The Ursula K. Le Guin Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
By Chris M. Barkley:
Ursula K. Le Guin in 2013. Photo by R. Durburow.
On the evening of March 6, 2018, I wrote the following, a boldly ambiguous press release for File770.com about re-naming the Young Adult Book Award:
Press Release for immediate distribution
6 March 2018
Subject: A Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award at Worldcon 76
By Chris M. Barkley
“When the mind is free, magic happens.”
? Young Adult author C.G. Rousing
“Harry Potter” blew the roof off of children’s literature. But that doesn’t mean the work is done — for YA authors, it just means more scope for the imagination.”
– Huffington Post reporter Claire Fallon, June 2017
Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. For a time in our modern age, it is seems as though young grade and high school kids had abandoned reading books.
Then, in 1997, along came J.K. Rowling and her creation, the world of Harry Potter. And now, after twenty-one years, it’s hard to imagine what might have happened to entire generation of young readers if Bloomsbury and Scholastic Books hadn’t taken a chance on the saga of a young wizard and his friends and deadly enemies.
The Harry Potter novels, which continue to sell, provided a mighty tide that raised the fortunes of a great many writers; new authors such as Suzanne Collins, Garth Nix, Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan and Tamora Pierce, led story hungry children to the older works of seasoned professionals like Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert A. Heinlein.
In 2006, The Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America created the Andre Norton Award, which is given to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy work published in the United States in the preceding year.
Five years later, a serious effort was started to establish a Hugo Award for young adult books. The World Science Fiction Convention Business Meeting, which governs the WSFS Constitution that administers the Hugo Awards, several committees over several years, determined that the proposed award would better be served as a separate category, to be on par with the other non-Hugo category, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
The amendment to add the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book to the WSFS Constitution was first ratified last summer at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland by the members of the Business Meeting and must be ratified a second time at this year’s Worldcon in San Jose, California to begin its official trial run as a category.
This year’s Worldcon Convention Committee (headed by Kevin Roche) has graciously accepted to administer the Young Adult Book award in addition to the new Best Series and Campbell Awards.
The nomination period for the Hugos, Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer opened this past February 5th.
We, the undersigned, wish to congratulate the various YA Committee Members for reaching a consensus with their diligent work in crafting the parameters of the YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention. However, we also think that the name of this new award should have a name which not only should be universally recognizable, but have an equivalent weight to the name of John W. Campbell, Jr.
We, the undersigned, will respectfully submit a new name for the Young Adult Book Award at the Preliminary Session of the Worldcon 76 Business Meeting on August 17th, 2018 as a strike though substitution for the name ‘Lodestar’, under the rules governing the WSFS Business Meeting.
We will also embargo the name until the start of the Preliminary Session.
There is very good reason why the name will not be revealed at this time and that explanation will also be given at that time.
While we also understand that while this motion may cause a great deal of consternation, we also feel that this would be an excellent opportunity to generate a great deal of interest about the Worldcon and bring MORE attention to this new award to potential nominators, readers of all ages, booksellers and the public at large.
The proposed name will forever be known and honored in perpetuity with the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award, and the World Science Fiction Convention.
This proposal was signed by myself, my partner Juli Marr and several other prominent authors, editors and members of fandom.
All of this was done with good will and the best intentions. But by the end of the evening, there were a great many people who, if they had the time, inclination and opportunity, would have my head on a nice, long pike like poor Ned Stark. They chose instead to take a torch to my reputation in fandom, challenge my integrity and the very nature of the proposal.
How did this happen? And more importantly, why is this being announced now, less than two weeks before the 76th Worldcon in San Jose?
To understand what happened and explain my actions in any sort of sensible context, I must go back to the origins of the Best Young Adult Book Award.
After the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal, I began looking into the possibility of gathering support for a Young Adult novel award. On January 2, 2011, I created a Facebook page to promote this idea: (https://www.facebook.com/YA-Hugo-Proposal-187492394596256/)
I would not call the page an overwhelming success because the number of members topped out at around 250 people. But what we lacked in numbers we made up in our enthusiasm about establishing a Young Adult Hugo award category.
I made recommendations to the committees of Reno Convention in 2011, Chicon 7 in 2012 and San Antonio in 2013 to no avail. But our persistence finally caught the eye of the Loncon Business Meeting in 2014, which set up a series of committees to study the concept and make recommendations.
