Awards, Awards, Awards.
So, why all the hoopla and controversy about awards?
Well, think about it - there are SO many books published every year (172,000 - just in the U.S.A. last year) that getting noticed - and read - is a challenge. Less than 25,000 of those books sell more than 5,000 copies. (Stats from here.)
So Awards, and reviews in the major journals/newspapers/blogs become really important.
Hence, the rise of the Cybils, a book blogger literary award for Children's and Young Adult books. And I'm really excited to be part of this third year of the Cybils Awards as an Judge!
But there are other awards that have a long history, and recently the Lamdba Literary Awards changed the way theirs works.
See, The Lamdba Literary Awards (the Lammies) used to be for BOOKS that were GLBTQ in content.
Now, they're saying that the AUTHORS have to self-identify as part of the Gay Community for their GLBTQ books to qualify.
That's a HUGE change - and one that would eliminate a lot of wonderful books that might otherwise not find their audiences.
I'm thinking of Ellen Wittlinger, author of one of the few transgender teen novels, "Parrotfish," (a finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Awards) and also of "Love and Lies: Marisol's Story" (a finalist for the 2009 Lambda Literary Awards) and "Hard Love" (Which WON the Lambda Literary Award in 2000.)
Ellen is a straight woman, but she is an Ally and Advocate who has done SO much for our community. She writes brave books about Gay characters, she does her homework and her books make an impact - for the good - on Gay Teens.
To tell her, and authors like her, that she can't be considered for any future awards because she herself isn't a lesbian, or bi, or transgender, or questioning - to tell her that her books can no longer qualify because she fell in love with a man (gasp!) is so contrary to what we should be doing as a community.
Instead of encouraging our ALLIES and everyone else to celebrate our lives and yes, create stories that celebrate and incorporate being Gay, Lambda's shift feels like a slap in the face to those same people who are trying to move the world - our world - in a better direction.
Now, I'm a gay man. And I do love the idea of an organization saying "Hey, we're here to help GAY authors get noticed." I think that's awesome. I could use getting noticed. And there are certainly publishing contests for minority authors (Like The Lee and Low "New Voices Award" Contest), and while I might be wistful about not being able to submit to those contests, I appreciate that they're trying to do a bit of affirmative action, to give underrepresented writers from their communities a shot.
But to take an established awards program (this year was the 21st annual event) and switch its focus to be not about the books' orientation but about the authors' orientation, too, feels like the wrong way to go about it.
I would have suggested Lambda create a new category of awards, something like "Best Debut Gay Author" and "Best Debut Lesbian Author," etc... That would shout-out and create a new buzz for authors who are GLBTQ, without shutting out Allied authors from the overall awards.
And as I'm now going to be a JUDGE for the Cybils, I've been thinking about this a lot. I have friends who have had their YA books released in the time period that qualifies them. And I'm going to have to be very careful to be as author-blind as I can be - to really judge the books on the books themselves, and not let any information about WHO the author is influence my "reading" of those books, as best as I can.
I think this is why Lady Justice is blindfolded - we all joke that she's blind and it means she (Justice) has no compassion - but I think the original intent may have been that when you judge something, you weigh it with a sense of impartiality.
And I think that books should be judged that way, too.
So, I would hope that the Lambda Literary Foundation re-considers what qualifies a book to be considered for their awards. I think it should be the BOOK itself - rather than who the author falls in love with.
I hope as well that Lambda creates a new awards category to recognize budding GLBTQ authors - I think that would be great.
And I also hope that as a judge for the Cybils, I and my fellow judges will be able to put aside the information of who wrote what, and simply read and judge each book on its own merits.
Because there are so many books out there - and some really deserve to be noticed!
I'm curious. What do YOU think about the Change in Lambda's rules?
You can read more about the Lambda Literary Foundation's guidelines change here.