Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Morris Morass

Yesterday ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association announced the finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers.

The five female authors nominated for this prestigious honor are:

Eishes Chayil for HUSH

Karen Healey for GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD

Lish McBride for HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER

Barbara Stuber for CROSSING THE TRACKS

Blythe Woolston for THE FREAK OBSERVER

Congratulations, ladies!

...Okay, I'm being facetious.

The prize isn't really called the "William C. Morris YA Debut Award for Women Writers."

It just feels that way.

Now in its third year, the Morris Award always publishes a list of five finalists.

Of the fifteen books thus far honored, FOURTEEN have been by female writers.

The only exception has been James Lecesne, nominated the first year for ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS -- and even that novel featured a female first-person narrator.

(But to be fair, several of the shortlisted books over the years, including last year's winner, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan, have been stories with male protagonists, despite being written by female authors.)

Noting how "female-centric" the Morris shortlists have been has gotten me wondering whether it's because most of today's top YA writers really are women...or is it simply because more women are published in the field of young-adult fiction, which of course gives award committes a much wider "talent pool" from which to make their choices?

Has anyone ever kept statistics on the numbes of male vs. female authors in the YA field?

And has the field been trending toward women writers in recent years?

Since the Morris award honors first-time YA writers, I tracked down a list of 2010 Debut Writers in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Fiction on the Goodreads site. Although I'm sure this list is far from definitive, I found it troubling that out of 310 titles listed, only 28 appeared to be written or co-written by male authors.

That's less than ten per cent!

It should be noted that my observation about the Morris shortlists have nothing to do with the quality of 2011's nominated books. To be honest (taking a humbling deep breath here) I haven't yet read any of this year's finalists. Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards. Maybe after reading all five books, I'll agree that every one of them is superb -- each a true hidden gem discovered by the committee. But till then I'm going to wonder why fourteen out of fifteen Morris finalists have been women...and wonder if it's really true that less than 10% of debuting YA authors these days are men....

If that actually is the trend, then I think that we need -- for the sake of diversity -- to ask Jon Scieszka to start a companion to his GUYS READ literacy program.

The new one should be called GUYS WRITE.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Printz is much more balanced: 5 male winners, 6 female winners. (And if you look at winners + honors, you get 21 men and 26 women -- with one (AM Jenkins) that I wasn't sure about.)

Not sure if this "means" anything, but wanted to throw it out there for consideration.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks, Anonymous. That's a good point. I should have included the Printz winners for comparison. (A.M. Jenkins is a woman, by the way.)

However, things are less balanced on the Newbery side of things. I blogged the following facts last year -- updated now to include this year's Newbery winners and Honor Books:

As of this year, we have 58 female winners...and 30 male winners.

And if you factor in all the Honor Books as well, the disparity actually widens -- with 256 titles written by women...and only 118 by men.

Anyone who studies the Newbery knows that the winners for the first truncated decade (1922-1929) were all men and that the winners for the second decade (1930-1939) were all women.

Since those first two decades, the longest “run” of male winners has been three years. It’s happened twice, from 1987 to 1989 (Sid Fleischman, Russell Freedman, Paul “Sid’s Son” Fleischman) and 1999 to 2001 (Louis Sachar, Christopher Paul Curtis, Richard Peck.)

However, the longest run of female winners was a mind-boggling fourteen years between Jean Craighead George in 1973 and Patricia MacLachlan in 1986! There have also been two seven-year runs of female-only winners, from 1962 (Elizabeth George Speare) to 1967 (E. L. Konigsburg) and from 1992 (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) to 1998 (Karen Hesse.)

Finally, for kicks, let’s look at the years in which the Newbery and ALL the Honors have gone to only male writers:

It’s happened in 1926...1961...1969...1991...and 1999. And it should be pointed out that in three of those years there was only one Honor Book!

On the distaff side, there have been almost twenty occasions when the winner and ALL the Honors have gone to only female writers:

1930 (winner plus six Honors!), 1932 (winner plus six Honors!), 1933, 1935, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1963, 1965, 1970, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1995, 1997, 2002, and 2007.

Whitney said...

Earlier this year, I looked at the gender breakdown of authors and protagonists for the 2010 Best Books for Young Adults nominees: http://www.youthservicescorner.com/2010/gender-in-ya/. About 70% of the 185 books were written by women.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Oops, actually I DIDN'T update those figures in the above comment.

