Friday, April 9, 2021

CoNZealand Fringe Transcript: Making Space for the New: How YA trends predict cultural shifts in SFF

During CoNZealand, a group of fans put together a set of panels, which took place outside convention hours, which would be available for free via Youtube and offer a taster of the Worldcon experience to those unable to participate in CoNZealand's programming hours, or hadn't bought a membership but were interested in the kind of content provided. The result was a set of 15 panels over 6 days, archived and available for all at

As a fringe event in the tradition of Edinburgh Fringe and other international collateral events, CoNZealand Fringe was conducted entirely outside core programming hours and spaces, and panels were not official CoNZealand programming. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is pleased to host the transcripts of CoNZealand Fringe panels for fans who are unable to watch the videos or prefer a written format. This is the transcript for Making Space for the New, which ran on Saturday 1 August 2020 at 8pm BST/3pm EDT/12pm PDT/7am NZST (next day) and is available here. Other panel transcripts are available via our transcript hub. 

Making Space for the New: How YA trends predict cultural shifts in SFF

Panel Description: Literature can give us a unique insight into the future, especially in science fiction and fantasy. But, what happens when we shift our perspective to that of young adults? Young adult SFF talks to our future generations about the future, and what our teens have to say matters. What can we learn from stories told to and by our younger generations, and how does YA change the conversation in SFF as a whole?

Host: Shannon @That's So Poe

Moderator: Naseem Jamnia (they/them)

Panellists: Melissa Caruso (she/her), Katherine Inskip (she/her), Whiti Hereaka

Naseem: Okay, now it’s live. Alright, hello everyone, hopefully you can hear me okay. This is the ‘Making Space for the New: How YA Protects … How YA Trends Predict Cultural Shifts in SFF’. My name is Naseem Jamnia, I’m today’s moderator. We have some wonderful panelists that we will be talking today about YA literature, specifically speculative literature, and maybe dip a little bit into other kinds of speculative literature as well. Before we get started I wanted to say a brief disclaimer, which is that CoNZealand Fringe has been created as a complementary series to the annual science fiction convention WorldCon. So all of the livestreamings take place outside of the core CoNZealand programming hours, they’re not official CoNZealand programming items, and the Fringe is non-endorsed by the official convention as well. So let’s get started with some introductions. Whiti, do you want to take it away?

Whiti: Sure. Tēnā koutou, I’m Whiti Hereaka, I’m in New Zealand, so that’s why I’m looking a bit ghostly because it’s still dark here, the sun is just rising. I’m an author, that’s why I’m here. I’m also Māori, so I whakapapa, which means my family comes from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa, Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakaue, and I’m also pakeha, which means white New Zealand as well, so I’m a bit of a mix of New Zealand. So yeah, you’ve got, I guess the best, well not the best but a mix of New Zealand here. And hopefully you can understand my accent. I will try and speak clearly, because New Zealanders are notorious for mumbling, so I’ll try not to do that. But kia ora, thanks for joining us this morning.

Naseem: You have a delightful accent, for what it’s worth.


Naseem: Katherine?

Katherine: Hi, I’m Katherine Inskip. I am the current editor for Cast of Wonders, the Young Adult genre fiction podcast. For my day job I’m an astrophysicist, and I am a mum to two autistic kids and I’m autistic myself. That’s probably all you need to know. You can probably tell from my accent that I’m in the UK.

Naseem: Also delightful.


Melissa: Alright. I’m Melissa Caruso. I’m an author of Adult fantasy including the Swords and Fire trilogy and now the first book in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, the Obsidian Tower is out now. But it’s … my books are published as Young Adult in some other countries, they were written as a sort of crossover. And I have two teen daughters who I, we’re always sort of sharing books with and finding good recommendations for, so.

Naseem: I love that. I wish I ... this is off-tangent, but I wish I read books with my parents in that same way. My dad did read Harry Potter with me but J.K. Rowling is a TERF so now we don’t talk about her.


Katherine: No.

Melissa: Yeah.


Naseem: Anyway. Welcome all, welcome our wonderful viewers, we’re so excited to get started. I think … this seems like kind of a silly question as I imagine all of us are familiar, but I think it would be a good starting place to talk about what speculative YA fiction is and is not. So, if anyone wants to kind of take away like, when you hear speculative YA or YA SFF, what are the things that you’re like, “oh this is definitely the core of the genre and these are the things that the genre covers”, versus, like, these are things that perhaps other genres cover, and does that matter?

Whiti: What a big question.


Katherine: Somebody has to say something first. Okay. I’ll jump in then. So I mean we’re a short fiction market at Cast of Wonders and we probably have one of the broadest definitions of YA out there. So we don’t always look for stories that keep to the younger age protagonists, or strictly to YA themes. We have a mixture of what would be recognised as classic YA and marketed as such in longer works, but also a range of stories which are accessible to an audience in the 12 to 18 age range. But what we look for in our stories is for the change, for novelty, for the experiences which will resonate with teens finding their ways into adulthood. And that doesn’t necessarily map always onto the younger protagonists. So that’s where we sit.

Whiti: Yeah. I’m always a bit confused about where YA is. For me the story is the story. So similar in what Katherine said in that the kind of story where you’re finding your voice, you’re finding your identity, to me feels YA, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the protagonist is in that kind of age band for me. So yeah, I’m always like, is that YA or not, I’m not sure. And also so many adults enjoy reading YA, it seems a bit odd to kind of … well in New Zealand anyway, it feels a bit ghettoised to be called a YA book. Like, people don’t take it as seriously as they would an Adult book, even though there’s just as much or sometimes even more work put into that kind of story. So yeah, I’m always a bit, oh, I don’t know what YA is, so it’s nice to hear what other people say. Tell me what YA is, please.

Melissa: I know for me as someone who, my debut novel I originally wrote as Young Adult and I revised it to be Adult, so I had to really ask myself a lot. And then with my new trilogy I had my editor going, can you make it a little less YA for this one? And so I had to, you know, the question of “okay what is YA” has been a very practical concern for me. And I think that you really hit on it with that sense of, with the Young Adult usually your character is still discovering their identity and their place in the world and making that, and often seizing it which is part of why YA is so exciting, whereas Adult you more likely have a character who has an established place in the world, knows what it is. And that may change but they’re starting from a place where they already have a sense of who they are and what they’re doing. And also I think, just in terms of what teens like to read, I think pacing is really critical to what a Young Adult, I think when you get into Adult, particularly fantasy, you’ll have the books where like okay well the first five chapters are really just worldbuilding and like will be … you know [inaudible] And I think you also wind up with a lot more … and I don’t think this is necessary just limited to YA but I think that right now traditionally you tend to wind up with a lot more emotion and a lot more emotionally driven decision-making in Young Adult, where we expect that it’s okay for Young Adult protagonists to impulsively be like, well no, screw it, I’m doing this, right now. You know, we won’t necessarily let Adult protagonists get away with the same thing.

