Tremendous Pushback Against Barkley YA Award Name Proposal

Since Chris Barkley released his “Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award” yesterday it has been heavily criticized, and five of the nine signers have removed their names —  Juliette Wade, Melinda Snodgrass, Pablo Miguel Alberto Vasquez, and Shawna McCarthy, and Vincent Docherty, who says his name never should have been included to begin with.

Last year, the Worldcon 75 business meeting finalized creation of a new YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention, ratifying it by a vote of 65-27, and a motion naming it the Lodestar award received first passage. (For a complete explanation of how the committee chose that name, read the YA Award Full Report.)

Barkley’s proposal urges the award be given a different name — though just what name he planned to keep embargoed until the start of this year’s business meeting. (“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.”)

However, when Melinda Snodgrass told Facebook readers why she was no longer a signer, she also revealed the proposed name.

So I have apparently inadvertently stepped into the middle of a science fiction fandom/Hugo/Worldcon hornet’s nest. So do pass on to anyone who might care that this was done innocently and was me attempting to not seem to be slighting Ursula K. Le Guin who was one of our greatest writers.

How this all happened — I had the vague memory that we now have a YA award of some kind and when I got a request to put my name on a petition to have it named for Le Guin it seemed churlish to refuse. I thought it was another make nice sort of honorary thing so I said sure even though it didn’t matter to me one whit.

But apparently this process has consumed fandom and worldcon like a wildfire for the past several years, and I have apparently been pulled into this fight when I didn’t even know there was a fight.

So consider this me stating that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not taking a side because I didn’t know there were sides to be taken, I’ve requested my name be removed and I’m backing slowly away from the whole thing so I can get back to writing and working to get Wild Cards on the air.

Once this whole thing gets settled I will be happy to vote for a YA novel because I really enjoy YA novels. And I don’t care what they call the award.

Chris Barkley sent File 770 this comment “on the record”: “I do not have any comment at this time. If anyone wants to know what name will be officially revealed, they are welcome to attend the Preliminary Business Meeting at Worldcon 76.”

Also, Ellen Datlow, although not listed in Barkley’s post on File 770, announced on Facebook that she has removed her name from the petition.

Renay of Lady Business has made the most thorough critical response to the motion. Jump on the thread here:

At another point she underscores how the proposal disrespects the process used to create the award —

She is not the only one to see the proposal as demeaning people’s work on the award:

While the name was still unknown, Brian White voiced his deepest fear….

However, it needs to be made clear that the Worldcon was not the author of this idea —

Stacy Whitman satirized the proposal in a thread —

And a writer who knows something about the years of debate behind the award wryly suggested another new name:

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, and Chris Barkley for the story.]

112 thoughts on “Tremendous Pushback Against Barkley YA Award Name Proposal

  1. Elio M. García, Jr.: with an awareness that there had been a corporate-encouraged campaign that people felt inappropriate.

    I didn’t hear about that. Wow, that is indeed really inappropriate.

  2. and on: I wonder why the same kinds of arguments that were made at Worldcon against naming the new YA award for a person (mentioned above) weren’t raised when the proposal to append Damon Knight’s name to the SFWA Grand Master Award was made after his death. I have nothing at all against Knight, but putting someone’s name on a preexisting award just rubs me the wrong way.

    You would have to ask SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) about that. It’s a completely different organization than WSFS (The World Science Fiction Society) which administers Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. SFWA owns the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, and the renaming was done 16 years ago. Knight founded SFWA in 1965, so I think that it was a pretty understandable decision.

  3. If we want to honour LeGuin, there are several other ways to get around it.

    *) Do a kickstarter for a special leather bound edition of her Earthsea books. Give a set to all winners of the YA award.
    *) Help set up a foundation giving a stipend to a debuting woman author.
    *) Sponsor research into giving wings to cats.