Updated to include the 2010 Newbery winner and Honor books, the total is now 59 female winners and 30 male winners, with 258 Honors by female authors and 120 by Honors by male authors.

Peter

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks Whitney -- and it will be interesting to see if the gap widens or narrows when the actual "Best Books" are chosen. I'm going to guess it widens, with 75% or more of the books written by women.

Peter

Daughter Number Three said...

Blythe Woolston's The Freak Observer is an excellent book... haven't read the other four.

Blythe Woolston said...

I never even noticed this, but I can tell you that I was pretty shocked to find myself on the shortlist. I still can't figure out how that happened. But lists are only a snapshot: 1) 40% of the books on Amazon's 2010 editor's YA picks are written by guys; 2) On the comparable adult list, guys make up the majority.

And even though the overall numbers may be skewed here or there, I don't think there is much to worry about.

100% of the editors who pulled my MS out of the slush are male.

33% of the original Carolrhoda Lab authors are male.

My n's are too small to produce statistically significant data, but the men who helped me make my book are very significant.

Put good books in the hands of readers. Encourage young reader to write. You can't go wrong doing that.

Foz Meadows said...

I am so confused by this whole post. Also angry.

So, normally, when I see something written about gender bias and disparity when it comes to publishing, books and literary awards, it's about how men are disporportionately represented where kudos is concerned - and the data tends to be clear on the fact that they are. Lots of reasons have been offered up for this, centering (as one might reasonably imagine) on the presence of either a latent or express culture of sexism in literature, coupled with an idea of women's writing as being somehow less revelatory and more domestic - where domesticity is a bad thing - than men's.

For instance, consider the following articles about sexism in the Booker prize
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/aug/17/books.bookerprize2001)
the Miles Franklin
(http://tinyurl.com/2w6p88q)
awards in general, along with some revealing statistics
(http://thinkingsofalili.blogspot.com/2010/03/rant-women-writing-chicklit.html)
the fact that 'chick lit' is often used as a pejorative
(http://glendalarke.blogspot.com/2010/08/chick-lit-name-that-makes-me-gnash-my.html)
and this post on gender in writing
(http://web.overland.org.au/2010/01/20/%E2%80%98who-cares-about-gender-at-a-time-like-this%E2%80%99/)
and you'll begin to see what I'm talking about.

Look: obviously, given my citation of the above articles, I'm not trying to contend that the proportions of men vs women in the nominations for publishing awards are irrelevant. Nor am I trying to say that they are only relevant when the balance is skewed against women. What I am saying is that there is demonstrably a larger trend in this area against women than there is against men, and that certain undeniable aspects of our cultural history not only support that trend, but can actively be seen to be the cause of it.

So when you write what appears to be a surprised and slightly outraged post about how men are so unrepresented in the lists for ONE award, it really doesn't compute.

If you'd complained about or noted the ommission of a particularly awesome male-authored book (or books), that would be one thing. If you had actually read any of the books listed for this award and doubted their merit, that would be another. But you haven't. Instead, you have gone so far as to complain about there being a TRADITION of the lack of male representation in the Morris award - clearly a weighty matter of grave statistical significance to the gender debate, given that it's been been in operation for all of three years.

(Which, by the way, is not to denigrate the Morris AT ALL. I'm just saying, three years of women winners compared to the decades of the Booker and Miles Franklin being male-dominated is, you know, a smaller period of time.)

And what is the complaint here, exactly? Why is it so remarkable that women dominate the Morris? You never specify. Are you just arguing for across the board gender parity - that everything should be fifty-fifty?

Anonymous said...

I really don't give a crap about the sex of the writers. If it's a good book, it's a good book and deserves to be honored. Period.
That said, I've read Crossing the Tracks, and it's a fantastic book! Barbara Stuber belongs to the same local writer's group that Elizabeth Bunce (the first winner of the award) belongs to, which is pretty cool. I got my copy autographed at a party last weekend!
I hope to get my hands on the others soon.
Jeanne K.

Anonymous said...

Aaaaaaaaand . . . . the Caldecott's slant steeply toward the male. Maybe because we applaud the big, the bold and the flashy in our picture books? And we lean toward the introspective for our Newbery's?

