The Upper West Side Barnes and Nobles hosted a #bookpride panel and signing this week with moderator, David Levithan, and panelists Kacen Callender, Mark Oshiro, and Robin Talley. The topic of the panel was the history of LGBTQ+ representation in young adult literature. The authors began by discussing their first encounters with queer stories. Though Talley’s first experience of reading a book with a queer character was in college with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, she didn’t know Queer YA books actually existed until later on when she read Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson and the 1982 novel Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden. Oshiro explained that their first experience with a queer character in a book was a little weird as it was Steven King’s IT, but the first Queer YA novels they read were Ruby by Rosa Guy and David Levithan’s books, as well as fanfiction. Callender’s experience was a little different in that their first encounter was with fanfiction. When they discovered Queer YA books, such as Rainbow Boys by Alex Sánchez, there was some terrible experiences revolving around them while growing up in St. Thomas. However, later on Callender read books such as Robin Talley’s The Lies We Tell Ourselves, David Levithan’s novels, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Levithan concluded the discussion with his first experiences with queer characters from David Leavitt’s work.
The authors also spoke more in depth about their own books they have written and how they engaged in the continuum that is queer stories and what they wanted to bring to it. Talley explained how her new book Pulp is actually explicitly on a continuum because there are two intertwining stories being told; one is of a lesbian in 1955 who discovers the genre of lesbian pulp fiction and writes her own and the other is of a lesbian in the present who finds a copy of that story. Oshiro talked about how they wrote their book Anger is a Gift “from a place of exclusion” and spite, especially after so many agent and editor rejections were because it “was not believable” that a main character could be both gay and Mexican. Callender, on the other hand, wrote This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story with the mission of having a happy ending for queer POC, especially because so many books and TV shows with QPOC only depict violence, tragedy, and traumatizing events. Levithan discussed how his books, Every Day and Someday became a Trojan horse in the sense that they “allowed [him] to go in to all of these spaces and schools that because it was based on a supernatural conceit we were talking about non-bianaryism and how gender is a construct and of all these really serious things that the teachers, very often, had no idea were going to come out of their students’ mouths, which was amazing…and I’ve heard from many, many people who used it as the school read to talk about those issues.”
The panel ended with some news about the authors’ future projects! Levithan has a short story collection coming out in January 2020 and Callender’s newest middle grade book, King and the Dragonflies comes out in February 2020 and their new YA book with a trans main character, Felix Ever After, comes out in May 2020. Oshiro is working on line edits for their second book which will be a YA “that’s fantasy magical realism and real gay” and two future middle grade books. Talley is “working on a book that hasn’t been announced yet but it’s a YA about musical theater. It’s about a girl who is the stage manager at her high school and she has a very strict policy about never dating actors but then, guess what! She falls in love with the lead in their school’s production of Les Mis.”