United for Libraries Author Panels | ALA Annual 2017

As always, the 2017 American Library Association (ALA) annual conference featured well-attended author panels sponsored by United for Libraries, the ALA division representing library trustees, advocates, and friends groups. This year’s panels were distinguished by the ready exchange they engendered between authors and audience and among audience members as well. “Out and Proud: LGBTQ Literature” started out at top speed when an audience member asked whether all LGBTQ literature had to be political. Supported by her fellow panelists, celebrated poet/novelist Eileen Myles (Afterglow (A dog memoir), Grove) argued persuasively that the political stance was inevitable, as no LGBTQ individual can walk down the street without identity being an issue.

Another audience member expressed concern about supporting LGBTQ youth, which brought forth a panoply of programming and outreach ideas from a San Francisco Public Library attendee, while Lambda Literary Award winner Rakesh Satyal (No One Can Pronounce My Name, Picador) stressed the huge role librarians can play in this area. He then celebrated their efforts by singing “Goodnight My Someone” from The Music Man.

At “Crossing Over: Adult Lit with YA Appeal,” a question about finding and better promoting such titles elicited recommendations about Alex, SLJ, and Junior Library Guild crossover lists. Camille Bordas (How To Behave in a Crowd, Tim Duggan: Crown), a French-born author who moved to the United States in 2012 and has written her first book in English, explained that France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt bestows another award, the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, chosen by lycée (roughly, high school) students from a list of adult titles compiled by the Académie Goncourt. Bordas, who carefully researched the concept of YA literature, argued that her book is good crossover reading because it can be read “at two speeds: faster, by teenagers, for the jokes, and slower for the conversation.”

Bordas’s fellow panelist Benjamin Percy (The Dark Net, Houghton Harcourt) explained that he grew up on genre fiction and thought that “that was what story telling was.” A string of creative writing teachers tried to disabuse him of the notion, but while “I fell in love with literary fiction,” as he explained, “I never fell out of love with genre.” Later, at “It’s a Mystery to Me: Crime Fighting Authors,” Scott Turow (Testimony, Grand Central) echoed Percy’s sentiments, arguing that his genre “delivers a truth that life can’t deliver, and it does so with certainty. Sometimes it is frowned upon, but all literature depends on conventions.”

Turow spoke up passionately when an audience member asked about the corporatization of publishing, arguing that the various sectors of the book world should not be at one another’s throats. “I am in favor of reading and anything that attracts readers,” he said. “Let’s not waste time complaining about each other.”

Turow’s fellow panelists included Diane Vallere (The Decorator Who Knew Too Much, Henery), the new president of Sisters in Crime; a sparkling Kate White (Even If It Kills Her, Harper Paperbacks), the former Cosmopolitan editor and daughter of a librarian; Brian Pinkerton (Bender, Crossroads), auspiciously related to the famed detective; and Susanna Calkins (A Death Along the Fleet River, Minotaur: St. Martin’s), whose need to research 1600s England for her mysteries makes her forever grateful that libraries now have so much material online.

Also grateful for online availability and interlibrary loan: Sarah Shoemaker (Mr. Rochester, Grand Central), a former university librarian speaking at the “First Author, First Book” panel. Shoemaker used these tools to research her Jane Eyre–inspired debut novel and warned that they are now threatened by federal government cutbacks. Graphic novelist Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Fantagraphics), who overcame partial paralysis caused by West Nile virus, delivered by a mosquito bite, demonstrated the necessary fighting spirit by admonishing the audience, “You’re never done.”

But perhaps fellow panelist Gregory Scott Katsoulis (All Rights Reserved, Harlequin Teen) had the last word. His debut novel envisions a world where every word is trademarked, restricted, or copyrighted, and the companies and people who own them let you use them only for a price calculated by a Cuff you must put on at age 15. The heroine, who rebels by refusing to speak, cannot imagine the world her parents knew, where places called “liberties” allowed visitors to find books and take them home—for free. “Imagine if we introduced that idea today,” exclaimed Katsoulis. It’s an idea worth fighting for.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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