While I was in the mix for the first committee, I dropped out due to personal concerns, mainly to deal with the failing health of my mother and father. The members doing a majority of the heavy lifting were Katie Rask, Dave McCarty and Kate Secor. Without their diligence and hard work, the YA Award would have been dead on arrival.
One of the many choices that were eventually agreed upon by the committee was to establish the new category as a companion award to the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and not as a Hugo Award. Their reasoning was that making a new category for novel length should be done separately to avoid any confusion or conflict with the Best Novel category.
While I disagreed with their decision, when it came time to debate and vote on their recommendation at MidAmeriCon Business Meeting in 2016, I wholeheartedly endorsed their proposal, which was passed by a majority of the members present.
But there were some unusual elements of that first passage of the amendment in the Finland Business Meeting (which requires votes by consecutive Business Meetings to become part of the Constitution) was made with the wording incomplete, including a name for the new award.
At this year’s Business Meeting in San Jose there will be the final ratification vote for what is being called the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.
This had to be a hard choice because if you examine at the all the literary awards being given out today, you’ll see that all of the niftier names are already taken; Starburst, Aurora, Skylark, Bradbury, Heinlein, Norton, Asimov, Saturn, etc…
By definition, a lodestar is described as “a star that is used to guide the course of a ship, especially Polaris.”
I must admit that I was never really that enamored of the name “Lodestar” as the name for this award. Mind you, other names were bandied about, including the names of living and dead authors before they chose Lodestar. Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein were already taken. Many were reluctant to consider an obvious choice like Madeline L’Engle because of her reputation as a overtly “Christian” fantasy writer. Octavia Butler was another great choice but she was passed over. Other notable writers of young adult fiction like Jane Yolen, Tamora Pierce and Ursula K. Le Guin were still among us and rejected for consideration. The decision seemed final and I was quite content to let it go at that.
But on January 22, 2018, Ursula Kroeber Le Guin passed away at the age of eighty-eight. Her death was a shock to the entire community because nearly all of her fiction and non-fiction were being issued in new editions and she had just published a new book of essays, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, in December of last year (and nominated in the Best Related Work category this year).
It was while I was attending Capricon 38 and participating in a panel obliquely called “Obligatory Discussion of New Hugo Award Categories,” that I first thought trying about changing the Young Adult Book category. And thought was not born out of malice towards the name Lodestar, seeking the spotlight for myself or upstaging the work of the committee that helped create it.
My thoughts were mainly on the family of Ms. Le Guin and the legacy of John W. Campbell, Jr.
Although I was grieving along with her family and readers around the world, I also saw this as the perfect opportunity to honor her lifetime of works, especially her young adult Earthsea series and the Annals of the Western Shore.
Then there is the matter of her illustrious career and awards; Ursula Le Guin was the Professional Guest of Honor at the 33rd World Science Fiction Convention in 1975 (AussieCon), was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention in 1995, a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (2001), named a Grand Master by her peers of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (2003) was the first woman to win a Hugo and a Nebula for Best Novel (The Left hand of Darkness, 1970) and the first to do it twice ( for The Dispossessed, 1975).
In addition, she was nominated for a total of 42 Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards and won six of each, won 19 Locus Awards, a 1973 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (The Farthest Shore), was named as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress for “her significant contributions to America’s cultural heritage” and two awards in 2004 from the American Library Association for her lasting contributions to young adult literature.
I could go on (because there is SO MUCH more) but I’ll leave you with this one last singular honor; in 2014, Ursula K. Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished American Letters by the National Book Foundation. Here’s her acceptance speech:
As you may have noted, her defense of and praise for her fellow writers of fantasy and sf and her veiled damnation Amazon and her own publisher were not well received. And it did not matter a bit to her; she wore her convictions and informed opinions proudly on her sleeve for all to see.
John W. Campbell, Jr. is still revered in this day and age as one most influential writers and monolithic editors of the 20th century science fiction and fantasy literature. I think we can safely surmise that that without him, the development of modern science fiction and fantasy literature may have been slowed or stunted. And while we all owe him a measure of gratitude for what followed in his wake, we also cannot overlook his insensitivity towards writers of color and the public displays and editorial statements of racism.
If we are to continue to honor Campbell’s name in this fashion, then I have no doubt whatsoever that the name Ursula K. Le Guin name should adorn this award we are establishing to honor the best young adult book of the year.
After concluding that this was the course of action to take, I sought out a number of fans at Capricon, including a member of the committee that helped write the YA amendment. To a person they all concurred that this was an excellent idea.
