The Young Adult (Hugo) Award: A Minority Report
By Chris M. Barkley: Author’s Note: Of all the columns I have written so far, the following was the hardest and took the longest period to write. From my own, subjective viewpoint, I may be too close to the trees to actually perceive the forest. Nonetheless, I promised Mike Glyer a column about the Young Adult Award. Since I initially proposed it in 2010, I feel a certain sense of responsibility, to all those who are fervent supporters of this idea and to the committee members who have slaved over its composition and torturous course through numerous Worldcon Business Meeting over the past few years.
I spoke at the 2016 Business Meeting at MidAmeriCon II and my remarks are included in a video link provided with this article. While I do not renounce my support of the YA amendment in its current form, this column also serves as a minority report that I feel I should have presented to the Business Meeting.
While recounting the events that have led us to the current status of the YA Award, I felt compelled to point out some deficiencies of the process and some of the critical decisions that have been made over this period of time. By doing so, I do not mean to denigrate the efforts of the members of the YA committees, past or present and I apologize in advance if this report is perceived in that matter.)
On the morning of Saturday, August 20, my fellow activist Dan Berger and I were seated in Room 2104AB of the Kansas City Convention Center for the third session of the World Science Fiction Convention Business Meeting. As the morning progressed, we watched a seemingly endless parade of observations, objections and motions to various agenda items.
At one indeterminable point, Dan exclaimed, “Is this EVER going the end?”
I casually turned to Dan and said, “This is how the sausage is made.” I was not new to the process; since the year 2000, I have attended many Business Meetings. Way, way too many, I sometimes think to myself.
As the meeting marched onwards to a vote on the Young Adult Award amendment to the Constitution of the World Science Fiction society, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, this issue was finally being dealt with on the floor with an up or down vote. On the other hand, I felt that the committee’s recommendations fell far short of what I had in mind. Still, better to compromise for a half a loaf of something than no bread at all.
As we waited, I glanced down at the notes of my statement that I had hastily scribbled down on a scrap of paper that morning. I was not stranger to speaking in public, having been a radio talk show host and a retail bookseller. Still, I felt unduly nervous. I have maintained some particularly strong feelings about establishing this award over the years and here it was, probably the final opportunity to forcefully speak in its favor.
Finally, debate began on the amendment. I arose, was recognized by the chair and I slowly made my way to the podium to face my peers…
I first became aware of the Science Fiction Achievement Awards as a fifteen year old in high school with my discovery of the book club edition of The Hugo Winners Volumes One and Two, edited by Isaac Asimov.
The stories, which ranged from rousing tales of adventure (Murray Leinster’s “Exploration Team”), tragedy (“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes), elegant fantasy (Jack Vance’s “The Dragon Masters” and “The Last Castle”) to head spinning metaphors (“’Repent Harlequin!’, said the Ticktockman” by Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany’s “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”).
Needless to say, I was hooked for life.
In his various introductions to the stories, Asimov continually alluded to “conventions” where the awards were voted on and given out. The trouble was that he said nothing about how these things happened. I was blissfully unaware until my best friend and I stumbled upon a local convention in Cincinnati, Midwestcon, in the summer of 1976.
In those forty years, I have attended several hundred local and regional conventions and twenty-eight Worldcons.
After a near death experience in 1996, I began to be more active as a fan writer and activist. This in turn, led to a more direct involvement with the Hugo Awards.
Since 1999, I have proposed changes to the Best Dramatic Presentation Award and Best Editor categories, the establishment of the Best Graphic Story award and was one of the many co-sponsors of the Best Fancast award.
As a young reader, I cherished the authors and works that made me the reader I am today. The resurgence of YA and children’s books since the advent of the works J.K. Rowling and other breakout YA authors in the late 1990’s have made an enormous impact on the reading habits of children, teenagers and a great many adult readers of this generation, especially for those who love fantasy and sf.
Although gene oriented YA has been stereotypically been tagged as tales of young people struggling against dystopias, I think that there has been a wealth of stories being published about how young women and men struggle with their feelings about themselves, their friendships, parents, authority figures, magic and technology.
Starting in 2011, I decided to ask and poll fans privately about the possibility of a YA Award. The responses I received were numerous and enthusiastic enough that I established a Facebook page to spearhead the effort.
I pleaded with Chicon 7 convention committee to try it out as a special category award (which is legal under the World Science Fiction Constitution), but was eventually turned down because they deemed a test the Fancast Hugo, which had just passed through on its first ratification at Renovation the year before, was a more pressing concern.
In addition, I also privately petitioned the San Antonio, London and Sasquan Worldcon committees for a special award, but they all chose not to do so. While I was disappointed with their reactions, I said nothing since nothing because there was nothing to been gained by complaining publicly about the situation.
In the meantime, the amendment remained in various committees for four years. I participated in deliberations of the first committee but not on the subsequent panels.
In retrospect, I bear much of the blame for the current state of affairs; my lack of participation in these committees amounts to a failure of leadership on my part. Even though I remained the lead administrator of the YA Hugo Facebook page, this was the extent of my participation in the process. This, in part, was due to some personal problems I was undergoing at the time and ineptitude, for which I alone take responsibility for.