    Hell, I’ll help sponsor anyone of those myself. But I don’t want it to be a proposal from a random person on the internet. I would be happy if proposals or decisions was made by an actual organization. To make it much more likely it will happen.

  4. Elio,
    Reasons for not using a person’s name were covered a bit more in the YA committee’s report.

    Using a person’s name is always going to be more contentious.

  5. @JJ re @and: the renaming was done after Knight’s death; from the little I knew / know-of him, I don’t think he would have accepted the award being named after him while he was alive — it would have put him on a pedestal he wasn’t interested in. After he was gone, it was (IMO) an appropriate gesture to someone who was a lot besides SFWA’s founder; e.g., he was one of the first people to do serious criticism of SF (analysis, not just reviewing) and later provided a book market (Orbit) for more-experimental short SF than was generally available in US magazines at the time. (He didn’t invent the original anthology — I think Pohl gets that credit — but he took it a lot further.) A lot of his work may seem dated, or at least quaint, these days, but AFAICT it was seminal in its time.

  6. Elio M. García, Jr. on March 8, 2018 at 10:22 am said:
    @JJ

    The question of it being named after a person was pretty much put to bed last year.

    I was at the meeting and voted for the award and the Lodestar name as well. I’ll just say that the topic of whether to name it after a person or not was barely touched on, other than a motion to rename it after Madeleine L’Engle, which was argued against on the basis of various objections and with an awareness that there had been a corporate-encouraged campaign that people felt inappropriate.

    I would be interested in hearing about this corporate-encouraged campaign .

    Anyone?

  7. JJ on March 8, 2018 at 8:42 pm said:
    Michael J. Walsh: I would be interested in hearing about this corporate-encouraged campaign .

    It’s mentioned on page 6 of the Worldcon YA Award Commitee’s full report.

    Ah, thanks. Seems fairly innocuous by Macmillan. YMMV.

    And just as it’s Le Guin (two words) the report almost spelled Macmillan correctly most of the time.

  8. My apologies to Macmillan and L’Engle’s family.

    Looking at the minutes again, I see I conflated the sponsorship offer with the reference that the “official” L’Engle Twitter account was urging followers to put her name into the survey. I see now that the Twitter account is controlled by a family member, not the publisher as I mistakenly believed. It’s understandable if L’Engle’s family liked the idea and supported it publicly, and there was nothing wrong with Macmillan making the inquiry about sponsorship.

  9. The tradition of the Worldcon Business Meeting is that changes to the constitution aren’t adopted without public debate. One of the venues for the debate, and certainly the most effective one, is the SMOFs mailing list. If its critics are to be believed the SMOFS list is so secret that the proponents of this proposed amendment could reasonably disclose their proposed new name to its members. There are standing offers from some of its members that they will give impartial advice on how to present a proposal effectively.

    There are other more public venues for debate, including File770.

    It is highly unlikely that the business meeting would pass a motion that was only presented at the meeting itself with no prior debate. Democracy can be a bitch sometimes. Where is the cabal when you need them?

  10. I just can’t think of any reason for keeping the proposed name a secret. That’s just so bizarre

  11. bookworm1398: I just can’t think of any reason for keeping the proposed name a secret. That’s just so bizarre

    One of the withdrawn co-signers said that they were told that the Le Guin estate asked for her name not to be mentioned unless and until the WSFS Business Meeting approved the name for the award.

    So now there is a big mess, and her name is in the center of it. Why Barkley didn’t keep his mouth shut and just show up at the Business Meeting with printed copies of the proposed amendment, I cannot fathom. He surely had to know that 5 months of yanking Worldcon members’ chains with “Sorry, but I can’t tell you” was not going to have a positive result.

    And he apparently did not make it clear to the people he misled into sponsoring it that the name was just not to be mentioned at all — either that, or they were so mad at being duped into looking like they were disrespecting the work of the YA Award Committee, that they chose to reveal it anyway.