Katherine: That’s absolutely summed, I’ve got three words just in my notes: pacey, authentic, heartfelt, and it’s that driven storytelling. And I think it is unique to YA cause if, at both ends of the age range, because if you look down towards Middle Grade stories, they often come with a much stronger sense of certainty in the characters’ identity. There’s less questioning, less reflection, less internal doubt about what the story is going to be, you get a fairly, you get a fun, straightforward romp. So YA is full of nuance, and I really love that about the genre.

Naseem: Yeah, I think you know one thing that’s frustrating, like it’s in New Zealand, it’s definitely in the States too, where if you say that you read YA or write YA there such a -

[Popup from WorldsinInk: Has there been a shift over the years in the topics/themes YA literature covers?]

Naseem: - That’s a good question, we can talk about that next. There’s such a visceral reaction right, like it is meant to be for teens right, this is an age range that the market is for teens but I read a lot. Most of my shelf is YA. Most of it is speculative YA as well, it’s most of what I read, it’s what I write, it’s what I enjoy. And I think that sense of discovery is a big part of it, and it doesn’t stop at any point, so.

Katherine: You’re also more likely to see first- or even second-person protagonists in there, just to give a sense of immediacy.

[everyone nods]

Naseem: So yes so we have a question that I think this is an interesting question: Has there been a shift over the years in the topics and themes of YA literature and in speculative YA? Which I would say yes, but I wanna hear from you guys.


Melissa: I feel like when I was a teen it was barely a thing. I think that you know I kind of went from the kids’ section to the Adult section at age twelve, which was interesting in fantasy back then cause you were like, Anne McCaffrey, looks good, whoa, what [shocked noises]


Naseem: We love dragons.


Melissa: Yeah, so I think that, and I think that influx also how it’s shifted so the readership does have a large number of adults now, and I feel like it’s also crept older due to that influence. Which as someone with younger teens, I kind of miss that - I kind of wish that there would be more filled in at that bottom end of the range too, cause sometimes I feel like we’re drifting towards what adults want from teen books, and a little bit away from what teens, especially younger teens, want from teen books sometimes. Not always but sometimes. Yeah.

[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: I often have a hard time describing what YA is because often for me it has a specific FEELING that is hard to pinpoint]

Katherine: I mean thinking back towards what I read when I was in the YA age bracket, I also read a heck of a lot of Anne McCaffrey, all of the usual things like Eddings and Pratchett. Half of my year group were completely obsessed with V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic which is majorly problematic in so many ways.


Katherine: But again those are things that, some would be marketed as YA these days, some wouldn’t. But I think one of the shifts is a lot of what was consumed by younger readers was a little bit more frivolous and juvenile in tone, more of the sort of standard derivative fantasy fodder type stories, and YA today is much more sophisticated. It still really engages the YA audience and the readers, but it challenges them, it questions, it… yeah, it’s different to how it used to be.

[Pop-up from WorldsinInk: Are there any YA tropes that really irk you as reader?]

Whiti: I guess for me in New Zealand, yeah again there wasn’t a lot of YA when I was growing up, so same sort of thing. But what’s exciting now for me is that we’ve got more own voices coming through. So Māori Pasifika who are writing in this space. And yeah, kind of going back to the question before about what is YA, when I was working on my first YA novel with an editor, I was pushing against the YA label because of what I said before about, you know, not being taken seriously and whatever, and she said, Well actually, if you think about your reader, who is your ideal reader? And I was like, “Oh a sixteen year-old girl and blah blah blah”, and she said, Well that’s YA.


Whiti: So yeah, I’m writing for me in the past, for the kids that are here now. So I think that’s really exciting having, yeah, a kind of diversity.

[Pop-up from WorldsinInk: YA didn’t exist when I grew up. Eddings and Feist were what we had back then.]

Whiti: I know that’s sort of like, whoo, a big buzzword now, but actually yeah having actual diversity within… I don’t want to call it the genre, you know, the category.

[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: oh yes, YA reads much older these days. I miss the way YA from the past feels. One newer YA that feels like YA from the past is Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson!]

Naseem: Yeah, yeah, it’s tricky cause YA is an age range right, and it’s a marketing tool, and it’s very much decided by publishers. And as YA as we understand it now really took off with Harry Potter and particularly The Hunger Games right, so we’re like very relatively recently. Also not what I was reading in the nineties when I was growing up. Except for Tamora Pierce – I have always read Tamora Pierce at the appropriate age, so. Yeah, some other people in the comments have mentioned that YA didn’t exist when they were growing up either, and I think it’s really exciting that it is existing now. And I’d love to transition to the topic of own voices, because at least for me being, you know like, in the kidlit community, it’s really leading the charge in publishing to be inclusive in fiction. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on what YA is doing, what YA and speculative fiction is doing in that regard as well.

Whiti: Yeah, well, I guess again, sorry, this is very New Zealand centric from me, but I guess that’s why I’m here.

Naseem: But that’s important because usually we’re talking from a US perspective so I think it’s really nice that we have a different perspective as well.

Whiti: Yeah well, for a lot of our readers we get a lot of media from the US, the UK, Europe. And so now coming back and having our own writers, and particularly Māori writers, in speculative fiction for YA, it’s really exciting to see characters that look like us, that speak like us, and familiar kind of backdrops too. One of the books that I helped, just a little bit, I mentored Steph, is Flight of the Fantail, it’s by Steph Matuku, and that’s very much based in this country. The twist at the end which is, I’m not going to tell you, but it’s very much grounded in our myths and our purakau so it explains the universe in a very Māori way, very New Zealand way. And that’s really exciting because we never, well for a long time we didn’t see that, and it’s the shift of what “Māori” literature is as well. For a long time in New Zealand Māori literature could only be … well, people would push it in this box where it was only about the traditional stories, or it was about old people, or it was about urban Māori missing their, you know, former lives. So it’s really exciting to have these … particularly in YA, it seems YA is leading the charge in New Zealand as well, to push out those boundaries, so, yeah.

[Pop-up from That’s So Poe: As a note, Whiti has a whole Twitter thread of Māori reads for anyone interested in reading more:]

Whiti: Oh, thank you!

Naseem: Yeah, that’s perfect Shannon, thank you so much.