The YA committee report is on the following link, on pages 48 (as C.3.2) and 130-133 (Appendix 2):
The Young Adult amendment that was passed at MidAmeriCon II reads as follows:
Short Title: Young Adult Award
Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution for the purpose of establishing an award for Young Adult literature by
striking out and >adding words as follows:
- Insert words in existing sections 3.7.3 and 3.10.2 as follows:
Nominations shall be solicited only for the Hugo Awards, And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the <blank> Award for Best Young Adult Book.
Final Award ballots shall list only the Hugo Awards, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the <blank> Award for Best Young Adult Book.
- Insert the following section before existing Section 3.4.:
3.X: <blank> Award for Best Young Adult Book.
The <blank> Award for Best Young Adult Book is given for a book published for young adult readers in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year, with such exceptions as are listed in Section 3.4.
Provided that filling the < blank> in this amendment to name the award shall not be considered a greater change in the scope of the amendment.
Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the 2021 Business Meeting, Section 3.X shall be repealed and the modifications to 3.7.3 and 3.10.2 reversed; and Provided further that the question of re-ratification shall automatically be placed on the agenda of the 2021 Business Meeting.
The following is a summary of the committee report that was distributed at the Business Meeting:
Members of the YA Award Committee
Commentary: The YA award Committee is proposing a new WSFS award for Young Adult fiction that, like the Campbell Award, would not be a Hugo but would be administered by the WSFS. There have been many attempts going back to the 1990s to create a YA Hugo award, but none of these were successful. The previous year’s YA Hugo Committee (2014-2015) determined that a Hugo was not feasible, while this year’s Committee determined that an award in the mold of the Campbell has merits.
For details of the Committee’s findings, please see the Report submitted to the Business Meeting. In brief, no sponsor is required for an award, which would be a WSFS-sponsored award. Like the Hugo and Campbell, it would be added to the Constitution. The award would be paid for and administered by each Worldcon and presented during the Hugo Ceremony.
This proposal represents the closest we could come to a consensus in the time allotted. Although there are areas where the members of the Committee do not perfectly agree, we feel this proposal reflects our general feeling that a YA award at Worldcon is viable. We recommend its passage and the creation of a separate committee to move forward with consideration of a name for this new award and the physical template for it
In turn, I offer my counterpoints to both summaries:
The report mentions the previous committee reported that a YA Hugo category was “not feasible”. (That report can be read here: http://dothraki.com/yareport_sasquan.pdf). I will beg to differ on this point. The main point in the report states that, “Under the existing methodology of the Hugo Awards, however, a separate category for YA fiction is not practical. That is, the Hugo fiction categories are defined by word count, not by age categories. We suggest instead the creation of a Campbell-like award, since the Campbell addresses authors and thereby functions outside the Hugo methodology.”
I find the logic of the argument baffling. After all, the Locus Award and the Edgar Awards offer a Young Adult categories and seeming have no problems either garnering viable nominations or administering the awards annually. The same could be said of the Andre Norton Award presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (even though they chose to go the “Campbell-like” route with their award).
Why is the Hugo Award perceived differently? Because of the awards are governed by a word count, specifically, that the Novel category in the WSFS Constitution states that a novel must exceed 40,000 words in length. I maintain that a great many YA novels published today easily exceed that limit and that any nominees that fall below that could fall into any of the other fiction categories. This, in other words, is a non-issue.
There was a great deal of consternation during the committee deliberations over the definition of a young adult book, to quote the report:
A Campbell-like award solves a lot of the problems that have come up in past business meetings. A Campbell-like award based on age-group solves the issue of defining what YA is and how the award would be categorized if it were a Hugo. A very strong definition of YA is not a good idea because trends change, and each year’s Worldcon should be allowed to define what they think is YA.
This is the definition of the YA category used by the Mystery Writers of America:
Best Young Adult Mystery: Hardbound or Paperback books, Grades 8 – 12. Ages 13 -18.
Well, it is my opinion that a “Campbell-like” award cannot be equated to an actual Hugo Award. It may be mitigated or regarded as a supplemental award, as the Andre Norton Award, but not as an equal in stature. The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is regarded as a prestigious award due to it being named after an influential editor of modern science fiction, it’s longevity and, of course, the annual presentation of the tiara.
The perception that a YA award should be seated at a separate table from the Hugos unsettles me on a personal level. I have always loved YA novels through my youth through today as a professional bookseller. To me, the act of placing YA books in a separate category from the rest of the other categories seems to imply that it is a lesser for of literature, seated, as it were, at the kids table during a Thanksgiving feast.
While a number of authors polled stated that they would support a separate award, I am quite certain a majority of them would prefer having a Hugo Award instead.
Also, I would stipulate that each year’s Worldcon should NOT determine what YA is, the readers and nominators have that honor. The readers who are interested in nominating a YA book for a Hugo Awards already knows what a YA novel is and certainly does not need any prompting from any one in fandom.