    It seems highly unlikely that at least one of the potential sponsors he approached who turned him down would not have spilled the name at some point, anyway. Two people can keep a secret, etc.

    It’s like watching a Greek tragedy, where you can see every step the main character takes toward their downfall while they repeatedly ignore the advice which would save them, and you know what the inevitable catastrophic outcome is going to be, but can do nothing to change it. 🙁

  12. bookworm,

    One reason would be the need to ask the family. But if they haven’t, they shouldn’t have made any annoucement. And if they can’t ask in a reasonable amount of time prior to the business meeting, then they should forget about it. And after this severe botch, they need to let it go anyway.

    eta: ninja’d by JJ and with more info.

  13. I started to say that I’m not wild about naming the YA Award Lodestar either but would prefer that to no award at all. Then a friend wandered through, I asked, and he explained that it had no connection to books, it’s “a star that is used to guide the course of a ship, especially Polaris”, AKA the North Star. Since I only heard about it in these threads I hadn’t considered the name by itself.

    And I really like it. Lodestar. Books that guide one’s course.

    I don’t think that it’s too obscure and, this being a new award, those who don’t get it will ask. It’s also generic enough that it takes care of something that has upset me for decades, that ‘grownups’ don’t read YA.

    Irrelevant:
    I deleted multiple paragraphs about things I had to do when working in a bookstore to get books from the YA section that were perfect for a client.

    I really should have read the report and found out why the name but I was sulky and didn’t. I wasn’t going to Helsinki thus not going to the Business Meeting so why should I care? And I’ve been distracted enough by these conversations that I haven’t read it or watched that section of the Business Meeting. Bad Elspeth! No biscuit!

  14. It is possible that the LeGuin Estate was unaware that the WSFS Business Meeting consists of hundreds (potentially thousands) of people, not just a small Board of Directors. Remember that the governance structure of WSFS is so crazy that most people have trouble believing it could exist. (Unless they live somewhere that the Town Meeting form of government is used.)

  15. This whole thing feels to me like an attempted fait accompli (the embargoing of the name particularly) which is against the spirit as well as the letter of the rules of WSFS, to say nothing of all the hard work and effort of the people who, you know, were at the business meetings.

  16. I think Chris Barkley was at Helsinki’s BM. I don’t see any discussion from him about Lodestar, but his name is elsewhere in the minutes. And someone here mentioned he was a regular attendee. It makes even more surprising that he would be so disrespectful of others’ efforts.

  17. Elio M. García, Jr. commented on Tremendous Pushback Against Barkley YA Award Name Proposal.

    My apologies to Macmillan and L’Engle’s family.

    Looking at the minutes again, I see I conflated the sponsorship offer with the reference that the “official” L’Engle Twitter account was urging followers to put her name into the survey. I see now that the Twitter account is controlled by a family member, not the publisher as I mistakenly believed. It’s understandable if L’Engle’s family liked the idea and supported it publicly, and there was nothing wrong with Macmillan making the inquiry about sponsorship.

    Memory can be a tricky thing!

    Michael Walsh

  18. @JJ and @Kevin;

    It’s quite plausible that the Le Guin estate doesn’t know that the WSFS business meeting has, potentially, hundreds of attendees, any or all of whom might be live-tweeting the events.

    But if that’s the explanation, I would like to know why Chris Barkley, who does know that, gave them the impression that it was possible for the events to proceed as (1) the proposal is made, (2) it is voted on, (3) if it passes, the new name is announced.

    Yes, the WSFS governance structure is unusual and surprises people, but the bare fact of “all significant decisions are made at a public meeting open to all members” can be stated that briefly. And that simple fact rules out the possibility of “you have our OK to use the name only if nothing is said in public until the name change is official.”

