In this paper, I will argue that YA anthologies are offering what might be termed a new form social protest. By featuring voices in concert, championing topics often excluded from mainstream literature, and celebrating marginalised voices, YA anthologies are forging new ground, making space(s) for voices and stories of all kinds. To make this argument, I draw on an intertwining of ‘imaginary activism’, as coined by Megan Musgrave in Digital Citizenship in Twenty-First-Century Young Adult Literature and a sort of ‘living’ of my feminism à la Sara Ahmed in Living a Feminist Life.
Through the intertwining of these concepts, I want to expand Musgrave’s focus on the imaginary forms of activism depicted within YA fiction to consider how YA anthologies are offering further instances of activism, while also “making more noise,” as a form of ‘living my feminism’, about YA anthologies and UKYA—a marginalised, in the face of the US juggernaut, area of YA fiction.
This paper, as well as the one my friend and colleague Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold will give this afternoon, are early forays into our forthcoming Book Trade Activism and Anthologies: Advocating for Change in the UKYA Market.
Emerging from our work on the Adolescent Identities project, this volume will argue that YA anthologies — such as the ones depicted here -- are making a direct intervention in the publishing industry by featuring minoritized authors, increasing representation, and taking full advantage of the short story’s capacity, as Dominic Head argues (2016), to depict marginalised experiences.
You may’ve noticed, I skipped over two: Proud and a Change is Gonna Come. These two anthologies are both examples of UKYA that is they were first published in the UK and are by authors from the UK. Book Trade Activism and Anthologies will focus on these two ‘diverse’ UKYA anthologies as they were specifically commissioned in response to the lack of diversity in British publishing. In this book project (as well as in our work more widely) Dr Ramdarshan Bold and I utilise the We Need Diverse Books definition of diversity, which “recognises all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of colour, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities”. We’re interested in marginalised positions of all kinds and in how YA anthologies, especially UKYA anthologies, are working to change them.
These two collections of UKYA short stories and poetry, published by (until just recently) independent publisher Little Tiger Press under their imprint Stripes Publishing, feature authors of colour in Change and LGBTQIA+ authors in Proud. The stories in both are intersectional and occupy a range of genre positions. Both books also deliberately include new voices alongside more established children’s and YA authors to actualise another form of activism: practically and tangibly supporting previously unpublished authors in the UK while concomitantly diversifying and expanding the field. Through a mixed method approach drawing on our individual research strengths — interviews with the authors in the collection, and the commissioning editors for the book, close readings of both anthologies, and reader reception of GoodReads and Amazon reviews — Book Trade Activism and Anthologies will examine how UKYA anthologies are working to disrupt the cultural hegemony in the UKYA market.
These stories — listed here — include a re-imagining of the night of the 1911 census, when many women hid from their homes as a protest against their lack of voting rights (Out for the Count), a parable describing a world that has been flooded by a witch’s tears and how a ‘green-hearted girl’ unites the world’s people to break the curse (The Green Hearted Girl). Two stories focus on the lives of real people, Olive Christian Malvery who spent her adult life campaigning for the rights of working class women (All Things Bright and Beautiful) and the 43 Group, an organisation begun by young Jewish ex-servicemen who, returning home from fighting overseas, found fascism present on their own streets. The young people of the 43 Group actively broke up the meetings of fascist organisations across London (Discuss, Decide, Do). There’s a ghost story (The Tuesday Afternoon Ghost), several stories address independence and deciding your own path—especially, Tea and Jam, On Your Bike, and The Race—while The Bug Hunters and The Otter Path include, among other things, finding friends, or allies, in unlikely places. In each of these stories, Musgrave’s ‘imaginary activism’ is present.
Make More Noise might be the title of an anthology of fiction short stories, but it is also a line from a speech, given by a ‘real-world’ activist as a call to arms. As such, I argue that Make More Noise (the anthology) occupies the space between the real and the imaginary adding an intertextual layer of meaning to the imaginary forms of activism depicted within the text.
To explore this liminal positioning and taking a nod from Angel Daniel Matos in “The Undercover Life of Young Adult Novels”, I want to occupy the liminal space of Make More Noise’s cover for a time, while also taking full advantage of the liminal’s in-between positioning to occasionally step on either side of that boundary. As Matos demonstrates, book covers not only literally bind a narrative—a binding that becomes even more crucial in the case of an anthology’s multiple narratives and potentially multiple authors—but book covers are also ostensibly the first point of contact readers will have with the story, or stories, inside a book.
In Matos’s argument, the cover’s role as a liminal transition point between the ‘real world’ and the imaginary world of the story, positions the cover as a particularly crucial, as well as potentially fraught, ideological field. For example, Matos discusses the tendency for book covers to align with the dominant ‘normative framework’ prioritising White, heterosexual, cisgender identities, even when the narrative concerns otherwise (there’s a lengthy conversation to be had around sales and marketing, but we’ll save that for the forthcoming book). Here it’s sufficient to say, YA anthology covers — and Proud, with its rainbow solidarity fist, is one excellent example — are intervening in this narrative, as they intervene in other marginalisations.