Melissa: I know for me one thing that’s really exciting is as the mom of two lesbians who have, they’re out, so they’ve told me I checked with them to make sure they’re okay with me mentioning, just the fact that I can get them books targeted at teens where they see themselves. So many, we have choices. It’s not like, “Well, here’s the one lesbian book, here you go”. There’s, I ask people for recommendations, and it’ll be like, here’s a list of like twenty, thirty books, look through, see what you like, and it’s just, it’s so fantastic to have that and to have you know, books with multiple queer characters and books with all different - it’s just, they’re written by people who are queer themselves and writing own voices books. It’s, as somebody who I’m biromantic ace and I grew up with nothing -

Naseem: Same!

Melissa: - written by any character who was like me. And then for them to be able to grow up with characters like them as protagonists of their own stories is the best feeling ever.

Whiti: I liked that point about there only being the one book that you can go to, and now there’s many choices which is fantastic. Because you might not vibe with that one book. It’s still like, Oh, so I’m not worthy of stories.

Melissa: And especially with … and them not being all just “issue books” any more.

[general agreement]

Katherine: I think one of the things which has driven a lot of the diversity in YA is the fandom activities of teens and young adults themselves. So it’s always hugely dynamic, continually evolving, jumping from platform to platform to platform, and there’s no scope for all of the older traditional elements of science fiction literary fandom to … They just become very irrelevant because everything is evolving in its own direction and I think this has really allowed YA to thrive. I mean it’s in this position where it does get looked down on and seen as less by adult SF&F at times, but that oversight can really be an advantage because there’s no obligation to follow the same path as adult science fiction, you do your own thing, you find what works for you, you share what you’re really excited about. And just that phenomenal fandom voice is just, the community is shaping the creative work as much as it goes in the opposite direction.

Naseem: Yeah I love that. I think there is definitely like more to be done right. Like as a queer trans person of colour I’m still searching for books that are just like queer trans people of colour you know doing their, our thing. So I definitely feel that. Although this is an interesting point because Melissa I think in our email conversations have brought up this idea that as our teens become writers they’re consuming different media and they’re going to create different media, which I find fascinating. Like I’d love, I don’t know what they’re going to produce but I’m really excited for it.

Melissa: My daughter’s writing, my older daughter’s writing a novel right now, and it’s interesting to m, Both of them actually are you know storytellers in various ways and they’re talking about post-apocalyptic stories.

[Pop-up from Infinite Text: the concept of fandom has really made books belong to readers and communities ….so much fanart, and fan things]

Melissa: Which I think is really interesting given everything we’re going through now, I feel like you know the previous generation was writing dystopias, which were arguably predictive.


Melissa: And now my kids are talking about writing post-apocalypic stuff after everything that we’re going through, I just think that I don’t know, it could be coincidence, it’s a sample size of two, but I just thought that was interesting. Also related to what Katherine was just saying, I think that one advantage that Young Adult has is that because it’s at least nominally targeted at teens you always have this new perspective coming in in their readership. I think one thing that Adult SFF can suffer from, you almost have this split where there’s all this new exciting stuff being done all the time in Adult science fiction and fantasy, but there’s also this large section of the audience that is very focused on the past.

[general agreement]

[Pop-up from WorldsinInk: To see the power of YA you only need to look at the subscriber numbers of YA booktubers]

Melissa: And you know, you can see it in the split from the Hugos last night where the ceremony was kind of focused on the past but the winners were very much reflective of the present. And I think that that is something that YA is largely not burdened with. Like people aren’t like, No, we must only revere the founding heroes of YA. We’re, people are just always inherently looking for something new, which is an advantage. Which is not to say that new work isn’t being done in science in Adult, it really is.

Naseem: Yeah, it totally is.

Melissa: But often it’s overlooked because you’ll have people always, you know say, Oh recommend a good book and they’re recommending the same books that were published thirty years ago because it’s what people, because they’re fifty year-olds and they’re like, “Oh this is what I loved when I was a kid, so that’s what’s stuck with me”. But whereas with teens it’s like, “This is what I love right now, because I am a teen”, you know, so that’s why you get a little bit more of a current vibe. A lot more of a current vibe.


Naseem: Yeah. Even teens today, I mean you know like, I guess I wasn’t a teen that long ago, it’s getting longer every day, but you know, even when I was in high school in the early 2000s, like we’re, it’s so radically different than the way it is now. You know ten years has made - that was still the point where it was a big deal if someone came out, you know, and now everyone’s like, I’m gay, you’re gay, we’re all gay together. And I think it’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic.

[Pop-up from WorldsinInk: The complete disconnect between the winners and the presentation was astounding]

Katherine: That’s one of the best things I’ve seen. I mean my husband’s a teacher and he’s gone from teaching in an environment where you could not even allude to the concept of homosexuality, to schools being comfortable with students identifying or being however they are. And it’s so much more accepting as an environment in general, and I think that’s what makes it so sad that there are elements sort of pushing back against that now. But we don’t need to go there.

[laughter and agreement]

Naseem: Okay, good good, let’s see. That ended at a kind of like natural lull that I wasn’t expecting.

Katherine: Sorry!

Naseem: No no, that’s okay, I just wanted to make a quick check of the comments. Which I am reading by the way, I am reading your comments, so. So we mentioned, you know we mentioned actually since you brought up the Hugos last night, you know WordCon as an organisation, and I promise this is relevant for YA, WorldCon as an organisation you know has had like, some issues. I think if nothing else that Lovecraft is still, “Let’s give a retroactive Hugo to Lovecraft”. Like, that was a decision I don’t think we were looking for, thanks WorldCon.

[Pop-up from That’s So Poe: @JC Hart, we all need that director’s cut]

[Online comment from Bedtime Bookworm: The connection with other readers that the internet and fandom has provided has really changed reading! Growing up reading was such a solitary activity and it no longer has to be!]

Naseem: Tempest Bradford has a really good thread actually on her twitter about kind of like, the things that WorldCon can be doing better as an institution, and cons in general. And the way it relates to YA or what I want to ask is, what can speculative YA, like what kind of tools can it give us so that we can create better futures, so that our conventions are better, so that our power structures can get better, our schools, you know, our institutions? Like what are the things that future generations are gonna be bringing with them based on the YA that they’re reading, and then creating?

Whiti: Well I think, like we were saying before, because YA is so grounded in this search for identity and who you are and claiming your voice, that it’s sort of inherent within it that you’re going to “teach”, I guess, the skills to question structures that we have around us. So I think, yeah, that has been one of the strengths of YA, that it does give young readers the tools to be able to say, ‘Hey, actually, this isn’t right, and we can imagine a different world’. So they can do it in a safe place first, which is within a novel, and then go out and, as we’ve seen, go out into the world and actually action it, which is exciting!

Naseem: It is very exciting.

Whiti: Revolution! So.

[Pop-up from BreeReadsBooks: I love that the YA community is willing to challenge the old guard and demand better behavior and norms]

Naseem: I agree.