  19. Now I’m imagining a non-misleading pitch to Le Guin’s heirs and assigns. “Your matriarch would have subtitled her novel about us ‘An Ambiguous Catherdingocracy’, and would have written up our tribal dances as involving the rhythmic pounding of books of parliamentary procedure, accompanying an aleatory droning punctuated by occasional recitatives about measures never actually brought up to a vote in 1974. Now, with that in mind…”

  20. Bruce Baugh: And the occasional joyful (or mournful) exclamation of “Serpentine!”?

  21. Right! Thereby revealing our loyalty to Yig above all other Mythos entities.

  22. Does anyone know anything about a “File 770 shitlist”???

    Katherine Locke @Bibliogato:
    Apparently I’m on some File770 shitlist for being pissed about the Lodestar renaming. Once again, proving my point in the tweets they quoted. 🙁
    6:24 PM – 11 Mar 2018

    Does she honestly not realize that File 770 is just reporting on this, and that most of its commenters are really upset about it, too?

  23. That’s no File 770 shitlist. It doesn’t have Chris Chupik’s name on it!

  24. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 3/11/18 Scroll Forward, Pixel Back (And Check The Batteries On Your Snoke Detectors!) | File 770

  25. Huh. I thought Madeleine L’Engle must’ve been a new YA author, because I think the very first time I heard her name was reading the YA Sub-committee report and thinking “sure, if they want to name it after an author of a new series, but I am a bit surprised…”.

    Turns out that, no, the first book in the quintet she seems to be famous for was published in 1962, which means that if it existed in a Swedish translation in the 1970s (or 1980s), chances are pretty high that I would’ve read it. I do recall reading Le Guin, Asimov, Simak, the Strugatski brothers, Anderson, Niven, Heinlein, Burgess, Stoker, Lindgren, Tolkien, Lem, …, but not L’Engle.

  26. 🙂 Madeleine L’Engle would have been 100 this year! A Wrinkle in Time was one of the must-read books where I grew up here in the US during the 70s.

  27. L’Engle is demonstrating why the recommendation for the award name avoided author names – no matter how ubiquitous you think an author’s work is, it will always turn out that they never made it to X country, or got forgotten in Y decade, etc

  28. Yeah, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear someone say, “That Wrinkle in Time movie is based on a book?!”

  29. Madeleine L’Engle is also unknown in Germany and in fact I had never heard of her until I got on the internet.

    Until approx. 20 years ago, children’s and YA fiction was very much limited along national and language lines. The only non-German children’s/YA authors I read as a kid were Astrid Lindgren (totally agree with Ingvar that if we had to name the award after a person, she’d be the one to pick) and Enid Blyton.

    Yeah, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear someone say, “That Wrinkle in Time movie is based on a book?!”

    I had this very reaction to a discussion about “Little House on the Prairie” in the early years of the internet.

    Me: “Why are we talking about an old TV show that wasn’t even very good?”

    Other poster: “We’re talking about the books.”

    Me: “There were books?”

  30. Oh, the Little House books — wow! I still have the illustrated hardcovers that my parents gave me over several Christmases and birthdays. But I can see that they would be a very American thing.

  31. If YA fiction is more localized than adult fiction, how does that affect the award? Will American (or English-language) works have more of an advantage in this category than in other fiction categories?

  32. and on March 8, 2018 at 11:01 am said:

    As an observer totally outside the fan and writer communities, I wonder why the same kinds of arguments that were made at Worldcon against naming the new YA award for a person (mentioned above) weren’t raised when the proposal to append Damon Knight’s name to the SFWA Grand Master Award was made after his death.

    Well for one thing, arguments at Worldcon about what SFWA decided to do with their Grand Master Award would have been rather pointless. Any arguments would have happened within SFWA with no input from WSFS.

    SFWA (a Writers organization) has no relationship to WSFS (a Fan organization) which is the entity who owns the Nameless YA Award. (The Arha of YA awards, if you want to go LeGuin 😉

    The research done into what to name the Arha Award (no, I am not proposing a change, just playing) was done in the last two years or so by a committee appointed by the WSFS Business Meeting. SFWA had nothing to do with it.

