Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Thoughts: Author's Intent

Authorial intent is one of those things that always made me grown in my English classes in college. Trying to divine what an author really meant, decades or centuries after their death, felt ridiculous, and I always hated when my professors would say that such-and-such event in a book clearly reflected x event in the author's real life, and thus it meant y.

But when we're dealing with contemporary authors, is it different? Since the authors can and, thanks to the internet, often do interact with their fans on a daily basis, does the authors intent regarding a work matter more or less?

Back in 2007, JK Rowling unleashed a firestorm when she announced after the publication of the last book that Dumbledore is gay. Lots of people were extremely happy to have this example of diversity in children's literature, but other people felt it was a complete cop out; if she truly meant to have a gay character in the stories then it should have been included in the text and, since it isn't, Dumbledore is actually hetero- or asexual.

In light of the Magic Under Glass controversy, since the author is known to be online, people have been waiting anxiously for her to jump in. Justine Larbalestier set an excellent precedent for speaking out about a whitewashed cover: when the cover debuted she made a carefully neutral post, acknowledging that the whitewashed cover was a beautiful and striking cover and she was super excited that it was chosen to be on the front of Bloomsbury's next catalog. It wasn't until after other people started to bring up the huge, glaring discrepancy that Justine began to talk openly about the problem of whitewashing. Justine wasn't hiding behind white privilege or anything; rather, she felt that it would be unprofessional to lead the charge against her own publisher and didn't want to come across as childish.

So since this past weekend, I think we've been waiting with baited breath to hear what Jaclyn Dolamore thought about her cover. A few brief comments in another pointed towards feelings of disappointment. Yesterday she made a statement in her own LJ, which included the following:
My writing is my voice. My stories are about accepting your fellow man or woman, about how love is the most powerful force in the universe. I do truly understand why some people are upset by my cover. However, Nimira is from a fictional land which is not meant to be a parallel to a specific country in our world. Her culture has elements, such as costume and music, that might be drawn from Eastern European, Asian and Roma cultures, and I love that readers are interpreting her look in different ways.

The comments on her LJ are very supportive of Dolamore, with some accusing people with "agendas" of annexing the book for our own purposes. The one dissenting commenter essentially being told she isn't welcome. On the unfunnybusiness community, however, there's a lot of disappointment in the author: Peace love blah blah buy my book. That's a shame.

So what now? Does the author's statement hurt the momentum that's been building the protest Bloomsbury (either through letters or a full-on boycott)? The author clearly doesn't want to make waves - do we have an obligation to accept that wish if we want to support her? It seems she doesn't see the character's race in the same light many of the cover critics did - because Magic Under Glass is a fantasy, the color of the character's skin doesn't matter in the way it would if it were a contemporary story, a la Liar.

I have a strong opinion on this, but I want to hear your thoughts first. I'll chime in later in the day with my response!


Tia said...

I'd been following the deluge of posts about this (and the earlier ones about Liar) with interest. As many people have pointed out, I can understand where Dolamore is coming from--she either truly believes her character can be interpreted a lot of ways (although I find that somewhat unlikely), or more probably, she just doesn't want to get into anything with her publisher.

It's very evident to me, though, that YA with characters of color is rare enough, and it's worse if publishers try to hide the books that are out there. Public outcry is the only thing that's going to succeed in making any changes, and I think it needs to be done even if the author isn't supportive. I think the outcry also gets people thinking more about what they read--and maybe helps readers try or support another book with a protagonist of color. I certainly know that's been true for me. And that's an important step too.

Color Online said...


I think you can guess my opinion. Let me just say this, author Zetta Elliott was rejected and rejected and no publishing house believed in her book. She self-published. It got read. Fans got behind it, reviewed it and promoted it on more blogs and online publications. Being true to her work and herself, Amazon Encore Publishing picked up A Wish After Midnight.

Zetta refused to be bullied, refused to doubt her book and her convictions about what YA literature can be. That's the kind of writer I support, promote and will fight for.

I pushed for the boycott. That wasn't popular with many folks including my friends but they respected my decision to act on my own conscience. Integrity matters. Don't we want to teach our children that?

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