Melissa: I think it’s also, I think that one wonderful thing about particularly the increasing diversity of Young Adult right now, and Middle Grade, is that kids who are raised with fictional - like not everybody who is in a community where necessarily they’re gonna see a diversity of people around them, but people who are raised with fictional characters who are their imaginary friends, who are diverse, you know they get that experience too. Like I feel like the whole generation of kids now, and this is Upper Middle Grade and not in Young Adult, but who just, things are so much easier when they meet somebody who is trans and nonbinary and they’ve read the Magnus Chase books by Rick Riordan and they’re like, ‘Ah, okay, cool, like Alex is genderfluid so now I’m not, this is a familiar concept to me, I’m not just like, What?’ You know, and I feel like, you know, it’s something where they can genuinely save lives and reset people’s, even if they’re not getting from their parents, that degree of acceptance or that awareness that you live in a diverse world with all different kinds of people, if they’re getting it from their books, you know they’re gonna grow up with that and then they’re gonna expect that. Like I know my kids, who have grown up, and we’re in Massachusetts, it’s not the most diverse community on the planet, because they’ve grown up with more diverse books they notice things like, “Wow, that’s a bunch of old white guys on that, you know, notice that [crosstalk]


Naseem: Good girl, alright.

Melissa: So yeah. I think that, and also in terms of what we can do to make our organisations better, I mean honestly the more young people we get involved in organising, the better. Like, you know, it’s very easy to say, Okay the people with the most experience should do it, but the people with the most experience are also gonna be the people who are most in the past, by definition. And I’m saying this as someone who’s 45 years old -


Melissa: - I’d love to see more younger people involved and brought in and I think that that’s gonna bring more current ideas with it, and just a more equitable way of looking at things.

Katherine: One thing I’ve seen in the UK is a shift in some of the con culture. I mean it’s, like most aspects of the future, the future is very unevenly distributed. But for a number of years we had a fantastic convention, Nine Worlds, which ran in London, which was really inclusive, very very open. It didn’t quite manage to get everything right, particularly with accessibility for disabled people, and there’re a lot of lessons that were learned from that, but it did shape a lot of the wider UK fandom and how conventions operated in other aspects of science fiction and fantasy in the UK. And I certainly took things I learned from attending conventions like Nine Worlds into science … conferences, that’s the word, they’re not conventions, they’re conferences, so when I’ve been…

[Pop-up from WorldsinInk: Young people could bring the MUCH needed technical skills in video editing ☺]

Naseem: I think I used convention so I’ll take responsibility.


Katherine: Yeah, so sort of running a physics education conference with my colleagues, no let’s, we can do better with inclusivity and respect for the needs of our full community. And I think that has really helped improve the way cons operate. And having those young, those new, those fresh voices, does make a big difference. Of course, for every Nine Worlds there’s a DashCon, so you can’t lose all of that continuity of experience. But certainly WorldCon and many other roving conventions, they do have a tradition of starting everything afresh, reinventing the wheel, making the same mistakes again and again and again, and I think we need to learn from that, we need to stop doing that. We need to keep inviting new voices in, listen to what our audiences want, but also value the expertise without lionising it just because it’s old.

Melissa: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it.

Whiti: In Māoritanga we’ve got a concept which is manaakitanga which is, which loosely translates to hospitality, and so when we meet, we meet in a formal way, but manaakitanga gives responsibility both to the hosts and to the guests. So there’s responsibility for the hosts to make the space safe, to make everyone feel welcome, but there’s responsibility for the guests as well to reciprocate that.

[Pop-up from That’s So Poe: By the way, speaking of new voices in conventions, FIYACON 2020 (by FIYAH Black SFF magazine) is coming up in a few months:]

Whiti: And then within that safe space it’s expected that it’s challenged, it’s expected that everyone coming together will set how the meeting, how the hui is going to function. So I think, yeah, going, looking at some of the older maybe indigenous ways of doing things, rather than from a western point of view, might help with this inclusive thing. It’s all about starting from the bottom up with everyone contributing. So yeah, if you start with having a diverse range of people organising, start with actually accessibility is really important and we need to think of it from the very beginning, not a tack-on at the end, from the very beginning, how are we going to deliver that. I think that would make, yeah, things more exciting. And I think young people in particular already have some of that just ingrained in them naturally, just questioning how things are going, and actually my mate needs to come in here too so let’s make this space more welcoming for them. So yeah, I think I agree with Katherine that if we bring more young people into the organising space, but first of all we need to make it safe and welcoming for them to do that, then yeah, conferences would be amazing.

[Pop-up from BreeReadsBooks: I wish we had been offered local teen attending memberships and supporting memberships for teens at a really reduced price. $90 would have been impossible for me at 15]

Naseem: Yeah, I think there is, I think Shannon put in FIYAHCON is coming up and that’s gonna be online, which I’m very excited about. It’s run by the Black speculative magazine FIYAH. Am I even pronouncing that right? That’s how I’ve pronounced it, so.

[ironic laughter]

Naseem: I’m not sure of the correct pronunciation, but. And if I remember correctly the prices are fairly reasonable. Because as Bree, I’m imagining you go by Bree, but as BreeReadsBooks said, that, like $90 is expensive for a teen, right, I mean it can be expensive for a young adult. I didn’t, I volunteered a lot as a kid but I didn’t get my first job until after I graduated high school, and up until then my allowance was like a dollar a week. Big sad. So, you know, I think that it’s, you know, a barrier to entry to anybody who has, to a lot of people, but especially to the teens, and when we want to create a space for them, we have to keep that in mind right? And I love this idea of starting bottom up. I think there’s so much indigenous knowledge around the world that, you know, as like, settlers we have ignored and we have maligned, and if we can do better on that front, we can build a better world I think in general. So.

Melissa: I agree.

Naseem: Okay. [reading screen] That makes sense pronunciation, “fire”. Okay, good stuff. So, you know, so okay, we’re talking about the things that we think that loosely the genre can help us do. What are the problems now then, beside the fact that, like, conventions are expensive. But you know in, like, the publishing industry for instance of YA speculative fiction and related industries around that, what are the issues that we see and how can we address them?

Katherine: Gatekeeping. I think it’s very much still an issue with gatekeeping, with systemic bias, unconscious bias, and actual acknowledged bias for some people. I don’t know if I have a solution to that in general. Speaking just for Cast of Wonders, we have shifted to anonymous submissions. We flag up, or we ask submitting authors to flag up if their stories are own voices, if they are young adult authors themselves, if they are from a demographic group which is marginalised in publishing. And that allows us to give a little bit of a pause in our editorial process to think about whether we’re bringing our own biases and lack of context to that story, so we can take a more considered look or get specific readers to take a look at it. But it is, it’s continually an uphill struggle because there’s a huge amount of privilege involved in publishing and the people who submit their stories, their novels. And most of the work we get is phenomenal, we can only take a tiny fraction of it, and if you are from a marginalised group then you do have a lot of hurdles in your way. So we’ve got a long way to go as a whole I think.