Returning home, I immediately wrote out a constitution amendment to facilitate the name change. When I sent a copy to the eminent parliamentarian and esteemed Business Meeting Chair emeritus Kevin Standlee for an appraisal, he pointed out that a name change as an amendment would be a known as a “greater change”, which, if it were passed by the assembly, would be the start of another two year cycle of voting for it to be ratified.
Mr. Standlee then pointed out that if the name change was presented as a substitution of language (by presenting by striking out the old language and substituting a revised version) it may be considered in tandem with the amendment under review.
Having found the proper way to submit the addendum to the San Jose Business Meeting, I was ready to email the substitution for submission to the agenda.
But I hesitated because I was lacking two things; sponsorship from others and more vitally, expressed permission from the Le Guin family.
I decided that contacting the family had priority so one month to the day after the death of Ursula Le Guin, I reached out to another prominent fan, who in turn led me to the author’s agent, Ms. Ginger Clark of the Curtis Brown Agency, Ltd.
Good Evening Ms. Clark,
I realize that I am writing to you on the one month anniversary of our loss of Ms. Le Guin but I have an urgent matter that I must bring to your attention.
As a member of the World Science Fiction, I have been at the forefront of making the Hugo Awards fair, competitive, engaging and most importantly, relevant in the 21st century.
I’ve been working since 2010 to establish a Young Adult Book category. After some considerable struggle, a YA category was finally created at the Worldcon past August. As you might imagine, there was some considerable discussion about who, or what, to name the award after.
Of course, Ms. Le Guin’s name came up but there were objections from a majority on the standing committee exploring the issue (but not from me, mind you) about naming the award after a living person. In the end, they decided on the name, Lodestar.
The late Ms. Le Guin was one of the brightest stars in modern literature. I, and a few other friends, would like to honor her by naming our new YA award after her; the Ursula K. Le Guin Earthsea Award for Best Young Adult Book.
At the moment, I have no way of contacting the family and I would like to seek their permission before submitting her name to the San Jose Worldcon Business Meeting for a ratification vote in August, which I think will have no trouble at all passing.
It would be greatly appreciated if you could pass this request along to Ms. Le Guin’s family for their approval. I can be reached via this email address:
On February 26, I received a reply from Ms. Clark, who thanked me for the email which she passed along to the family.
On the afternoon of March 2nd, I received an email from Ms. Clark stating that the family approved the use of her name and the name Earthsea (although she pointed out that the name Earthsea was trademarked and may be a factor on my decision to use in the title of the award.
As a matter of fact, it did; I had some very serious doubts that the members of the Business Meeting would want to bother with a trademarked name so I dropped it from the proposal. And, I reasoned, it would be in incredibly bad form to jettison the name Lodestar, a name the committee worked very hard to come up with in the first place.
But a short time after the confirmation email, Ginger Clark threw me a curveball; she was under the impression that I was putting her name out publicly closer to the convention in early August, and definitely not in March, which was NOT what the family wanted. And I can see the reasoning behind this request; the family was still in mourning and waiting until August would give the family enough space to grieve. Out of respect for the family, I emailed Ms. Clark with a solemn promise not to reveal officially Ursula K. Le Guin’s name under any circumstances until August and the addendum was submitted.
So I was faced with a paradoxical dilemma; how could publicize a name change without naming the person we were going to honor?
I contacted Kevin Standlee to see if the addendum proposal could be embargoed for a few months but he immediately replied with a firm no, the items up for discussion were open for scrutiny at all times.
After consulting with my partner Juli for several days, we came up with a (somewhat ingenious) plan; we will recruit a all-star lineup of co-sponsors, explain that we were going to honor Ursula Le Guin by inserting her name into the new award, swear everyone involved to secrecy and issue a press release teasing of reveal of the name in August, right before the convention.
Well, I dipped into my list of Facebook contacts and I did recruit a stellar group of writers, editors and fans to co-sponsor the addendum and explaining clearly (or, so I thought at the time) that the process will play itself out at the convention and that their sponsorship would be a key element in ensuring its passage.
On Tuesday evening, March 6th, I sent the press release above to Mike Glyer for immediate release on the File 770 website.
We then proceeded to go out to dinner and play several round of Buzztime Triva with some close friends.
What, Juli and I thought at the time, could possibly go WRONG?
As it turned out, almost EVERYTHING went wrong.
