13 YA authors on writing in the age of Trump
The raw, initial reaction to Trump’s nomination has subsided; now many young adults are processing how they might be affected by the new administration. Students expressed their support on Twitter for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration protection measure, sharing tweets such as “#WithDACA I don’t feel like I need to hide.” A Muslim girl in Plano, Texas, had her hijab forcibly removed, and LGBTQ youth-focused suicide prevention hotlines have experienced a spike in call volume following Trump’s victory.
If only millennials ages 18 to 29 voted on Nov. 8, Hillary Clinton would have beaten Donald Trump 55% to 37%, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. After the election, high school students not old enough to vote staged mass walkouts, in Los Angeles, Maryland, Arizona and New York, as means of protest.
Young adult authors, whose books are geared toward teens, spoke with The Times over the phone and via email, expressing an intensified desire to create literature for teenagers who are in search of escape or, perhaps, a sense of belonging.
Jason Reynolds, National Book Awards finalist, co-author of Black Lives Matters-inspired “All American Boys”
I think that young people specifically at times like this do want to act, but there’s also a blockade there. There’s a wall there, for lack of better words. And that wall usually has a lot to do with language.… What books can do is serve as the map. It’s the instruction manual not on how to do a thing, but how to identify the parts of you that you had a hard time articulating verbally and physically.
If you take a book like “All American Boys,” the truth of the matter is that young people have been protesting in this country since it’s been around. John Lewis during the civil rights movement was 19 years old. This is not a new phenomenon. But what John Lewis was able to use back in the day was a comic book called “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” And that comic book in the 1950s is what gave him the instruction manual, a tour guide on how to actually get a firm grasp and a better sense of articulation.
Brendan Kiely, co-author of “All American Boys”
We went to a school in Brooklyn last year to speak about “All American Boys,” a book about protest, and discovered a protest in action … around the treatment of students of color in particular, but also of many marginalized groups. So what other choice could we make but to join them? That’s who we write for.
Young people are often introduced to the world outside themselves through the media they consume, and I think they’re eager to get to know the world beyond what’s familiar to them. So it’s no surprise to me that young people would feel immediately inspired to act and feel deeply and wholly the need to create change where they see injustice. And so, as someone who recognizes that, I feel like it’s especially important to honor that spirit as I’m working on my next projects for that market.… It’s not that I’m trying to galvanize students. I’m trying to galvanize the spirit that they already have and their desire to act.
Maureen Johnson, founder of YA for Obama, co-host of political podcast “Says Who,” and author of the “Shades of London” series
After this election, I’m even more grateful that I write YA. A lot of kids are (rightly) terrified by this result, for so many reasons. The Trump election has left so many kids devastated and feeling hopeless, and they need adults they know to encourage them and offer support and let them know that this is not hopeless. They don’t have to give in. They will write the history of Trump. Trump’s legacy is in their hands. The next wave of American politics? It’s them. As much as I can encourage them to get involved now, I will. And some kids just need to know that not everyone voted Trump, because they may live in places where all the adults they know are Trump voters.
Also, YA readers give me a lot of hope because they tend to read widely. They are aware of the importance of diversity. They know what consent means. They are, in fact, far more advanced than a lot of politicians.
David Levithan, author of “Boy Meets Boy” and “Two Boys Kissing”
I think if we’ve learned anything about the progress of LGBT+ rights in the past decade it’s that equality comes from empathy, and empathy comes from sharing stories with each other. And what’s great about YA is that its heart beats with empathy and its blood runs with empathy. It’s about teaching teens not to see themselves as an “other” and also not to see the people around them as “others” — if society tries to divide us, then YA literature tries to draw us closer.
Meredith Russo, author of “If I Was Your Girl”
I wrote “If I Was Your Girl” because I wanted young trans people to feel hopeful, to have faith in the basic goodness and decency of the people around them. I wanted them to have faith that things are getting better. That sentiment seems foolish now. Naive. Despair is tempting, but one thing stops me from giving in to it: the emails and messages I receive weekly from teenagers who say my book touched them. They still need me. They still need us. So as tempting as it is to hunker down and go into survival mode, we have to remember that we have a responsibility to young people to preserve their sense of stability and hope.