Melissa: I think definitely one other way to help that is more editors and people who have the power to make decisions in publishing, especially in larger houses, who are of colour or from marginalised backgrounds. I mean, you can really see the difference, I know, you know, I’m published with Orbit and Orbit has some great editors of colour, and lo and behold they publish a lot of Adult fantasy by authors of colour, and I feel like that’s not a coincidence you know. You’re gonna have a lot, you’re less likely to run into “I didn’t connect” when you have people who aren’t just from a totally white bread background reading these stories and deciding what gets published. And a totally separate answer to the question of YA, as I touched on earlier, I know for me as the parent of teens I would love to see, I feel like there is a gap currently in the books that are getting published for kids who are ready to move for something, move beyond Middle Grade. I mean not, I personally think adults can read Middle Grade, but in addition to reading Middle Grade which is great, that they can, they’re ready to move into Young Adult but they’re not, like, seventeen eighteen years old and they want, and they still want something that’s fun and not necessarily hugely romance centred. Like, I know my teens have been like, well I’ll get them these great Young Adult books, they’re wonderful books, but they’re like, Wow, it’s just like really heavy angst and very dark and very romance focused and that’s not necessarily something they’re ready to connect with when they’re like, you know, they haven’t had any romantic relationships themselves and they’re not necessarily like, I mean not everybody’s even into that older teen, you know. And I feel like these days teens, at least my kids and their friends, are less angsty in some ways than the previous generation? I don’t know.


Whiti: Yay!

Naseem: My generation as a Millennial: very angsty. I was very emo in high school.


Melissa: - it’s very angsty, and I feel like some of the Gen Z kids at least are, they’re a little less eager to wallow in their feelings than the grown-up millennials who’re still reading YA.

[Pop-up from JC Hart: Someone told me, as an indigenous author, when I have a platform, use it to open doors for others. Same goes for anyone tho, use your power for good, lift up others. There is room for everyone]

Melissa: You know, and it would be nice to see, I know I’m always on the hunt for more, younger, fun, light Young Adult for my teens, and I’d love to see more filling that gap for like that twelve- to fifteen-, sixteen-year-olds.

[Pop-up from WordsinInk: Rebecca F. Kuang’s acceptance speech was a pretty eye-opening admonition of the state of publishing]

Katherine: We were talking about parents and children reading the same books. My eldest about a month ago finished Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, which is, I think it skews a little bit more towards the middle age Middle Grade age range for me.

Naseem: Yeah I think it’s upper MG.

Katherine: But again that is phenomenal fun, not heavy on romance, and it’s just a cracking read.

Melissa: My kids love that one.

[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: ‘I know I mentioned it earlier but sorcery of thorns is really great for teens in that in between stage. I love when I can find YA like that! There isn’t enough of it these days’]

Whiti: I guess getting back to how we can support it. I’m part of the Māori Literature Trust here in New Zealand, and one of our programmes is called Te Papa Tupu, which we take six emerging Māori writers and we give them a mentor and we give them some money, and give them six months to produce -

Naseem: Money is good!

Whiti: Give them money!

Naseem: Give them money please!

Whiti: - to help produce work. So that’s where this book came from. [holding up Flight of the Fantail by Steph Matuku] I’ve also mentored some other people. J.C. Hart who was in the comments I noticed before, her book’s coming out through that programme as well. So that’s not specifically for YA authors, although we’ve had YA authors and Middle Grade authors come through. But that’s something I think that you can help if you want diverse books, is actually support the writers when they’re first coming through. Give them someone who’s been through the ropes to say, “Yeah, this is really hard, but you can do it cause I’ve done it, and I’m, what am I, a hack? So you can do it too.”

Naseem: I think you’re pretty cool but.


Whiti: Oh [dismissive gesture] I wasn’t fishing. But keep going, keep going.


Whiti: Yeah, so give them some support, give them opportunities, open doors for them. I noticed that Cassie said that, yeah, you leave the door open for someone. And more than that, you actually put your hand through and say, “Come on, come with me, I’ll show you, come with me this way.” So that’s something we could do. Even as authors you could find someone just to say, “Oh I’ll give you some support.” Maybe not financially cause, ungh, but just having someone to talk to and say, “Is this right? What am I doing now, I feel so alone.” Yeah. So something like that.

Naseem: Yeah, there are some good mentorship programmes. Pitch Wars has recently or in the past few years have restructured to bring more inclusive like staff at the helm, that’s been a great one. I’ve participated in Author Mentor Match. I had a fantastic mentee last year who’s querying right now and his book was so good! And I think a big part of also what I hear though is like, I think it’s important for marginalised people to lift each other up certainly. I also think it’s definitely important for people in privileged positions to lift us up because people tend to listen to them more unfortunately. I think it’s a big thing. But finding somebody who knows your experience, particularly I think if another marginalised author is like, “Look, I did it, let me reach my hand back out and help you”, I think can be really, really meaningful when then they also see your experience if you do struggle so.

[Pop-up from JC Hart: Butcherbird :D adult supernatural suspense. hopefully out next year!]

Naseem: Cool. I am writing down the books that were mentioned, I will put that down there.

Whiti: Look for Butcherbird. Yeah, I mean it would be great if privileged people would do that. But I’m not waiting around for them to do that for me -

Naseem: Fair.

Whiti: - because they don’t. So yeah. I hope one day they will, and recognise their privilege, but I can’t wait for that, that’s lifetimes perhaps. I don’t have that time to wait for them. So yeah, make it, try and make it our own thing I guess. And I guess that goes back to what we were saying before - we’ve got this space where we’re sort of overlooked, so we can do whatever we want. We can have the cool party here and let them do whatever they want over there.


Naseem: Yeah. No we just have to get higher up in the echelons of publishing.


Naseem: Which people are doing, right, like people are definitely moving up and they’re doing really, really wonderful work. So, yeah.

Whiti: But hopefully remember your roots so you don’t turn into the gatekeepers.

Naseem: Absolutely! Absolutely, I think that’s a big part.

Whiti: Opening the, keep opening doors.