Almost immediately, one prominent author was inundated with curious and/or angry emails, text and Facebook messages demanding why she would be involved with such fannish chicanery? She immediately spilled the beans about what and who of the whole affair on her Facebook page. From her page the word spread like wildfire over social media. She messaged me an hour after the press release was published and asked to have her name removed as a co-sponsor.
Over the next several hours, the “controversy” spread accordingly to several other co-sponsors, who subsequently asked to have their names removed as well. (Please note that I have avoided naming names to spare any of the people involved from any further inquires or harassment.)
For several days, I was pilloried and flamed on every social network platform. Or, that’s what friends reported back to me because I did neither read nor reacted to any way of the negative commentary thrown my way. If I had, I’d still be fighting and responding to EVERY SINGLE REPLY.
I also did not respond because I made a promise to the Le Guin family not to officially reveal her name as the subject of this project on the record, TO ANYONE, until the addendum was submitted to the Business Meeting.
But, as badly as the news was received in some fannish circles, the proposal actually did elicit some support with some people, which gave me some hope that the storm over this may pass in time. And, looking on the bright side, everyone was debating this open secret drawing their own opinions and conclusions.
(My partner Juli Marr, did read and keep track of the comments and did come across one amusing anecdote; someone on a Facebook page had hypothesis that my press release was actually a classic “false flag” operation designed to malign the name and reputation of Ursula Le Guin in order for the supporters of Madeline L’Engle to mount a counter insurgency campaign at the Business Meeting to have her name submitted as true name of choice. Yeah, uh-huh, sure, THAT scenario may actually happen. NOT!)
On July 28th, I emailed Ginger Clark:
I am checking in with you one last time since the deadline for proposing a name change at the Worldcon is next Thursday.
The text of the name change has been written and a follow up column for File 770 officially explaining why the Young Adult Book Award should be called the Ursula K. Le Guin Award will be presented.
If the family has any second thoughts or concerns at this point, PLEASE contact me (or have a family representative do so) as soon as possible.
On July 30th, Ms Clarke replied that the family had no second thoughts, wanted me to proceed with the submission of the addendum and wished us Good Luck!
So, on Tueday August 1st, a day before the deadline for the New Business deadline, the following was submitted to the Worldcon 76 Business Meeting for discussion with copies sent to all of the co-sponsors.
And with that, my promise was kept…
22 February – 2 March 18
Re-Naming the Lodestar Award – A Proposal for a Strikethrough Addendum
A.4 Short Title: Re-Name That Award
Moved: to name the award for best young adult book the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book by inserting words as follows. The revised Young Adult Book award would then read as follows:
3.7.3: Nominations shall be solicited only for the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.
3.10.2: Final Award ballots shall list only the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.
3.3.18: Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. The Lodestar 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.
Proposed by: Members of the YA Award Committee
A.4 Short Title: (Re)Name That Award: The “Ursula K. Le Guin Lodestar Award for Young Adult Book” Award
Moved: to name the award for best young adult book from the Lodestar Award to the Ursula K. Le Guin Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book by inserting words as follows. The revised Young Adult Book Award would then read as follows:
3.7.3: Nominations shall be solicited only for the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lodestar Ursula K. Le Guin Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.
3.10.2: Final Award ballots shall list only the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lodestar Ursula K. Le Guin Award Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book.
3.3.18: The Lodestar Ursula K. Le Guin Award Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book. The Lodestar Ursula K. Le Guin Lodestar 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.
The YA Committee is to be congratulated for their diligent work in crafting the parameters of the YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention. However, we the undersigned see an opportunity to honor the work, legacy and memory of Ursula Kroeber Le Guin by re-naming this new award after her.
Thusly, she will be known and connected in perpetuity with the Hugo Awards Ceremony and the World Science Fiction Convention. We are also of the opinion that such a award must have a name of important stature, just as the other non- Hugo Award category, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
The proposers of this change wish to thank the Le Guin family for their consent with a special acknowledgement to Ginger Clark, the literary agent of the Le Guin estate for her help in facilitating this historic agreement.
Proposed by Juli Marr (Attending Member), Chris M. Barkley (Attending Member), Robert J. Sawyer (Attending Member), David Gerrold (Attending Member) and Steven H. Silver (Attending Member).
In closing, I would like to thank my co- sponsors, Robert J. Sawyer, David Gerrold, Steven H. Silver and my One True Love, Juli Marr.
It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
Ursula K. LeGuin