I don't see anything wrong with the fact that committees formed new each year show a preference for a particular kind of work when judging for a prize. If the community as a whole seems to feel that big bold and flashy makes the best picture books, then the people who produce delicate introspective pictures need to make an argument to change the communal mind about what good work is, not complain that women don't get the prizes.

Same here. If you want to make an argument that all the Morris Awards are the same flavor exactly, then make that argument. But if guys choose not to write the kind of books that get Morris Awards, then they have to show me why their kinds of books should win, not that we should have more male winners.

I may not be making sense,but I hope you understand my meaning.

Anonymous said...

To Blythe Woolston,

Congrats on your award nomination. I just ordered a copy of your book and can't wait to read it!

Peter
www.collectingchildrensbooks.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

To Foz Meadows,

I certainly did not mean to sound "slightly outraged" in my post. All I wanted to do was share my observation that this award has skewed female since its inception. I would have written the same piece if 14 of the 15 nominees had been male.

But what really threw me was seeing that list of 308 young adult debut novels and discovering only 28 were written by men. I'm not asking for the award nominations to be 50/50. After all, these five books by these female authors may be better than any young adult novel by a male writer published this year. What does concern and baffle me is that -- at least according to the Goodreads list I cited -- 90% of the new YA writers PUBLISHED this year were women. I'd love to know why that is!

Peter
www.collectingchildrensbooks.blogspot.com

Angela Craft said...

Peter-

If Foz's feelings of anger are anything like why I felt frustrated after reading this post, it's because if your concern is over the number of men being published in YA, then you've kind of buried the lede here by opening with the Morris list.

It seems like you're addressing two separate issues here - the gender breakdown of the Morris list and the absence of debut male YA authors. I'd also be curious at a serious look at why men aren't being published and/or writing in YA, but looking at other careers it's not hard to put together a hypothesis. The history of children's publishing in America has been dominated by women because it was originally seen as an extension of our "duties" to being the moral guardians of children. The YA market grew out of the children's market, not from the adult market, and so it is also dominated by women's voices. Men aren't encouraged to break into traditionally "female" fields the way women are encouraged to break into male fields, so once a field is dominated by women, it tends to stay that way unless the prestige and/or pay increases in such a way that it would be socially acceptable for a bread winning man to be part of it.

Quite frankly, until I hear of men being actively discouraged from writing YA, I can't get too concerned about this. We've seen concrete examples of discrimination towards writers and characters of color in YA, and the adult publishing world clearly has a bias against giving its prestigious awards to women (as the links Foz included point out). And as Blythe points out, any given list is going to have different demographics, since that Amazon list is 40% male. Maybe 2010 was just a light year for male authors - how does that 10% compare with 2009? From 1999?

Laura Canon said...

Memo to self: add "gender bias in book awards" to "politics, religion" as topics never to bring up in polite society.
I enjoyed this discussion particularly as if came off my looking over the NY Times list of notable books of the year. Only 8 children's books..only 2 YA. One is Mockingjay, the other is Centerfield by Robert Lipsyte.

Reka said...

I'd love to look at another part of your original comment, Peter: "Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards." In recent years I've begun to suspect that while many of us assume award winners received lots of starred reviews, this may not be the case always or even most of the time. I have never done much research to find out if this theory holds water, but I did do a little checking in relation to this post.

If there are YA debut novels that have gotten significantly more stars than those that were nominated, I was not able to find them. A quick check of Elizabeth Blumle's starred review list (though that is only current through late Sept.) and Amazon revealed only a few eligible books that had three stars, and none with more: Annexed, Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Happyface, and Sky is Everywhere. To my knowledge the most buzzed-about YA debut is Before I Fall, which has 2 stars.

Of the books shortlisted for the Morris this year, one has 2 stars, three have 1 star, and one has none, from what I can tell.

Looking at the Printz awards from the past three years, certainly some books got the starry reception that we'd expect to see, but a surprising (to me) number did not get that many. Going Bovine, last year's winner, got 2 stars, Monstrumologist got none, Punkzilla got 1. 2009 was pretty starry, but look at 2008 and the winner got 3 stars while the honors got 0, 1, 3, and 3 stars.

I'd be very interested to find out how the Newbery winners and honors fared when it came to starred reviews, since I think a lot of the industry buzz about awards condenders that starts midway through the year is driven by the accumulation of starred reviews. (How else can we try to handicap an award when all the discussions are behind closed doors, right?) I've never had the time to really research this, and I'm sure you don't either, Peter, but if you ever do, I'd love to know what you find!

