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December 16, 2014

International Diversity in YA Writing Panel

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One of the biggest conversations in the YA world right now is the importance of diverse voices --- there are teens from all walks of life in the United States, and our books should reflect that.

But what if you were to look at diversity from a more global perspective? That's exactly what they did at International Diversity in YA Writing at the New  York Public Library on December 10th. Teenreads.com intern Rebecca Czochor attended this fascinating event, and gives a breakdown below. Give it a read, and next time you visit a bookstore, maybe you'll look for some translated YA novels from around the world!


A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a panel at the New York Public Library called International Diversity in YA Writing. As you can probably guess from the title, this was a panel made up of people in the YA industry discussing the genre on the global scale. Hosted by the group Writers Without Borders, the panel included author Padma Venkatraman (A TIME TO DANCE), editor Briony Everroad, librarian Roxanne Hsu-Feldman, and publisher Arthur A. Levine. Writers Without Borders also released an issue of their magazine dedicated solely to YA writing from around the world; places like Georgia, Bangladesh, Germany, Norway, South Korea and more. The whole issue is on their website and you should definitely check it out! http://wordswithoutborders.org/current-issue/

The panel talked about a lot of really important issues facing YA globally. For instance, when putting their YA issue together, Briony had to search for YA writing from a diverse range of places, but it was easier to find in some than in others. Some countries don't have the same genre organization as the US; instead many countries still break up their books between adult literature and children's literature, with no distinction for young adults. Briony specifically mentioned that finding countries in Africa with distinct young adult writing was a challenge, because many places just don't make that distinction between childhood and adulthood.

They also discussed the importance of diversity in YA, which is a huge topic right now. While it may often be difficult to find YA-geared stories from certain places, the panel agreed that it's hugely beneficial for US teens to read the slice of life experience directly from someone in another country. They all agreed that reading a translated story about the teenage experience somewhere else might be more beneficial than reading a similar story by someone from the US, especially because a foreign writer would be able to give insight into his or her country that another author couldn't. Arthur made a great point that if teens are willing to read sci-fi and fantasy, they should be able to make the leap to read something outside of their own culture.

The panel agreed that it's hugely beneficial for US teens to read the slice of life experience directly from someone in another country.

 There was also a discussion on the importance of good translation. That's certainly a challenge a lot of these global writers have to face --- having someone accurately translate their work. You can take two very good translators, have them translate the same piece, and come up with two entirely different interpretations! It's an extra step for publishers, but Arthur A. Levine mentioned that he's up for the challenge of trying to publish great things, no matter where they come from. He said you can't predict what's going to become the next HARRY POTTER, so you might as well tap into some of these amazing authors from around the world.

It was a really insightful panel, and a lot of what they were talking about are conversations I hear happening all the time around YA; diversity, multiculturalism, etc. It was very cool to sit in and listen to a bunch of YA insiders talk about these topics. It's a really important conversation and it's great to hear it firsthand! I know the next time I head to the bookstore, I'm going to try to seek out some YA books from outside of the US!


Rebecca Czochor is a Teenreads.com intern.