“Straight white boys are being erased too” is not the message people wanted to hear
A young-adult author panel aimed at representing the breadth of modern America triggered a digital firestorm this past weekend about diversity in the industry.
The five panelists comprising the YALLSTAYHOME festival’s This American Experience segment on April 25 were from varied backgrounds: debut authors and New York Times-bestselling writers, memoirists and fiction writers, authors of color and LGBTQ writers.
The moderator was best-selling author Lauren Myracle, who according to panelists and attendees hijacked the panel to lament the perceived erasure of straight white boys in current young-adult literature.
Myracle, who is white, posited that publishing’s continued quest to diversify has sidelined the stories of young white men, citing her own book as an example. “And my book is about a white middle class straight boy. Because you know, guess what, they’re part of the mix too. … Girls have been given a really nice (ride) … I’m not sure I’ve seen that same type of growth (in books) happen with straight white middle class guys,” she said, according to a Zoom transcript circulating on social media.
Twitter exploded with complaints. Organizers apologized, and rebooked the panel for a “This American Experience 2.0” version the next day with Nic Stone, a best-selling author of color, as the new moderator.
It’s just one example of challenges emerging as writers for young people increasingly pivot online. While the industry has long sought diversity, the shared scrutiny of a captive audience amplified and concentrated concerns about the panel.
Racist comments target authors on Zoom
The incident also follows disturbing instances of authors being targeted by racist commenters during online programs for teen-agers.
In one, young-adult novelist Kelly Yang saw the comment “Chinese virus” flash across her Instagram Live screen during a free online writing class.
“What do I do? Do I stop the class? I was just talking about the surging xenophobia and racism in the wake of the coronavirus and how it has affected me as an Asian American creator,” she wrote in a column for ELLE about the encounter.
“I just got off a school visit where kids unmuted continuously to call me a nigger,” author Dhonielle Clayton tweeted on April 23, of a Zoom visit with 11th graders at a Los Angeles high school. “The blank video screens make teens bold out here.”
The upcoming digital Everywhere Book Fest chose a hosting platform that will allow monitors to screen comments and delete abusive statements in real time, organizer Christina Soontornvat explained. “We have a dedicated team on the day of the live events and their only job is to monitor that part,” she said. “After what happened with Kelly, we really saw how important it was to have people to do that, and then what happened with Dhonielle re-emphasized the importance of it.”
Clayton, author of the young-adult series The Belles and chief operating officer of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books organization, visited the L.A. school virtually as part of YALLWEST. The festival temporarily stopped scheduling school visits as a result, tweeting, “After an incident today involving hate speech directed at one of our authors, we have suspended all virtual school visits.” This would continue, they said, until they could guarantee the “safety” of all their authors.
YALLWEST, which renamed itself YALLSTAYHOME for its switch to an all-digital format, was just as speedy in addressing the This American Experience panel, which was one of the last events of the day on April 25. Shortly after midnight, organizers tweeted an apology: “Part of our programming today did not live up to our YALLWEST ideals of inclusivity and creating a safe space for all.” Hours later, they announced the 2.0 version of the panel.
The announcement came as complaints swirled on Twitter about representation in YALLSTAYHOME and about Myracle, who has remained mum publicly and did not respond to Book and Film Globe’s request for comment.
Panelists were stony-faced in a grim group Zoom screenshot dubbed “Get Out 2017” by one commenter.
“I was on this panel. Long story short, it’s not okay to tell (people of color) on your panel that white teen males need space too,” tweeted All Boys Aren’t Blue memoirist George M. Johnson.
“I hate thinking of stuff I should’ve said and done AFTER the fact,” tweeted The Hate U Give author and fellow panelist Angie Thomas. “I write about using your voice and had a moment today where I didn’t. Had that moment of ‘Maybe I’m being sensitive. Should I speak up?’ Similar to like Starr has in THUG.”
The YALLSTAYHOME replacement panel proceeded with barely any reference to the previous day, save one very visible bit of shade: Thomas changed her Zoom background for the second round to a collage of multiple white male authors recognized as “canon.”