by Andrew Karre

I don’t think a day goes by in kidlit where we’re not in one way or another reminded of the importance of #ownvoices in telling the stories of historically underrepresented, oppressed, and marginalized people. Many authors and critics have been more articulate on that point than I can be—often on this very blog–and I’m grateful for their work and all the ways it informs mine (which is a fancy way of saying the ways it keeps me from making an ass of myself).

There is a secondary benefit to more #ownvoices in our literary landscape that particularly excites me, and that’s what I’d like to shine a bit of light on. For whatever reason, I have published more woman YA authors than men, and a good fraction of those women have written point-of-view characters who are male. Ilsa J. Bick’s The Sin Eater’s Confession. Stephanie Kuehn’s The Smaller Evil. Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence and Perfectly Good White Boy. And this is to name only a few. I have learned more about adolescent masculinity—and have been forced to think about my own male adolescent past more deeply—in the process of editing books like these than by any other means in work or life. No other mirror has presented a clearer portrait.


I think this is only the beginning, though.


I’m very excited to see what up-and-coming writers of color, queer writers, and other voices outside the white/cis/het/male power centers will illuminate about whiteness, straightness, gender binaries, among other things. It’s abundantly clear to me that power and privilege confer a measure of blindness on an author (or an editor)—blindness that can be overcome with work, but blindness all the same. Somehow, the other side of that coin seems to be a measure of very welcome insight into that blinding power and privilege.
To be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting that I hope these writers skip telling their own stories or that they are obligated to spend any time worrying about mine. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t read their books if they don’t imagine people like me somewhere in them. Not at all. #Ownvoices attention to my straight white maleness is a gift to me, not an obligation. But simple demographic logistics are frequently going to place white/cis/het/male secondary characters in the storytelling paths of authors and protagonists who are none of those things. And I am willing to bet that in seasons to come the results are only going to get more brilliant and fascinating—by which I mean more challenging and cringe inducing for the sheer magnitude of the illumination they cast on power and privilege. Just as female authors have illuminated corners of masculinity I’d not considered before, I expect trans authors to burn away shadows in my understanding of binary gender as a concept. And that’s good. Better than good, it’s absolutely essential. The beneficiaries of centuries of power and privilege will do well to take in this new illumination as we begin to see ourselves in the backgrounds of other people’s stories.

unknownAndrew Karre is executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. He lives in St. Paul, MN. Find him on Twitter @andrewkarre