemed children’s writer—her debut novel, “How I Live Now” having won the Guardian Children’s Fiction and the Michael L. Printz Awards—to speak knowledgeably about children’s publishers, the marketplace, diversity in children’s books, and more. Her own several books are diverse in subject matter and characters and have won numerous awards. But such a fruitful discussion would be predicated on giving her first comment to Ms. Campbell’s post the benefit of the doubt.

(Cont’d below)

Shelley Souza said...

As for myself, growing up in London I was both subjected to racism and privileged because of my parents’ ethnicity. Countless times, as I walked down the streets of central London where I lived, people would spit on the pavement just where I was about to step and tell me to go back to where I came from. Racism came my way often in the form of an interrogation at a party, where the polite “interrogation” would proceed thus. “Where are you from?” London. “No, where were you born?” London. “No, I mean, where are your parents from?” India. “Ah, so you’re not from here.”

On the side of privilege, my father, F.N. Souza, pioneered post-independence modern art in India. He is considered one of India’s leading modern painters and he was considered an important British artist during his tenure in England. His work is on display and in permanent collections of major museums around the world. My mother was an haute couturiere who dressed among other women of privilege the editor-in-chief of British Vogue. In this respect I grew up privileged in spite of the colour of my skin and the prevalent racism in England.

I read everything when I was child, every book I could get my hands on, including many books written for boys. I loved every single one. I really cannot think of a single book that didn’t leave me awestruck. And, yet, I never read a single book about an Indian girl growing up in London who faced racism. Granted, it probably didn’t exist, but I didn’t need to read such a book in order to discover who I was, and I don’t think it would have taught me about who *I* was. Because unless the little brown-skinned girl in that book also had my very unusual parents, I am not certain how I could have identified with her.

This is not an argument against writing such a book, but it does exemplify that while a black male child who believes he is queer might be lit up by coming across a book that has a protagonist who “mirrors” his inner life, it is equally possible that such a child will find himself without ever reading such a book. Or will not identify with that protagonist at all. But if that same child reads as many great books as he can—“The Silver Sword,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Compleet Molesworth,” “Treasure Island,” any number of contemporary books for boys (or for girls if he prefers, or both)—he will find himself.

Isn’t that the purpose of all the “mirroring” that was so passionately defended on Ms. Campbell’s thread—for a child to “find” him- or herself?

Reading transported me to worlds I would never otherwise have known. They were filled with characters who were silly, or snooty, or bad-tempered, or kind, but ultimately they were brave. And they prevailed against evil. I didn’t care what colour their skin was. What I understood was this: Regardless of my skin colour I too could prevail against evil, just as my favourite characters did, if I discovered how to be brave.

(Cont'd below)

Shelley Souza said...

And, finally, it is not as if we still live in an age where little black boys who believe they may be queer have no role models of male black queers in society at large these days.

No writer has a single narrative within them, as their life. We are all deeply influenced by our ethnicity, our culture, our socio-economic status, our religion, or dismissal of it, and so on. As writers we have entire universes at our disposal; and so many more dimensions that make up who we are. This depth and complexity of being an individual, and of being simultaneously part of a familial as well as a social culture is what allows great writers to mine material for their greatest works—the whole of that living diversity within themselves.

If they are then Black and Queer and decide to write a children’s book for queer black boys, they’ll do it because they want to (which was the author’s point of the book in question and not because “diversity is a trend”). This, by the way, was also Meg’s point, but she was shouted down. She listed the subject matters and types of young people she’s interested and passionate in writing about, all of whom are vastly different from her own sexual preference and ethnicity. But that comment was entirely glossed over.

What she tried to say, and eventually gave up, was that the marketplace cannot create an agenda for writers and then expect a great book to be the result.

Isn’t that the subject we should be discussing, and doing something about, instead of wasting our limited and precious time in vilifying a fellow writer?

