Award Season is full upon us! A few weeks ago Kirkus announced its Finalists for the Kirkus Prize in Young Reader's Literature. Children's and Teen Editor Vicky Smith called it "a Heckuva List," and it is. Narrowed down to just two titles in each of three subcategories (picture books, middle grade, and young adult), it features diversity in style and audience as well as in authorship. Few lists of this length do, to this extent.
That is, until this week, when the National Book Award Finalists were announced. Of course, we'd seen the longlist earlier so I was already hopeful, but following years when it was remarkable to have more than one writer of color among the finalists, it is wonderful to see, here too, a broader readership represented.
Building on two strong years for diversity in the ALSC Newbery and Caldecott awards, can we hope that award juries, and the organizations that run them, are taking fully to heart the need to bring to the table voices that might have previously been undervalued? Are they finally asking: whose excellence in literature, and why? Setting standards by a canon that responds primarily to White voices is an exercise in exclusion, and ultimately, irrelevance. The books now being recognized for major awards by book creators of color and First Nations/Native people can only make the field stronger, and expose previous year's lists' paltry tokenism.
Looking at these lists, I'm reminded of what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a talk last year at Georgetown University Law Center:
"People ask me sometimes ... 'When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is: when there are nine."