Naseem: Yeah. Actually like, as awful as a space that Twitter can be, at least in the kidlit book community, I’ve met incredible, incredible people through it who have been so super-supportive. When I was querying I had a lot of people help me, I try to help people as well. So like, at least in that, beside when everything blows up over a Twitter scandal or whatever, for the most part we tend to be like a very supportive bunch. Which I think is incredible and I’m really, really grateful for all the people who have helped me on my journey and I hope I can pay that forward too because people deserve it. So I’m particularly excited for more teens to … like some people are publishing so, so, so young now. I’m like, I’m about to turn 29 and I’m like, I have been on submission for so long.


Naseem: But I’m very happy for them because I’m so excited when I hear stories of like, oh, you know, of like, I published this book at nineteen and people are paying attention to it. Imagine what that person’s going to do in five years, in ten years, I think that is really incredible.

Whiti: Well, I’m looking towards my bookshelf but I can’t put my hand on it. We have a young writer in New Zealand, his name’s Ben Spies - I can’t remember how to say his name, I’ll sort that out - and he’s just released his second novel, and he’s fourteen I think. So yeah, yeah, so and he’s writing a series so. It was amazing, I went to his book launch and I was like, “How? How do you exist? You’re amazing.”


Naseem: Oh my God, I don’t want anyone to read the things that I wrote when I was fourteen.


Katherine: Our most recent episode at Cast of Wonders is from Ashley Bao, a young author, and it’s an amazing story. And we’ve just yesterday closed the subs for a young author only submissions call, and it’s just so exciting reading all of this amazing work that young people are doing, and knowing that we’re gonna be able to give it a home, so, yeah.

Naseem: That is awesome, yeah. And I’m glad that these opportunities are coming to teens and accessible for teens. Because I think, I had no idea, I didn’t even know that an agent was a thing when I was fourteen, I didn’t know until after I graduated college like, Oh I can’t just like send this to an editor, someone has to, there’s usually an intro. Not always, right, not always with all publishing houses, but there’s usually an intermediate step. But I, teens, kids these days are alright, like they’re doing things, there seems to be good opportunities for them.

Katherine: I think Clarion were running some workshops specifically for teens earlier in the year, which looked really good.

Naseem: Yeah I think so. Okay. I wanna open it up to Q&A soon, but before we do that I wanted to ask what you are reading. What YA SFF, or YA in general, or speculative fiction in general, or just in general. What are you reading, what do you recommend, what are some exciting books that are on the horizon for you?

Melissa: I’ve been reading more Adult lately cause I write Adult. And, you know, right this very moment I’m reading The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart and it is incredible, so definitely I’d recommend that. And I’m trying to think of, I dunno, what the last … I’ve been reading mostly Adult for now, I want to think of some good YA to recommend, but maybe somebody else can.


Whiti: Yeah, I’m reading a bit of Adult at the moment. So I’m reading, she has it right next to her, [holding up book] I’m reading A Night at the Movies by Robert Coover, which is because I’m interested in, like doing weird things with genre so, and this does that, so that was good. And I’ve just finished Riddley Walker which is, yeah, she has that too [holding up book], which is a post-apocalyptic book but written in very strange English which is fantastic and mind-blowing. YA, again I’m just gonna pump Steph Matuku’s book, [holding up book] awesome. But also Cally Black [holding up book] who is an Australian and New Zealand author In The Dark Spaces, which I think would appeal to your teens that aren’t like fully into the romance type of thing, is a bit more action in the kind of not-action way. That would work too. Yeah, that’s it for me.

Katherine: YA wise, at the moment it’s a lot of slush reading. I completely fell in love with Fran Wilde’s Riverland, which tore out my heart and stomped all over it. And it just connected and sort of hit me in a way that, it really sort of took me back to reading Susan Cooper’s Seaward when I was a kid. So I absolutely loved that one. What I’m looking forward to, I’ve just backed the kickstarter for Rebuilding Tomorrow from Twelfth Planet Press, which is a sequel to Defying Doomsday, a post-apocalyptic anthology featuring disabled and chronically-ill protagonists, which we need more stories featuring.

Naseem: Awesome, we need more.

Katherine: My own reading, I’m in sort of sequel town at the moment, so Fonda Lee’s Jade War, Juliet McKenna’s Green Man series is sort of eating my time at the moment.

Naseem: Yeah, I feel that. I pulled up the list of like … I meant to have like a stack of books that I recommend. So like my friend Rosie’s book A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out about a month ago or so, hit the list, I am very excited to actually finally dive into that. Girl, Serpent, Thorn just came out as well, and I haven’t read it yet because it deals with the exact same myths that my Middle Grade deals with that I’m on submission, I can’t deal with it, but it looks gorgeous and I’ve heard wonderful, wonderful things about it. There’s also like a lot of sequels that are coming out. The final book in the Black Wings Beating trilogy is coming up by Alex London, he’s a fantastic human and a great author. Let’s see, let me look through my list. The Faithless Hawk is coming out, the sequel to The Merciless Crow, which was one of the most inventive and interesting YA fantasies I’ve read in a while, and I read a lot of YA fantasy. So that was super good. I’m also reading a lot of Adult right now because I’m working on my Comprehensive exams and my thesis novel’s in a crossover space. And you know, crossover wise, like, The Poppy War, City of Brass, like two excellent trilogies, one of which is now done and I’m dying ‘cause I haven’t read it yet and I’m dying, I need to read this third book.


Naseem: So yeah, those are. And then there’s also Erewhon Press which has been started by Liz Gorinsky, who was at Tor Books for a while, has some YA also coming out. One of them is my friend Hannah’s book that I’m really excited about that called -

Melissa: The Scapegracers!

Naseem: The Scapegracers, yeah.

Melissa: My kids loved that book.

Naseem: Oh good!

Melissa: Yeah, my kid have been reading the YA from me, they loved the Scapedyke, I got an ARC of that from - and my daughter stole it, she heard teen lesbian witches, stole it out of my hand, had it read within 24 hours.

[Pop-up from WorldinInk: Can i plug South African centric Sea Star Summer by Sally Ann Partridge]


Naseem: Cool, I’m gonna tell Hannah that, that’ll make them really happy. So yeah. Sea Star Summer is a plug that’s in line. Cool, I’m gonna add it to this list, Sea Star Summer. Yeah and Erewhon also published, it’s called Rise of the Red Hand which is like a cli-fi YA that’s coming out erm in the fall? When does it come out, oh, in January, just kidding. But yeah, I mean I think this year, there have been a lot of YA, especially YA fantasy which is what I prefer to read in speculative fiction, books that like the second books and third books are starting to come out in the series. So yeah there, I could talk, I could go and find my shelves and, like, okay,read this one and read this one. But hopefully that’s a good list. I have typed up some of the recommendations that we’ve been talking about too that hopefully we can put up somewhere so. Okay, we have a little over -

[Pop-up from Bedtime Booktown: so jealous that Melissa’s kids can read her ARCs haha]


Naseem: I know. Can you imagine being a kid and your mom is like, “Here, I have all these books that haven’t come out, do you wanna read them?”


