YA Librarians Honor Sci-Fi Writer, Stir Hornet’s Nest

By Neal Comment

orson-scott-card-headshot.jpgThe Young Adult Library Services Association presented its annual Margaret A. Edwards Award to science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card last week, paying tribute to the ways in which his novel Ender’s Game and its follow-up Ender’s Shadow fulfill the Edwards Award mandate of “helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.” (No mention, sadly, of Speaker for the Dead, the immediate sequel to Ender’s Game.) Card’s selection kicked up some controversy, however, due to his extreme views on homosexuality. As School Library Journal, which co-sponsors the award, summarizes the debate, “If a well-known author writes and speaks about gays and lesbians in a way that many interpret to be anti-gay, should he be given an award that honors his outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens?”

Just so you have a sense of what I’m talking about when I say “extreme views,” here’s an excerpt from one of Card’s articles:

“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”

The awards committee has responded to the criticism that followed from last week’s announcement by arguing that a writer’s personal beliefs shouldn’t be held against his writing—a perfectly reasonable position on the surface, and one that many science-fiction fans have adopted over the years (and not just with Card). On the other side of the issue, YA author David Levithan told SLJ, “I would like to believe that the Edwards committee would not have honored someone who had written essays that were as racist or as anti-Semitic as Card’s are anti-gay.”

When it comes to the Edwards’s goal of honoring writers who help teens sort through their place in the world, Levithan adds, “I think Card’s writings on homosexuality do the exact opposite of that.” So can a batch of articles cancel out a storyline that’s been popular (in several volumes) for more than 20 years? Even if the awards committee had known about Card’s views beforehand, which they say they didn’t, it would appear not: The Edwards Award is described by its administrators not just as a tribute to a writer’s “lifetime contribution to young adult literature,” but “it also singles out specific works by that author for special recognition.”

(via Free Range Librarian; photo of Card by Henderson Photography from the author’s website)