As for “trends changing” in sf and fantasy, I should certainly hope this is the case! Imaginative literature should chronicle the changes in culture, society, styles and explorations into the inner nature of human beings (or aliens and demons, for that matter) are the bread and butter of any sort literature that grows and endures. Literature that tends to skirt or avoid these vital issues usually wind up being disregarded, ridiculed or worse, ignored and rejected by readers.
To be sure, this is not the first time I have witnessed Worldcon committees and Business Meeting regulars indulging over in over thinking proposed changes to the Constitution AND underestimating the intelligence of the nominating readers and fans. I recall similar arguments that were made during the deliberations of the Best Dramatic Presentation, Editing and Graphic Story categories; in each set of debates, there was a considerable amount of hand wringing over whether people could be bothered to look up the running times of television shows and movies, finding out who edited a novel or whether certain comics or graphic stories should even be considered sf or fantasy.
In every instance, each of these and countless small worries and dire scenarios turned out to be entirely unfounded. And, even with the exception of the Puppy slated nominations, the nominators and voters of the Hugo Awards have consistently come through with interesting and outstanding selections for the final ballot.
I submitted a request to Worldcon 75’s committee to consider a YA category and for a while, I was actually hopeful that they might grant my request. On September 30, I was rather surprised by the announcement of their decision to present a Best Series Award next year.
My frustration was further compounded by a presumptive ruling by the next Chair of the Business Meeting, Kevin Standlee, who stated on his LiveJournal page in November that any changes to the current incomplete amendment would be considered by him as a “greater change” and thereby would need yet another year of passage through the BM.
I happen to believe that Mr. Standlee is correct in his ruling BUT, this costly delay means that the soonest a YA award might be given could be another two years away. Thus, I felt the need to make my feelings known about what has gone before
So, I strode slowly to the podium. Here’s what I said at the MidAmericon II Business Meeting, at the 4:30 mark of the link:
And I meant what I said; we cannot afford to make this a contest about egos, personal interests, political agendas, but what is in the best interests of the Hugo Awards AND the readers who vote.
Although it is highly unlikely to occur, I would not be terribly upset if the members of Worldcon 75 Business Meeting reject the current amendment and substitute a lesser change, which I offer for consideration this amendment (which was originally written in 2014, when I anticipated that I would be attending the Loncon Business Meeting, but did not due to personal obligations):
Best Young Adult Hugo Award
a) A book length young adult science fiction or fantasy book published in the previous calendar year. A book nominated in this category may not be eligible for any other fiction category.
b)Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the Business Meeting three years after this amendment has been ratified it shall be immediately repealed and,
Provided that the question of re-ratification shall be automatically be placed on the agenda of the Business Meeting three years afterward with any constitutional amendments awaiting ratification.
Please note that this amendment would not require naming, it would seamlessly fit into the regular Hugo Award administrative team and it would not require an original award design, all problems which the current committee has yet to come to a consensus on of this date. The designation of “book” easily dodges any dilemma of a word count for the Hugo Administrator, but as I mentioned earlier, most nominees will easily exceed the Novel category limit.
While I personally object to the establishment of a non-Hugo category for YA novels, my first preference has always been to establish it as a Hugo category. But since I was absent from the majority of the deliberations, I chose to go agree with the compromise.
Should the members of the Business meeting of Worldcon 75 decide to keep the current framework, I strongly suggest that the only way to establish this separate award with any chance of creating and maintaining a lasting and prestigious aura is to definitely name it after a undisputed champion of young adult literature: Ursula K Le Guin, Jane Yolen, Tamora Pierce, Madeline L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey or Octavia Butler easily come to mind. And I wouldn’t worry about a nickname for the new award; the fans will probably take care of that on their own and in the age of social media, it probably won’t take very long for something to stick.
Right now there are several websites and set up to take suggestions on what the awards should be named.
Among those is the Worldcon YA page:
The Worldcon YA committee page:
The YA Hugo Proposal Facebook page:
And yes, while I recognize that there may be some strong objections to naming (or nicknaming) an award after a living person, I would like to point out that it is not without precedent. The Science Fiction Achievement Award was eventually nicknamed the Hugo Award WHILE the namesake, Hugo Gernsback was very much alive.
As the primary instigator of many of the category changes over the past sixteen years, I have never sought credit or favor for my fan activities. My interest has always been, and always will be, purely altruistic. Normally, I am not the sort of person who likes to draw attention to my fannish activities but I love the idea of establishing a YA award so much that I wanted my vociferous objections about how it has been treated to be formally recorded for the public record. I am drawing attention to this minority report now express my deep frustration at the stumbling attempts to establish a Young Adult Book Award, as a separate award category or otherwise.
My goals as a fan activist has been to assure that the Hugo Awards remain fair, engaging, diverse, thought-provoking and most importantly, relevant to the times and to the people who nominate and vote for them every year.
It is my fervent hope is that this minority report will spur the passage of a Young Adult Award forward, to Helsinki’s Worldcon 75 and beyond.