What what YA?

This post is partially inspired by a discussion I had with a colleague at work, and partially by a blog post by the brilliant Hannah Moskowitz. And I promise it relates to MFA applications.

So. During a discussion I had with an admissions counselor (I work in UChicago Admissions office, I am popular yes what no I can’t get you in stop asking) about MFA programs, since she attended a low res in Vermont, and I wanted to hear what that was like, I mentioned my interest in YA. She kindly told me that I probably shouldn’t mention that in my application, which confused me. Upon further prompting, she explained that YA was taken much less seriously, and it was only at specific programs like Hamlin or Seton Hill that I should be like “I LIKE WRITING FOR TEENS LOVE ME PLEASE ACCEPT APPLICATION FOR WANTING TO BE IN YOUR SCHOOL”. Or whatever it is I’m writing. I might show you my statement of purpose later in the week if you ask. Please comment on my blog?

This news, however, was really concerning. Why is YA taken less seriously? First of all that seems like bullshit. Second of all, if it isn’t bullshit, why is that the case? People who write for kids are the most important writers out there (i might get some flack for this), because they are the people who get others interested in writing in the first place. True, someone might not read until their 30’s or 40’s. At least not for fun, anyways. But in all honesty, everyone reads or gets read to at a young age. Someone, I’m sure, can easily list the first books they read or remember reading, or their favorite bed time story. To summarize what I could talk about for a really long time, Kid Lit is just as important if not more so, as adult lit. It makes no sense that it should be taken less seriously. And I can tell you I’m going to mention it in my applications, because I’m damn proud of that fact – that I write for young readers and just starting readers and I’m just getting bar mitzvahed readers.

This got me thinking about Ms. Moskowit’z post. She said that YA writers are becoming very cliquish. Or perhaps that’s the wrong word. She fears (i’m summarizing but if you want to get a full on understanding of it, you really should read her post. And her blog. And her books. Fanboy froth) that YA writers are becoming a very tightly knitted community writing for each other rather than the kids – everyone knows each other and everyone’s agents, everyone talks to each other and tweets at each other and blogsand guest blogs for each other.

So this got me thinking, like I said, which is an unusual state of being for myself. What if YA is like the group of kids who plays dungeons and dragons. We have our own culture and our own society and system, but we band together because the football players don’t want to talk to us because they think they’re better than us? WHat I’m trying to say is, yes, YA writers do seem to be intensely connected with each other, which isn’t a bad thing (although I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. I like talking to YA writers online, but I do think Hannah expressed some pretty good concerns for what it might do to the actual writing and stories) but what if it’s more a product of our environment? What if it’s because MFA programs don’t think YA is serious enough for them, or because adult fiction writers don’t picture YA as important, or this reason or that, but whatever it is, YA writers have been ostracized. So, like the wayward nerds, we group together and we cosplay together at comicon or whatever the writerly analogy would be?

Suffice it to say, what’s so bad about YA that I shouldn’t include it on my MFA application, and is that a sign of a similar trend of thought throughout the writing community?



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2 responses to “What what YA?

  1. matt

    While it is certainly true that literature targeted towards children and young adults is what gets them excited about literature and writing in general, I think the answer to your final question is precisely that point: young adult literature serves as introductory material to a larger more varied body of work, and that sentiment is the cause of the apparent prejudice.

    In John Steinbeck’s nobel acceptance speech he made the following statement: “He [the writer] is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.” In Steinbeck’s vision of literature, good literature must not only relate to the reader, but through that relation reveal something on a personal level. Good literature would place the reader just outside of their comfort zone and face them with questions they wouldn’t normally ask themselves.

    I would argue that young adult literature doesn’t, as a genre, attempt to do this. (I would also argue that the majority of books published do not attempt to do this either, but that’s irrelevant.) The reason for this is that young adult literature is designed to be the first stories they read, designed to be exciting and thrilling and satisfying. Not to force them to question values or think about the philosophical underpinnings of their society.

    Is there anything wrong with this? no, and it certainly doesn’t mean that young adult fiction writers work any less than other writers. What it means is that academia is full of people who love to classify and judge. If I were you I’d take the advice, play the game, do yourself well and get in. Then once you’re there figure out why exactly it is that MFA programs frown on young adult literature, and then, hey, who knows, in five or so years you might be in a position to change that game, write something they can’t ignore.

  2. Alice

    Look! A blog! And you are looking into an MFA! All things I didn’t know about!

    But really, I thought this was interesting. I think a lot of people see YA fiction as pulpy, devoid of literary value, etc.–in the way people used to criticize dime-store novels as vastly inferior to books about say, morality. Certainly there’s a rationale behind the literary world’s disdain of say…Twilight. Or Gossip Girl. But there’s certainly reputable, socially relevant YA out there, and I think they tell relatable stories about specifically youth issues in a way that Anna Karenina can’t. Obviously, no one is going to say Judy Blume is pulp, even if her audience is in the 10-14 range. Literature snobs would do well to remember the primary point of writing is communicating to an audience.

    I assume you’re not out to write irrelevant were-wolf, vampire, poor relationship modeling trilogies, so I say do what you love and don’t hide it! Prove those naysayers wrong!

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