Shelley Souza

Dear Moderator, I apologise for the length of my post (which I had to break up into 3 parts to conform to the limits of a comment's length.)

Anonymous said...

Do you realize how condescending your assumption that the rest of us haven't read Rosoff's comments is? We read them. We don't need them reprinted. Further, nobody needs a paragraph extolling Rosoff's many achievements. You may rest assured that we know who she is and we nonetheless disagree with her. She is not the only person who is in a position to speak knowledgeably about the children's book industry.

If her first comment is read without imputing to it any malice towards Edith Edi Campbell, or anything against the author whose book Ms. Campbell seemed happy to be promoting

So, what you're saying is that Rosoff came onto somebody else's Facebook page where she was happily discussing a book she found important and...made a comment that had nothing to do with the topic under discussion? That seems wildly unlikely, to say nothing of rude. Why would Rosoff assume that she gets to change the topic from a book about a queer black boy to one that suits her interests more? And if she did, why should she be indulged?

I didn’t need to read such a book in order to discover who I was, and I don’t think it would have taught me about who *I* was

That's great. For you. Not everybody is like you. Plenty of children do need to see a more literal representation of themselves in literature. You can read them on my Twitter feed--writing teachers whose students didn't think they were "allowed" to write about the situations they experience, adults who didn't find themselves in literature until they were well into adulthood. And those are the adults who persisted in reading nonetheless. Even if you didn't need such a book, why would you wish to deny its importance to others?

it is not as if we still live in an age where little black boys who believe they may be queer have no role models of male black queers in society at large these days.

Are you seriously saying that black queer boys have it good enough? That they don't deserve the huge literary diversity of models that white gentile straight boys and girls have? I personally can't think of a model of a black queer boy off the top of my head, but maybe you can help.

She listed the subject matters and types of young people she’s interested and passionate in writing about, all of whom are vastly different from her own sexual preference and ethnicity. But that comment was entirely glossed over.

Because it's irrelevant. She can be interested in all she wants; it doesn't change her behavior around this particular Facebook post.

What she tried to say, and eventually gave up, was that the marketplace cannot create an agenda for writers and then expect a great book to be the result.

I actually disagree with this; writing is a profession; professionals get paid. Opposing the "marketplace" to "creativity" is a false binary. Nevertheless, this is irrelevant. It wasn't the topic of discussion.

Isn’t that the subject we should be discussing, and doing something about, instead of wasting our limited and precious time in vilifying a fellow writer?

No. That was not the subject under discussion.


Stacy Whitman said...

Veronica: Meg Rosoff did, indeed, come onto a thread in which Edi was extolling the virtues of a book. She argued, apropos of nothing, against a straw man that Edi never spoke.

Sarah said...

Agree with Veronica's comment, and Stacy's addition.

Also: "...a truly thoughtful discussion on diversity in children's books could have ensued." That discussion has already been happening for several decades. Rosoff demonstrated her own ignorance of the ongoing, thoughtful conversation regarding diversity in children's books when she criticized the use of the term "mirror" without even having heard of Rudine Sims Bishop-- one of the most influential thinkers in the field. And while Rosoff ascribes her lack of familiarity to a divide between creators and critics, the fact is that this decades-long conversation has encompassed people from all areas of children's literature: from librarians, to teachers, to academics, to reviewers, to booksellers, to parents, to readers, and yes-- to fellow creators of children's books. Rosoff's arguments are not new or thought-provoking. They are the same arguments people have been rebutting and working against for years. Rosoff did not bother to acquaint herself with that conversation before jumping in to critique a post celebrating a book (not, as she subsequently characterized it, a post demanding authors write to an agenda). Respondents on the post disagreed with her, speaking from a knowledge and experience she lacked. Rosoff now has the choice whether to listen to those words, and to other moving, profound responses people have offered. Her own words caused hurt and frustration, which she also has the choice whether or not to acknowledge. But she did not start the conversation, and those speaking back to her did not stop it.

