There is a great essay by Margo Rabb in today's NY Times Book Review, called "I'm Y.A. and I'm O.K."
Essentially, Rabb writes about the need for publishers to pigeonhole writing as either adult or Y.A (Young Adult), the need for writers to pigeonhole other writers defined by the market they primarily write for, and the overwhelming desire on the part of many both in and out of the literary world to look down on those who choose to write for young people, period, as though it were something of lesser value. Since I am someone who is only interested in writing for young people, this is such a bizarre thought--that someone actually thinks that writing for the younger set is somehow not as great an endeavor.
I think I can get it with regard to the publishers. I understand the need to categorize something in order to figure out how best to sell it. We see that kind of thinking going on all the time in all walks of life. One need only take a walk through any department store to see how merchandise is presented. Never mind that you might find the identical merchandise in several different departments. Some years back one would say, "I bought this Mr. Tres Chic pocketbook in Filene's Designer section upstairs in the main store." Usually I was the person saying, "I bought this Mr. Tres Chic pocketbook downstairs in Filene's Basement, with 3 mark downs, even." Same bag. Just different audiences.
So, yeah, I’ll yield when it comes to selling the books. Money talks, and nobody walks from one floor to the other, so to speak. And, yeah, yeah, tons of people in my crowd will gladly read YA books as much as they enjoy reading books for adults, but I know damn well that there are people who would rather have root canal work done, than sit and read a book classified as YA. Of course, that group is made up of readers who are victims of their own narrow thinking. They are going to miss out on some wonderful books.
So, I get the ignorance. What I do not get is the bad attitude and need to condescend. That is borne out of stupidity and arrogance.
I don’t get it, but I deal with it and have dealt with it for years. It is the same song and dance I am familiar with after more than 25 years of being an illustrator. Want hear my “stories?” No? Too bad. I am telling them anyway.
1) Years ago, when my husband was a summer clerk at a Philadelphia law firm, we attended a party for the summer associates. One of the partner’s wives asked me what I do. I replied that I was a free lance illustrator. She then turned to a young attorney and said with "a certain tone" in her voice, “And what are you? A free lance lawyer?”
2) I was sitting at a large table at a firm affair and some asked me what I do. I replied that I was an illustrator. Her comment, “But you do you do any creative art?” My “by then seasoned bad attitude” reply was, “NO. I am completely mercenary. Like an attorney.”
3) Finally, here is one that was the worst of them all. Why? Because this was a bad attitude on the part of other artists, like the “averted gazes and unabashed disinterest” that Margo Rabb observed among other writers when they learned she wrote a book classified as “Y.A.”
Not so many years ago, I was at a party. Hey—social event. See a pattern here? Only difference was that this was not a bunch of lawyers, who really don’t know better much of the time, so I tend to forgive them. THIS was a bunch of “creative types.” This was an assortment of people who should have known better.
Anyway, someone introduced me to a couple.
“Barbara, meet so-and-so. They are artists, like you.”
“Hello,” I said. When I asked them about their work I found out that they were husband and wife landscape painters from nearby Cambridge, MA.
“And what do you paint?” they asked.
“I am an illustrator,” I replied. And before I could get a single other word out of my mouth about my work, they QUITE LITERALLY TURNED THEIR BACKS TO ME without a word, and walked away. Just like that. Forget that I was very successful at what I do. Forget that the kind of landscapes they paint would probably have me finding it more exciting to sit in my backyard and watch my suburban lawn grow. At the sound of the word “illustrator” they immediately deemed me unworthy. At a lower level.
Like writers who poo poo writing books for young people.
Like readers who poo poo writing and reading books for young people.
The older I get, the less I can tolerate bad attitudes. Too bad these things happened to me when I was much younger and, therefore, still polite. Not now. I am at the age where I will not suffer fools. Pity the poor jerks now. I like to think that I would eat them for breakfast.
I am very glad Margo Rabb wrote the essay. But I am totally pissed off at what she had to experience to make her want to write it. Makes me spittin’ mad. Furthermore, now that I think about it, what I would really like to know is: where are those self-important, jackass landscape painters, anyway? I have a few words for them….