Since I was part of this award’s happening, I volunteered to put up a post from my perspective.
Andre Norton first began talking to me about this project in 2004. Her initial idea was to establish an award (with cash) for unpublished manuscripts. She wanted to give a boost to the kind of story for young people that she’d loved as a girl, and that she’d written for so many decades. Underlying that was a fretting sense that those who wrote for kids didn’t get much respect, certainly not in the awards arena, and not for spec fic, even within SFWA.
Being a teacher at that time, and having worked with classrooms full of creative writers, I cautioned her that reading piles and piles of manuscripts takes a lot of time, and from everything I’d heard about other contests, she would be buried under boxes of subs. She was also talking to her close friends, who I guess said much the same.
Eventually Andre came around to the idea of distinguishing an already published work, and wanted it to come out under the auspices of SFWA.
My secret thought was Oh lord, not another award.
But I’d promised Andre to do what I could to help her dream become real, so I did some research on whether or not the award would be welcome in the YA world. That year I went to every librarian, teacher, and literacy convention or conference I could get to.
In every single panel that touched on speculative elements, without exception, when I stood up and asked the teachers, librarians, and literacy experts if an award for outstanding SFF for young readers —maybe named after Andre Norton—would have value, I got an overwhelmingly positive response. Yes! An award given under the auspices of such a body as SFWA would mean that book, and possibly the nominees, would get an edge on the yearly library budget fights, where spec fic almost always lost to Problem Novels and other mainstream books. An award conferred an aura of gravitas that gave sympathetic teachers fodder for using such books in the classroom!
My misgivings poofed like smoke. In the meantime, I found that Catherine Asaro, then President of SFWA, was totally on board.
Unfortunately Andre’s health had taken a serious turn. I acted as point person for petitioning SFWA, after which President Asaro went into hyperdrive. I think it was her charisma and enthusiasm, as well as the behind-the-scenes enthusiasm and support of Ann Crispin, a long-time loyal friend and supporter of Andre, that got the Board to ram the award through. There was also the enthusiastic support of past President and much-lauded children’s writer Jane Yolen, science champion Marianne Dyson, and others uniting to lend energy and voice.
The award was established just a few weeks before Andre died; in fact, if I recall correctly, she was being wheeled into surgery when the word was given to her that SFWA had voted its creation, which had pleased her mightily. She had never thought her name would be on it. I forget the possible names she’d had in mind, but to the rest of us, there was only one possibility: naming the award for Andre herself.
Because of the apparent lack of awareness on the part of the SFWA membership for YA and MG books at that time, and because the Andre Norton Award is not operated completely under the Nebula rules (for example, the book only has to be published in English, but can come from any country in the world), SFWA’s Board agreed that there should be a jury, and that it could add several titles, at least until the membership began reading and nominating YA work.
Well, we all know that how the world looks at YA has changed big-time.
I’ve been impressed with the jury adds every year since the gitgo. The jurors have obviously read widely, beyond the big-budget-publicity books. But since 2011, I’ve been impressed with the picks by the membership at large—it seems that Middle Grade (to an extent) and Young Adult (definitely) works are gaining readers among adults, and a good thing, too, as there are terrific projects being published.
But that’s been the case for many years. They just slipped by largely unnoticed by anyone outside the kidlit world. Now it is not only okay for adults to read YA, at least—it’s become hip. (With, perhaps, the result that some books are really written for adults, though masquerading as Young Adult . . . but that is another discussion.)
So, because this post is part of the Norton Award blog circle, what am I nominating this year? I’ve thought about that for weeks. There were so many good books published this year, and we are limited to five nominations.
I have until February to decide, but meanwhile, I thought I’d give some shout-out to a two that I know will be among my five. These are small press, with zero publicity hoopla, that I feel deserve wider notice:
Judith Tarr, Living in Threes. Here is my review over on Goodreads—I loved this borderline MG/YA novel. I think it’s one of those rare ones that could be given to a smart ten year old, but could be read and loved by a high schooler, as well as this adult.
Andrea Höst, And All the Stars. This Swedish-born Australian author is building up a dedicated readership by word-of-mouth. A terrific apocalyptic alien-invasion read with unexpected twists! Under a tense tale of survival the author manages to examine such things as identity, friendship, love, responsibility. And romance. Oh, the romance! Feelings so strong and deep they make you stop and catch your breath don’t need rediscovery. They need decisions. Daren’t say any more–spoiler territory–but just, soooo many layers.
This blog tour will go on until the fifteenth–the posts will be linked at the SFWA site.
In the meantime, what great small press or unheralded MG or YA reads do you recommend, whether or not you’re a SFWA member?