First, the multiplicity of voices is key. Make More Noise is not an individually authored work of fiction. There are ten names listed on the cover of this book:
Each of these “storytellers” (as the book cover describes them) are the author of an individual story within the collection, but they are also part of the collective voice making up the whole of Make More Noise. Frameworks of community and relation, as counters to competition, are key to undoing dominant marginalisations.
If I had one complaint to make about the activism and intervention Make More Noise offers through its cover, there is a prioritising of a visual aesthetic, at the expense of readability, that is problematic. In all the good work of this book both inside and out, who is being left out by this design? (I’ve misread Jeanne’s name more times than I have not). Tangentially, in an otherwise alphabetical list, why have Ally Kennen and Catherine Johnson swapped places? Why is MG Leonard visually highlighted? These names are quite clearly part of a group—being on the cover and within the megaphone’s trajectory makes this clear—but even so representation isn’t necessarily equal.
Still — and with this slide I’m stepping outside of the book — the community (of women), represented by the names listed on the cover, directly intervenes in not only mainstream competition culture in which individuality and individual ownership are prioritised but also the normative frames in which authors of colour are frequently excluded, as Ramdarshan Bold details, likely later on today, but also in her recently published monograph Inclusive Young Adult Fiction: Authors of Colour in the United Kingdom.
Race and ethnicity aside, these women include a diversity of body shapes and sizes as well as ages and cultural backgrounds. Crucially, this diversity is reflected within the stories: MG Leonard’s The Bug Hunters offers an example I adore:
There’s certainly a parallel between Leonard’s hairstyle and that of her protagonist that’s interesting, but there’s also a normalising of difference at work in this passage: in the UK (at least), girls of this age overwhelmingly have long hair (indeed, long hair seems to have become conflated with a certain marker of femininity or ‘being-woman’) so to not only feature a protagonist who has short hair but to also walk readers through an exchange concerning that hairstyle is a form of micro-activism, of making space for difference.
In my final few minutes, I want to close by making a bit ‘more noise’ (or perhaps a bit of noise) about a few UKYA books that aren’t anthologies but that are written by women and intervening in hegemonic norms and standards. Not only does concluding in this way actualise the activism I’ve been discussing around anthologies but it also opens a space for these voices and stories, expanding their reach beyond the UK (incidentally a number of these books are now available on Amazon, but I haven’t spotted them in a Stateside bookshop).
I'm really excited by these books and the work they're doing, and in concluding in this way, I answer Pankhurt’s and Make More Noise’s call to, well, make more noise.
About Us – CAMFED - Campaign for Female Education. https://camfed.org/about/. Accessed 7 June 2019.
Ahmed, Samira, et al. Color Outside the Lines: Stories about Love. Edited by Sangu Mandanna, Soho Teen, 2019.
Badoe, Yaba. Wolf Light. Zephyr, 2020.
Bialik, Mayim. It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories. Edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019.
Broadway, Alice. Scar. Scholastic Fiction, 2019.
Cameron, Sophie. Last Bus to Everland. Macmillan Children’s Books, 2019.
Carroll, Emma, et al. Make More Noise! Nosy Crow Ltd, 2018.
Clarke, Cat. The Pants Project. Sourcebooks Young Readers, 2017.
Daniel, Angel. ‘The Undercover Life of Young Adult Novels’. The ALAN Review, no. Winter, 2017, p. 7.
Drew, Ned, and Paul Sternberger. By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.
Fowley-Doyle, Moira. All the Bad Apples. Penguin, 2019.
Giles, Lamar, editor. Fresh Ink: An Anthology. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Head, Dominic, editor. The Cambridge History of the English Short Story. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Kalhan, Savita. The Girl in the Broken Mirror. Troika Books, 2018.
Lam, Anna. ‘YA Literature: The Inside and Cover Story’. The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, vol. 3, no. 1, Apr. 2013, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2013/04/ya-literature-the-inside-and-cover-story/.
Mancusi, Mari. Gamer Girl. Reprint edition, Speak, 2010.
Musgrave, Megan L. Digital Citizenship in Twenty-First-Century Young Adult Literature: Imaginary Activism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
Ngan, Natasha. Girls of Paper and Fire. Jimmy Patterson, 2018.
Nijkamp, Marieke. Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.
Oh, Ellen, et al. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings. Greenwillow Books, 2018.
Pankhurst, Emmeline. Freedom or Death. Hartford, Connecticut.
Ramdarshan Bold, Melanie. Inclusive Young Adult Fiction: Authors of Colour in the United Kingdom. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
Sheppard, Alexandra. Oh My Gods. 1 edition, Scholastic, 2019.
Spotswood, Jessica, editor. The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls. Candlewick, 2018.
Various, and Darren Chetty. A Change Is Gonna Come. Stripes Publishing, 2017.
Various, and Juno Dawson. Proud. Stripes Publishing, 2019.