Nicola Yoon, National Book Awards finalist for “The Sun Is Also a Star”
Even before [the election] it was important to write for some of the voices we haven’t heard as much throughout the years. LGBTQIA voices we haven’t heard as much of, in young adult literature they don’t really get to be main characters. Black and brown and Asian voices are often the sidekicks, but don’t usually have the starring role.
But with the rhetoric we see now, it’s more important not just for the kids who are feeling at risk but for everyone else too. I think books breed empathy. It’s hard to hate when you understand and have a window into their world.
I’ve definitely heard from a lot of readers and tweets too thanking me for telling the story of an undocumented immigrant. What gets lost in a lot of discussions is the humanity of immigrants. People talk about building walls and how many people have been deported, and it becomes a political discussion with statistics. But they’re people. We are talking about actual human beings with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. They’re goofy in the same way and talented and dreaming about things and lazy in the same way and happy in the same way — they are just like everyone else.
Marie E. Andreu, former undocumented youth and author of “The Secret Side of Empty”
I wrote “The Secret Side of Empty” because I wanted people to come at the issue of the undocumented with some compassion. Most people don’t have deep, meaningful conversations with undocumented people, and many don’t even know any (or don’t know that they know any). I wanted people to see the human side of the experience. When I was undocumented, I wished that people would understand the fear, the uncertainty. I wanted to create understanding in people willing to listen.
Jeff Zentner, author of “The Serpent King”
Writers for young people have an increasingly important job, because in many respects they’ll have to help provide youth with a moral counterbalance to the statements and positions of the president of the United States.
Kathleen Glasgow, author of “Girl In Pieces”
I have always been driven to write fiction for young adults, because that’s a time in life when you might be at your most emotionally vulnerable and need to find yourself in books. But in times like these, when the fabric of what we thought was hopeful and possible turns out to have an ugly, ugly seam, the drive might intensify. Because books provide solace, books become a lighthouse in a storm, for anyone of any age.
Traci Chee, author of “The Reader”
When I set out to write “The Reader,” a YA fantasy about magic, pirates and books, I wanted to explore the idea that reading and writing can reshape the world. Knowing how to use words is powerful. Knowing how to reach people is powerful. That’s something I think about whenever I sit down to write, now more than ever. Some days there’s so much bad happening in the world that it’s hard to focus. But there’s still work to do, I think, still stories to write and maybe lives to change. Despite what’s going on around us — or maybe because of what’s going on around us — I have to believe my words make a difference, however small, for the readers who need them.
David Arnold, author of “Mosquitoland” and “Kids of Appetite”
I remember being a teen and thinking the world was against me. It wasn’t, of course, I was just experiencing that pretty standard Nirvana-fueled teen angst. Thing is, there are teens who feel that way today, only it’s not just angst — it’s turning on the television and hearing the leaders of the country saying, “You don’t look right, you don’t love right, you don’t worship right.” And I just want to tell these kids, “Hey. You’re perfect just as you are. And sometimes the world is an ugly place. But it can also a beautiful.” I guess that’s why I write. To try and show some of that beauty, and to try and make them feel a little closer to being OK with who they are.
Nic Stone, author of the forthcoming “Dear Martin”
I got into writing YA because when I was a YA, I never really saw books with people like me in them. I wanted to remedy that for kids who are like the kid I was.
And now I’m even more adamant about achieving that. I spoke with a 16-year-old African American girl just a couple of days after the election, and she was having a really hard time. Really, what this election tells kids of color and LGBTQIA+ kids and Muslim kids and immigrant kids is that there’s an astonishingly high number of people in this country who, at best, don’t care about them, and at worst, hate them over things about themselves they can’t change. I feel like now more than ever, it’s vital that marginalized voices are the heroes in books because it’s one of the few major ways we can make sure these kids have something to cling to for hope.
Heidi Heilig, author of “The Girl From Everywhere”
To be honest, it’s been a real mental-health disaster And all I think I can write about is ways to fight back and real-life action items. It feels indulgent almost to tackle work of fiction when the real life villains are so looming and threatening. It seems hard to not pay attention to that.
But I’ve had three requests for sensitivity reads a couple days after the election from authors who want to make sure they aren’t getting it wrong. It’s good to see people moving towards understanding.
Stampler is the author of the YA novel “Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies.”
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