    SFWA decided to name their Grand Master award after Damon Knight, what 15 years ago? 18? Something like that. Far, far FAR before the WSFS YA Committee came to their well-researched recommendation not to name the WSFS Arha YA Award after a real person.

    I like the Lodestar name. Like others have said, it’s growing on me.

  33. Bill:

    Good question. The younger you are, the more likely you are to read in your own native language. And there is, at least in Sweden, a lot more fantasy written for YA than there is for adults (I haven’t checked out the SF). Books that will most likely never be translated to english.

    On the other hand, I’ve never expected Swedish young people voting for the Hugo’s anyhow.

  34. Cora: Astrid Lindgren (totally agree with Ingvar that if we had to name the award after a person, she’d be the one to pick)

    I had to look her up, I had no idea who she was. It turns out that she wrote Pippi Longstocking, which I very much did not care for as a child. And looking at the list, I haven’t read any of her other books.

    Cora: and Enid Blyton

    I had never heard of her until Filers mentioned her sometime during the last couple of years, and I’ve never read anything by her.

    I read the first “Little House” book by Laura Ingalls Wilder and my reaction was “meh”.

    So, yes, I would agree with Mark-kitteh “why the recommendation for the award name avoided author names – no matter how ubiquitous you think an author’s work is”, it will turn out that it’s not.

    (I realize that my childhood reading was aberrant from a lot of kids, in that I read almost no children’s, middle-grade, or young adult books; I started reading my grandmother’s mystery novels at around age 6 or 7, and since she had hundreds of them in a back room, I wasn’t lacking, nor looking, for other things to read.)

  35. At one point in my teenagerdom (12 or 13ish, I think) I was making a pretty serious effort to read everything I was allowed to withdraw in two of my local libraries (one pretty much round the corner, one in town centre – and also very occasionally the one in Catford but that was desparate measures and a rather long walk), but I stopped after I got through a couple of shelves of the Point Horror books and decided I couldn’t face any more books called “The [Noun]” with identical plots.

    And my mother’s a secondary school librarian, in part because of her life-long interest in children’s literature, so I was always getting new and popular books from her library and older books from her large personal collection, and my father just plain loves picture books/children’s lit of the Maurice Sendak and Margaret Mahy sort (he found having three children a fabulous excuse).

    So my YA/children’s lit knowledge from Treasure Island onwards up until about the mid-2000s is probably unusually good, even after pregabalin swiss-cheesed my memory. Plus the year or so, later on, where I was working as a quiz writer for children’s lit and YA (plus a few classics – although why anyone thought it was a good idea to put a quiz for Jude the Obscure in a system to encourage reluctant readers I haven’t the foggiest, it almost put me off). I am a gosh darn expert on those Rainbow Magic fairy books, I wrote quizzes for so many of them.

    But I don’t think some people having not heard of someone is a particularly good argument for not using a name, anyway. The YA committee had a whole list of reasons why they didn’t think naming it after someone was a good idea, and while I still disagree (if mildly and with no real motivation to do something about it), just about all the other reasons were better (and I can reluctantly admit some of them were even persuasive). I’m not sure why that one always gets bandied around (“I haven’t/young people won’t have heard of [name]”). Especially since the second form is more than a little patronising – if teenager me had read this thread, she’d have lost her temper over it. 🙂

  36. I remember Pippi, but didn’t know her author. I first heard of Enid Blyton from a UK Booktuber talking about well-loved (looking a bit tattered) books.

  37. Meredith: But I don’t think some people having not heard of someone is a particularly good argument for not using a name, anyway.

    I’ll have to agree to disagree with you. I think that the fact that any given author’s name will not be universally known or associated with YA is a very compelling reason to not name the Lodestar Award after an author.

    But I will agree that the committee put forth a number of other good reasons for not using an author’s name for the Lodestar Award.

