I know someÂ folks are bristling a bit at Margo’s essay in the Times yesterday. Because it suggests a kind of hierarchy of genres, because it reads as a kind of apology, and perhaps as a complaint (by someone who seems to beÂ awfully successful and lucky).
But I want to offer this thought…
When someone has been working toward a goal, any goal, the idea that (at what feels like the very end of the journey) you aren’t going to get the goal, but are instead going to get something else…
That’s kind of hard.
Imagine being a kid, reaching for the brass ring on the carousel, and when you finally get it, it turns out to be a chicken nugget!
You don’t dislike or disrespect chicken nuggets. In fact you may LOVEÂ chicken nuggets.Â But you’ve been going around and around and around on a big painted frog for a very specific reason, to get a RING. And now, here you are with a nugget.
I can relate to the essay. I can REALLY relate to the essay, and have done a bit of apologizing/defending/complaining myself about such things.
I spent YEARS becoming a poet.Â It was and is a huge part of my identity. I dreamed of teaching gigs and colonies and silly snooty book parties.Â From the age of 15 I dreamed of such things.
So no matter how thrilled and excited and happy I am to be writing mg novels and picture books, and no matter how much I believe in these books and have made a choice (the right choice!), I did feel strange the day I realized I couldn’t apply to colonies to work on such projects, because such places only fund ADULT LITERARY writing. And my books, it would seem, aren’t literature now that they come from a children’s imprint.Â And my books won’t help land me the teaching job I still dream of, because I love teaching…
Honestly, it does still feel weird when I tell people I have this novel coming out and they say, “But you’re still writing poetry, right? Right?”
(I am, but I don’t feel I should need to legitimize myself that way)
For me, when I had my kidlit conversion, the issue was different than for Margo, because for me it was an internal process, of realizing that some of my “prose poems” were in fact picture books. Of realizing that these ideas and words and books I wanted to write would best be WRITTEN (not just marketed) for kids. I had to work through my issues with the academy and the hierarchy first, slowly, on the inside.Â I had time to prepare myself, get ready to say “THPBBBT!” to poety friends who might turn up their noses.Â Becuase I really WANTED to write for kids, and jsut had to get used to the idea.
But for Margo it happened very suddenly–how much stranger to write a book with one audience in mind, and discover overnight you’ve got another.
And then to realize that all the things you’ve worked toward are different things now, suddenly.
I can’t count the artists I know who’ve ended up in more lucrative graphic design jobs, apologizing for themselves.Â The law school students who take another kind of job and look sheepish about it when they ahve to tell people what they do.Â Why is that okay, but this isn’t?
It doesn’t haveÂ to be a value judgement of YA by the author. Margo obviously likes YA and reads YA, and now she’s simply indicating something about our literary culture, and descibing an experience she had, which seems to me pretty reasonable.
That she expected/ worked for/ dreamed of one thing, and got another.
Like expecting a girl and getting a boy maybe. You love your kids. You can’t imagine anything other than what you got.Â But when you get home from the hospital, you look around the frilly pink room, and you have toÂ adjust.Â And that takes a little minute.
I really hope this is all changing. I really hope that soon there will be more respect paid to kidlit and YA. Because it’s an AMAZING literature.Â Because I have come to believe that more interesting, creative, vital, and artistic work is being written for kids than for grownups right now.Â Because kids are reading more as adults are reading less.Â Because these truly are the books I love right now.
But I won’t lie and pretend that when a smartypants short-fiction friend clutching some long boring book of experimental writing , (fresh from a stint at Yaddo or Macdowell or VSC or someplace else I’m not allowed to go) asksÂ what I’m working on… I get a little weird.Â I rant a bit.Â I give them a speech, a little like this one.
A speech designed to educate but also– to defend.Â Which implies at least a little bit of insecurity, and I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise. In that moment I do feel insecure.
But that’s a really small part of what I’m feeling in that moment. Because most of all I’m thinking, “THANK GOD I DON’T HAVE TO READ THAT LONG BORING GROWNUP BOOK YOU’RE HOLDING!”