[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: I’m curious if Melissa is interested in writing any YA in the future!]

Melissa: It was all fun and games until she said, “When’s the next book coming out?” And I was like, oh honey, the first one isn’t even out yet.


Naseem: The second book is written and I think Hannah is drafting or revising the third book, so at least that’s already out to the publishers.

Melissa: Oh, would I be interested in writing YA in the future? You know, I love YA, you know I was originally trying to write YA. I don’t know, I’m in Adult land now, but maybe someday.

Naseem: Yeah. I find, I hope there’s more crossover books. So crossover being protagonists that are kind of in this like, falling out of teen going into like, new adult stage, like 18 to 22 or so stage. And they, some are marketed as YA and are published under YA and some are as Adult such as City of Brass and Poppy Wars, which is … Poppy Wars, especially the sequel, I think is very much Adult. But, I think crossover’s also like, that’s a space I really enjoy writing in, and so I hope that that space also continues to grow. In that space and then I also think also the crossover, the upper Middle Grade lower YA space, I think you’re right that there feels like there can be more there. But I wonder if part of that is skewed because so many, a lot of the people I know who are writing YA are now adults, so I wonder why that might be why the skew is, so.

[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: Yes! I love crossover books as an adult who loves the way YA books feel]

Melissa: Yeah, I’d love to see more of the Adult YA crossover too to just help, I feel like there’s this vast population of people who only read Young Adult science fiction and fantasy who, and like sometimes it’s so easy for them to bounce off of Adult fantasy because the first recs they get are gonna be, Tolkein or Wheel of Time, and if you’re coming from YA you’re just gonna it’s very, I feel like there are better books to bridge with.

[Pop-up from That’s So Poe: Interestingly, ML Wang wrote Sword of Kaigen, which is an adult fantasy, but is connected to her YA series.]

Melissa: I would love to pave that path for people to be able to read both Young Adult and Adult more easily without bouncing off the chonky volumes that aren’t really probably what you’re looking for if you’re coming from a YA perspective.

Naseem: Yeah. And hopefully, as Adult fantasy is also, fantasy and sci-fi is also changing as a genre, it’ll become more friendly for people. I read Lord of the Rings when I was a kid and I, the only thing I remember is from the movies and then I put it down when I got to Helm’s Deep for a year and then I picked it back up.


Naseem: I mean they are very dense, these very classic fantasies. But then there’s like N.K. Jemisin who is rocking the world right now with how cool she is, so. Although I don’t know if I would have understood Broken Earth as a teen. It is like a very complex, gorgeous series.

Melissa: It’s heavy.

Katherine: It’s amazing.

Naseem: And heavy. It’s so good. Ah! Anyway.


Naseem: Yeah, so I wanna, yeah, if anyone has any questions please throw them up in the chat so our wonderful panelists can answer them. We still have about ten minutes, a little under. Let’s see, let’s see. And if there’s anything you guys are like, “Wait, we didn’t talk about this but I wanna insert X thing”, please now is the time as we wait for questions.

Melissa: Whilst we’re waiting for questions I know I can say, in terms of books that do make a good bridge from Young Adult to Adult science fiction and fantasy, I know that, cause I’ve been recommending some to my teens in particular cause, you know, there’s no reason teenagers can’t read Adult, you just have to be selective about giving them things they’re gonna enjoy.

Naseem: Absolutely.

Melissa: And I know the Murderbot Diaries books are I think a fantastic bridge for teens. I think if they like the Spellslinger series by Sebastian de Castell, I’m gonna probably maul the, de Castell - I’m sorry! - is a good sort of Young Adult themed one. If you like romance more, Empire of Sand I think could potentially be a good one by Tasha Suri. I’m trying to think there’s, Oh The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, it has that paciness, and -

[Pop-up from JC Hart: not a question, but you’re all wonderful!]

Whiti: Aww!

Melissa: Let’s see, I dunno, anyone else have any other ones to recommend?

Katherine: I love Foz Meadows’ books as well. Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens. A lot of that was because it was the first time I’d seen characters with vitiligo. So that’s a skin condition I have. I’m very very pale because most of my skin doesn’t have any pigment at all, and I’d only ever seen it presented badly in a very derogatory way by David Eddings, so instantly fell in love with these books.

[Pop-up from Bedtime Bookworm: ‘Since we talked a big about crossover books, do you guys have thought about if “new adult” should become an age category in SFF (as in not romance centered)’]

Naseem: I have, I’m trying to remember, Eric Smith’s, I think it was the third book, The Girl and the Grove, also the main character has vitiligo so I recommend that one.

Katherine: Oh great, I’ll have a look at that.

Naseem: That one is a good more like lower YA, although there is like a romance theme in it, but it’s an environmental justice sort of book which is very good. Eric is also a sweetheart, so everyone should follow Eric Smith, he’s great. Someone asked about, so since we talked about crossovers, thank you, what our thoughts are on New Adult, of which I have lots of thoughts, and as an age category that’s not like romance centred but in speculative fiction.

Melissa: Well you say you have lots of thoughts, you wanna jump in first?

Naseem: I was talking to ZR Ellor a few months ago, who’s an agent and an author, and his argument is that New Adult shouldn’t exist because the millennial experience is now becoming adulthood, and that was his sort of perspective, which I think is a really smart one and I really like that. One thing I think that New Adult can grant us, and I, as somebody who kind of is writing in that crossover space, is kind of writing New Adult stuff, I think there’s like a unique set of experiences that you’re not quite a teen and you’re not quite like an adult on your own, and you’re trying to figure your shit out. I don’t know if we’re allowed to swear on this! You’re trying to figure your stuff out.


Naseem: And you know especially if, you know, if you go to college or if you’re, you know, college age and you’re coming out of it and now you’re responsible for your own life, sometimes, not always. But I think that space like, New Adult can really speak to that in a way that feels a little above, that feels unfair to put under YA if that makes sense, right. Like it’s issues that teens quite haven’t yet dealt with but so many Adult books can be past that. And that’s what I think New Adult as a genre can offer. Now I see the argument that those are still adults’ experiences, they’re just like younger adults’ experiences, but I think like as a, if that were to become an age range for publishers to look at beyond romance, that would be how I would envision it.

Katherine: I think would disagree with that because -

Naseem: Ooh, go on!


Katherine: Yeah, I’m gonna be controversial and disagree. I mean, one of the things, I mean, I come from a sort of a European English background, so you do notice the cultural differences between sort of the US side of Western culture and the European side of Western culture, particularly in terms of permissiveness and what’s acceptable and what is classed as Adult related to sex, to violence, to profanity. And there are things which define adulthood which are very different globally. So if we’re setting New Adult as being defined by what is an adult experience rather than a teen experience, I think we need to recognise that adulthood doesn’t look the same across the globe. And again that can skew what we are setting up in terms of expectations of adulthood as an aspiration for younger readers.