In any case, the point that it's taken me so long to make is that this year's Morris nominees are not surprisingly un-starry when you compare it to the stars this far review list and to recent Printz winners.

If you are surprised by this year's nominees, what books did you expect to see nominated?

Reka said...

I'd love to look at another part of your original comment, Peter: "Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards." In recent years I've begun to suspect that while many of us assume award winners received lots of starred reviews, this may not be the case always or even most of the time. I have never done much research to find out if this theory holds water, but I did do a little checking in relation to this post.

If there are YA debut novels that have gotten significantly more stars than those that were nominated, I was not able to find them. A quick check of Elizabeth Blumle's starred review list (though that is only current through late Sept.) and Amazon revealed only a few eligible books that had three stars, and none with more: Annexed, Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Happyface, and Sky is Everywhere. To my knowledge the most buzzed-about YA debut is Before I Fall, which has 2 stars.

Of the books shortlisted for the Morris this year, one has 2 stars, three have 1 star, and one has none, from what I can tell.

Looking at the Printz awards from the past three years, certainly some books got the starry reception that we'd expect to see, but a surprising (to me) number did not get that many. Going Bovine, last year's winner, got 2 stars, Monstrumologist got none, Punkzilla got 1. 2009 was pretty starry, but look at 2008 and the winner got 3 stars while the honors got 0, 1, 3, and 3 stars.

I'd be very interested to find out how the Newbery winners and honors fared when it came to starred reviews, since I think a lot of the industry buzz about awards condenders that starts midway through the year is driven by the accumulation of starred reviews. (How else can we try to handicap an award when all the discussions are behind closed doors, right?) I've never had the time to really research this, and I'm sure you don't either, Peter, but if you ever do, I'd love to know what you find!

In any case, the point that it's taken me so long to make is that this year's Morris nominees are not surprisingly un-starry when you compare it to the stars this far review list and to recent Printz winners.

If you are surprised by this year's nominees, what books did you expect to see nominated?

Reka said...

I'd love to look at another part of your original comment, Peter: "Most of these books seem to have come out of left field, with neither the "buzz" nor the string of starred reviews that usually lead up to such awards." In recent years I've begun to suspect that while many of us assume award winners received lots of starred reviews, this may not be the case always or even most of the time. I have never done much research to find out if this theory holds water, but I did do a little checking in relation to this post.

If there are YA debut novels that have gotten significantly more stars than those that were nominated, I was not able to find them. A quick check of Elizabeth Blumle's starred review list (though that is only current through late Sept.) and Amazon revealed only a few eligible books that had three stars, and none with more: Annexed, Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Happyface, and Sky is Everywhere. To my knowledge the most buzzed-about YA debut is Before I Fall, which has 2 stars.

Of the books shortlisted for the Morris this year, one has 2 stars, three have 1 star, and one has none, from what I can tell.

Looking at the Printz awards from the past three years, certainly some books got the starry reception that we'd expect to see, but a surprising (to me) number did not get that many. Going Bovine, last year's winner, got 2 stars, Monstrumologist got none, Punkzilla got 1. 2009 was pretty starry, but look at 2008 and the winner got 3 stars while the honors got 0, 1, 3, and 3 stars.

I'd be very interested to find out how the Newbery winners and honors fared when it came to starred reviews, since I think a lot of the industry buzz about awards condenders that starts midway through the year is driven by the accumulation of starred reviews. (How else can we try to handicap an award when all the discussions are behind closed doors, right?) I've never had the time to really research this, and I'm sure you don't either, Peter, but if you ever do, I'd love to know what you find!

In any case, the point that it's taken me so long to make is that this year's Morris nominees are not surprisingly un-starry when you compare it to the stars this far review list and to recent Printz winners.

If you are surprised by this year's nominees, what books did you expect to see nominated?

Reka said...

Ack! Sorry about the triple posting--my computer froze partway through.

nw said...

90% of the new YA writers PUBLISHED this year were women. I'd love to know why that is!

Because 90% of the people writing YA are women? Or maybe it's more than 90%, but men are more likely to be published when they do deign to write for a younger audience.

Come on! Anyone who has ever been to an SCBWI event knows that there are very few men to be found in the sea of hopeful female writers. If men get 40- 50% of most awards in children's literature, they are WAY overrepresented.

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