Post #3 — Controversy over Edwards Award Winner

11 02 2008

I just read this article in School Library Journal about a controversy over the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which is given out by the Young Adult Library Services Association and “recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.”

This year, the winner is Orson Scott Card, the author of one of my favorite books, Ender’s Game. But after reading the article, I was disappointed to find out that Card has also written anti-gay articles for mainstream and religious publications.

As much as I disagree with Card’s opinions, Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book, makes a valid point at the end of the SLJ article when says librarians have no business evaluating a writer’s moral, political, or ethical beliefs.

That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Logically, I can see that it would be a form of censorship to withhold awards from people who we don’t agree with personally. The whole purpose of intellectual freedom is for situations like this — controversial opinions (not just those I agree with) need the most protection.

But that doesn’t meant its not difficult, emotionally, to separate the author from the hurtful things he says in the real world. And will teens, who may not understand intellectual freedom, be able to make that distinction?

I’m curious what other people’s opinions are on this…

–Laura

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2 responses

14 02 2008
jessica

I agree that controversial opinions should not preclude an author from receiving an award. Intellectual freedom means for better or for worse but the part of this particular controversy that got to me was the lack of investigation into the author. Without knowing the author’s personal views the committee seemed to be caught in an indefensible position. I feel like it’s one thing to say “we didn’t know” and another to say “we knew and based our decision on his body of work.”
The Margret A. Edwards Award is given based on a set of criteria (from http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/margaretaedwards/whowasedwards/whomargaretedwards.cfm):
“(1) Does the book(s) help adolescents to become aware of themselves and to answer their questions about their role and importance in relationships, society and in the world?
(2) Is the book(s) of acceptable literary quality?
(3) Does the book(s) satisfy the curiosity of young adults and yet help them thoughtfully to build a philosophy of life?
(4) Is the book(s) currently popular with a wide range of young adults in the many different parts of the country?
(5) Do the book or books serve as a “window to the world” for young adults?”
None of these requirements would have anyone researching the author or needing to. The criteria is focused only on the author’s contributions to the field of young adult literature. By that token, Card is certainly worthy of the award. What confuses me is not the criteria for the author’s contributions but the disregard for knowing who is to be honored.
The article states, “committee members say they were unaware of Card’s articles, columns, and essays about homosexuality. ‘It was brought to my attention after the award announcement,’ says the committee’s chair, Brenna Shanks of the King County Library System in Washington.” After!? A simple Google search will produce at least a couple of articles about his less savory views. Card was chosen without any knowledge of his person and there has been a wave of criticism since. Because the individual’s are not researched and there has been a backlash due to this winner, I wonder how future nominations will be affected. Will the committee research the winner beforehand or will they continue to deem that information unnecessary? Will it affect future nominees? Would it ultimately preclude a winner? I feel that once the winner is chosen based on their work, the committee ought to learn about the writer in order to be better prepared for what may come. I only hope that such negative opinions will not prevent any otherwise deserving author the recognition they deserve.
-Jessica

16 02 2008
huntlaur

That’s a very good point. Not knowing about the author before the vote allows committee members to access the author’s work without bias. But maybe now committee members will feel the need to do their own research on the authors just so they’re not caught off guard. And maybe what they learn about the author will create bias and lead them to withhold a vote, or, if what they find on the author is positive, lead them to vote for someone who might not have earned it otherwise. On the other hand, everyone comes to the table with some kind of bias, anyway.

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