[Pop-up from Justin ***: young folks often dislike the classics they have to read in schools, do you think substituting in more recent MG/YA for them would be beneficial, or should books have to age a bit to show their worth?]

Whiti: Yeah, I’m always confused by New Adult, because that’s sort of not the experience here of what happens. It’s not sort of, if you go to university you’re an adult here. I mean, you’re still figuring things out but you’re an adult. And a lot of the kind of older YA stuff deals with I guess adult things. We don’t have problems with swearing or sex or drug use or anything like that. So, yeah, the New Adult thing, I think is quite a cultural thing rather than a universal experience. I know there’s generational experience, that it’s hard for different generations to get whatever this constructed idea of adulthood is, but yeah, I don’t think here we would separate the two as much. Or even at a, I think there’s a lot of crossover, and a New Zealand I guess literary thing, between Young Adult and Adult anyway because it’s quite grey and it’s not really hard. I mean there’s never any hard sort of stratifications. But yeah, so New Adult, I, yeah, I have no idea what that is. [laughs]

Naseem: Ah. Melissa, you’re also in a US context, so I’m curious whether what I said resonated with what you, what your thoughts are.

Melissa: Well, so I feel like the way that we currently, I’m gonna sort of jump to the side here and say that I feel like the way we categorise books could be more useful to people who are looking for a good way to match. I think that age categories themselves can sometimes be tricky in that like, okay, let’s say you’re a fifteen year-old. You really enjoy Middle Grade books but you feel like you shouldn’t be reading them any more.

[general agreement]

Melissa: Or you’re an adult and you feel like you shouldn’t be reading YA, which is dumb but, you know, here we are. And or whatever, or you’re, maybe you’re a teen and you would enjoy some of those Adult books, and you’re certainly ready for them, but you’re like, oh I should be in the Teen section.

[Pop-up from JC Hart: I think because NZ is so small too. if you go away to uni, it’s not that far! lol]

Melissa: I wonder if there’s a better way to do it where we’re enabling people to find the things that better match their interests instead of - Because, but your experience of being a teen is gonna be different than my experience of being a teen, based on all kinds of things. You know and I think that people are ready for different things as teens, and looking for different things as teens, and I wonder if you know maybe the Young Adult should be the feelings and identities section!


Naseem: Yeah, no I think that is fair. I’m sorry, did I cut anyone off?

Whiti: Yeah, and I think there’s also, I get a lot of people asking me, My eleven year-old reads at a eighteen-year-old level, they understand the words and things, but the content of those books aren’t appropriate for that age.

[general agreement]

Whiti: So yeah, going to something that’s more what the book is about, the content of it, rather than this is for young adults or this is for whatever, might be helpful too. I know I was reading at a higher age when I was eleven, and I probably shouldn’t have read Brave New World when I was eleven, but I did and that might have messed things up a little bit.


[Pop-up from Infinite Text: ‘if you COULD go back in time and write for your young adult self a perfect book in your preferred genre, what would you include/exclude?’]

Naseem: My husband read It when he was ten for the first time so, you know.


Whiti: So yeah, having resources for kids that may be reading above what is appropriate in the books would be, yeah, interesting space as well.

Naseem: Yeah, okay, we have one minute and we had a few questions. So yeah, so if we can, if we’ll see if we can answer both of these really fast. Do you think, so this is the one that was just asked, or that was asked a little earlier, Do you think it’s beneficial, you know, so many people hate reading classics in school, do you think it’s worth switching to contemporary, not contemporary as in terms of what’s being published, like Middle Grade and YA instead? And I don’t know if in like the UK or in New Zealand whether you got, whether there are certain, like, canons that you’re all, you know you also have to read in middle grade and high school. I know that we did.

Whiti: We did when I was younger but it’s changed now, and it’s a bit of a mix of both. So you do a bit of classics stuff, but you can also choose your own books to read and analyse within classes too. Some of it is really just practical that schools can’t afford to buy new books every time they come through for a class set, so yeah. A bit of both.

Melissa: I know for me it’s a pet peeve, honestly, that my kids are still reading some of the same books that I read when I was in high school and middle school as assigned books. I feel like, I mean just in their particular district, their summer reading lists were much more open and had - but when you’re reading only the classics and teaching kids in school, teaching them only the classics, you are [makes air quotes] classics! You are by definition teaching them a less diverse curriculum because the stuff that were [air quotes] classics back then are even more so dominated by white straight guys. And I think that it really, I mean it’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with teaching some classics, by all means have one or two in there, but I think you really should be also looking at stuff that’s more recently published and not just leaning on the same thirty- forty- fifty-year-old books all the time. Cause they’re not even resonating with kids now. My daughter had to read Catcher in the Rye in high school, and was like, What this is nothing to do with my life right now, I can’t figure out why am I reading this random guy babbling kind of jerk.


Katherine: You’re giving me flashbacks.


Katherine: My kids are much younger, they’re not sort of into that high school assigned reading yet, but they have been sort of sent home with Harry Potters and other things, and we have had conversations about what the author is doing and what it shows about the author’s biases and if this happens in real life … this is a type of … just try and sort of keep that awareness running alongside as well. But I think schools are pretty good at keeping current literature in alongside the classics, but it’s anything that gets kids reading to be honest. It doesn’t have to be a classic, it doesn’t have to be a modern story. Whatever clicks with that particular kid is of value, and I think I just want to applaud all the teachers out there for everything they do. Keep at it.

[general agreement]

Melissa: Definitely.

Naseem: Yeah, I definitely agree. Okay, well we’re out of time, and in the interests of not keeping everyone I guess we’ll end it there. Thank you all so much for coming, thank you guys, our wonderful, wonderful panelists, you’re super great. We are not in a space where we can clap but I am clapping for you. And you know, we are all, are we all in twitter or social medias of some kind where you can find us?

[everyone nodding]

Naseem: Though, you know, we are findable on the internets for other questions or conversations. But yes, thank you everyone for coming, have a great day, enjoy more of the fringe con, and don’t be a bigot.

Katherine: Thank you Naseem for being an awesome moderator.

Melissa: Yes!

Whiti: Yes, thank you!

Melissa: You were just great.

Naseem: I’ve had a great time. I can talk books all day every day. So, all right, awesome, okay.

Thanks to Wendy Reynolds for drafting this panel transcript! Responsibility for final text lies with Adri Joy - for any corrections or comments, please get in touch via Twitter.