    And while I thought the name was a reasonably good choice when it was announced, I’ve actually found the name “Lodestar Award” more and more appealing, the more that discussion has taken place about it.

  38. JJ:

    The important book is The Brothers Lionheart. I mean, look at the dragon. If I remember correctly, she is so scary that everyone just gives up at the appearance of her. They know that they have no chance, so they won’t even try. Despair all the way.

    Studio Ghibli recently made a TV-series of her Ronja, The Robbers Daughter. I do prefer the swedish version though. I think most filers will appreciate the song in this clip, even if it is in Swedish.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C13oL-z4jno

    She’s more or less a national saint in Sweden. But yep, this really shows the problem with naming awards after authors.

  39. Yup, Lodestar has grown on me too. I think it would be very special — not named after anyone, not another Hugo category, but its own unique name which is forming a nice connection with YA in my mind.

  40. Hampus Eckerman: The important book is The Brothers Lionheart. I mean, look at the dragon. If I remember correctly, she is so scary that everyone just gives up at the appearance of her. They know that they have no chance, so they won’t even try. Despair all the way.

    That is indeed a spectacular dragon!

    (moves aside so as to avoid getting trampled by Meredith as she rushes to embrace the dragon)

  41. Movie is old, but Katla was kind of scary there too. Seems like I remember correctly, people just flee when she appears.

  42. @Hampus

    I’m on the dragon’s side. I’d probably breathe fire at people waving pointy metal things at me, too.

    (DRAGON!)

  43. @Meredith But I don’t think some people having not heard of someone is a particularly good argument for not using a name

    Yes. I would never have heard of Antoinette Perry if not for the Tony Awards, and the only thing I know about her is that they are named for her — I have no idea what her association with Broadway Theater is. But the “Tony Award” is still a fine name for it — much better than the “Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre”, which is what it would be without her name. Even if you don’t know who an award is named after, personifying the award with a real person’s name is a good thing.

    Billions of people (at least, according to the AMPAS) know what an Oscar is. Close to none of them know who Oscar is. Likewise (closer to home) the Caldecott and Newbery awards are much better known than the 19th century illustrator and the 18th century bookseller for whom they are named. I don’t see where this ignorance causes a problem.

  44. Nobody knows for sure who Oscar was. Bette Davis’s ex or someone’s Uncle Oscar. It’s a nickname for the trophy that happened to stick. Emmy is likewise a name for their statuette — although it was planned (some technical reference?). I mentioned earlier that I wonder how many people outside fandom know Hugo was an actual person.

  45. Laura on March 13, 2018 at 6:36 am said:

    I mentioned earlier that I wonder how many people outside fandom know Hugo was an actual person.

    Considering how many people call it the HUGO Award because they think that the name is an acronym, I expect a lot of people inside Worldcon-attending Fandom are unaware of who the award is named after, even though we tell people on the web site and elsewhere.

  46. How could so many people have forgotten King Hugo the First?

    He never ordered his men anywhere he wouldn’t go himself, which of course is what led to his unfortunate demise.

    /dadjoke

  47. The Tony Awards are named after someone who was prominent in the early history of American theatre. Their official name is “The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre”.

    The Oscars’ official name is “The Academy Award of Merit”, and the various supposed origins of the nickname “Oscar” are apocryphal. The award is not named for someone who was prominent in moviemaking.

    All that aside, I think that it is not terribly equivalent to compare named awards which are many decades old with a brand-new award.

    I greatly admire many of Le Guin’s works. She was a singular author in many ways, not least of which was the sheer breadth of the type of works she created (fantasy, science fiction, YA, poems, essays, scholarly works, translations). I would love to see her recognized with a lasting tribute.

    I do not believe that a YA Award is the right vehicle for that recognition. I think that this is an attempt to slap her name on the first thing available with total disregard for the level of appropriateness of the award, and I would much prefer that any eventual award with her name be the result of well-considered thought, rather than the rashness that this is.

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