Anonymous said...

That's true, Stacy. Let me clarify what I meant. Shelley seems to be arguing that Rosoff came onto the thread, and apropos of nothing, made a comment that wasn't meant to have anything to do with the topic under discussion, and we've all sadly misinterpreted her. I think it far more likely that Rosoff meant her comment to be taken in reference to the book Edi was discussing, and that Shelley is giving a benefit of the doubt that strains credulity. Even if I were to give that benefit of doubt, however, Rosoff's behavior would be rude.


Nina Lindsay said...

I'm slowing digesting all of this, and feeling one day behind everyone else, but what I'm struck with, from a distance, is how Rosoff's insistence against "agenda" in children's literature is itself a hidden agenda of white supremacy, by insisting that the status quo is agenda-less.

It's a reaction that I've heard expressed by many, often a frustration of white women my generation (I'm 44) or older, who've been "doing this diversity thing for a while." That's something someone said to me the other day, with kind of an eye roll. It's the scariest reaction to me of all, this exhaustion-of-being-white and giving into it. Like being engulfed by one of Dr. Wick's throng haints (just finished Shadowshaper last night.)

K T Horning said...

I've read Meg Rosoff's comments on Edi's Facebook page, and elsewhere on Facebook, where she has entered into discussions of what happened. From her comments, it looks like she has completely closed her mind to listening to anyone who disagrees with her -- she claims everyone is "vilifying" her -- even a Twitter post by someone who just supported diversity in children's books and didn't even name Rosoff.

It's too bad there can't be a civil discussion about this with her, but she will only be civil to people who agree with her.

Debbie Reese said...

Cheriee - thank you for the link to your review. I'll share it with others. I'm always glad when people notice--and speak up--about problematic depictions of Native people.

K T - I added a link to Ibi's post at Reading While White. It is outstanding.

Debbie Reese said...

Nina--I'm behind, too, in responding to comments. As K T's comment at 1:07 on Thursday indicates, Meg Rosoff is not engaging in thoughtful discussion. In her attempts to say "this is what I meant..." she's only making things worse. And, she's not answered my questions about her use of the word squaw.

Veronica, Stacy, and Sarah -- Your responses to Shelley Souza's comments prompted Souza and Rosoff to call you (along with anyone who has objected to Rosoff's remarks) "haters" and "didacts" who should be ignored because you/we don't really care about books.

Speaking about who-should-be-ignored... Has Rosoff no friends who will tell her that a Twitter account she's "thrown her lot in with" are some of the most racist people on the planet? That is the group any and all of us should be wary of. For her own sake, she ought to back away from the relationship she's opened with that group.

Elsewhere, I've seen Rosoff call Edi "a sociologist" (for those who don't know, Edi is a librarian) while then saying she (Rosoff) is "A Writer." Her use of lower/upper case is telling.

No doubt Rosoff is not liking the new piece at Huffington Post today: "Meg Rosoff is Wrong: Diversity in Publishing is Important and Marlon James Proves It."

I'll continue posting links as I see them. if you see ones I don't have listed, do let me know.

And thanks, all of you, for reading, sharing, and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I care so little about books and hate them so much that I've chosen a profession that involves nothing but reading them and writing about them (eye-roll). I wonder why those who object to calls for diverse books conceive of those who disagree with them as "hating books." I honestly don't understand the thought process there. "You want lots of different books! You must hate books!"

Better a "hater" and a "didact" with you, Debbie, than the alternative!


Anonymous said...

I just read this thread for the first time, after the lambasting of Ms. Rosoff today on Twitter for having the temerity to have been shortlisted in the UK for a major literary award fora book of which Ms. Reese disapproves of the choice and use of a one or two words out of 70,000 or so, and a depiction that doesn't meet her standards for positivity.

Anyway, Ms. Souza has the most informed and articulate voice in this thread, by a lot.