Worldcon’s YA Award Study Committee Releases Report

Next month in Helsinki the Worldcon 75 Business Meeting will vote on whether to ratify an award to honor the best Young Adult book of the year. The motion gained initial passage in 2016. A second favorable vote will make it an official part of the convention’s annual activities.

In advance of the business meeting, the YA Award Committee has published its report on the Worldcon 75 website:

The proposal was passed in 2016 without choosing a name for the award. After canvassing the public and discussing ideas internally, the committee is recommending that it be called the Lodestar Award.

From lode (“journey, course, guide”) + star; a Lodestar is a star that guides or leads, especially in navigation, where it is the sole reliable source of light—the star that leads those in uncharted waters to safety. The guiding star frequently appears in speculative fiction and is tied to the notion of the hero’s quest. While it evokes stargazers and adventurers, it also calls to mind distant galaxies and travel through space. It therefore applies to both Fantasy and Science Fiction, is international in scope, and has symbolism that is cross-generational.

The Business Meeting will have to decide if approving an award name is permissible this year, or requires its own motion and ratifying vote. If the award is ratified without a nickname being approved, it is expected to begin life as simply the “YA Award” given by the Worldcon. The YA Award is not a Hugo, but would be voted on by Worldcon members at the same time that they vote on the Hugos and Campbell Award.

Among those who participated in the public survey, 52% wanted the YA Award named for a person, but 48% did not. The report says the committee also found this question “tricky and contentious” and a section is devoted to outlining the arguments for and against:

Arguments for Using Personal Names

– A person’s name recalls the history of SFF literature

– The Hugo/Campbell Awards are themselves named after editors

– Celebrates professionals who influenced current Worldcon readers/writers

– 52% of the respondents said they would prefer the award to be named after a person when asked to choose a category of naming type

– Avoiding author names in order to prevent offensiveness can border on discrimination or erasure

Arguments against Using Personal Names

– 48% voted that the award should be called something other than a person’s name

– Award should celebrate SFF worlds and ideas, not individual people

– Award designation shouldn’t be about “us” and what we liked, but instead about current and future teens

– Better to have more universal name that can have meaning for each generation, rather than one that may become outdated and meaningless to later readers

– Worldcon is an international community, but individual authors are inherently associated with specific nations and languages

– Not the award’s job to “educate” the youth by naming the award after one particular author

– Teens’ changing social expectations make the work of several of the suggested authors objectionable

– Because early SFF YA was a didactic genre, most writers had agendas that will be unacceptable to people today

– Naming an award after a person expresses approval for all the author’s books, including any that are unfitting

– Ties the award too closely to the life of the named person, so that their baggage carries over to the award

– Many people on public forums said emphatically that they were opposed to a personname

– Attempts to name award after person will lead to very heated and contentious debates, which will hurt the award

The committee decided not to recommend anyone’s personal name. They surveyed the public about six abstract names: Anansi, Lodestar, Ouroboros, Spellcaster, Tesseract, and Worldcon.

“Tesseract” received the most favorable response of six prospective award names in the public survey, however, feedback comments revealed that Tesseract is the name of a Canadian speculative-fiction publishing house (Tesseract Books), as well as a long time anthology begun in 1985 and edited by Judith Merril (the Tesseract Anthology has had 20 volumes).

After acquiring the Shortlist Voting Survey results, the Chairs reached out to EDGE/Tesseract Books. The publisher asked that we not use the name. Therefore, given the term’s established use by SFF colleagues and Canadian fandom, as well as the explicit request of Tesseract Books, the committee agreed that the name Tesseract should not be used.

That is why the committee has recommended the award be given the second most popular name in the survey, Lodestar.

The report includes many tables of data extracted from the survey and stratified according to age, Worldcon participation, and a Likert-scale response to the six names.

The report also says the committee declined a publisher’s offer to sponsor the award if it would be named after a particular author.

Angus Killick from Macmillan Children’s Publishing contacted WSFS to suggest the name L’Engle for the award. He manages the division’s marketing. Killick explained that they and the L’Engle family were interested in any way of honoring L’Engle, given that 2018 is the release of the Wrinkle in Time movie and it is the 100th anniversary of L’Engle’s birth.

The members of the study committee are: Anna Blumstein (chair); Helen Gbala and Katie Rask (Co-chairs); Warren Buff, Tim Illingworth, Joshua Kronengold, Laura Lamont, Julia Mccracken, Farah Mendlesohn, David Peterson, Christine Rake, Marguerite Smith, Adam Tesh, Clark Wierda, Lewis Wolkoff (Committee Members); Leigh Bardugo, Kate Elliott, Daniel José Older (YA Author Members); and Kevin Standlee (WSFS Parliamentary Advisor).

Especially when considering the prior history of WSFS committees assigned to work on the issue, this committee deserves congratulations for its hard work and transparency, and its valiant effort to navigate the rocks and shoals of existing brands and the divided opinions in social media.

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20 thoughts on “Worldcon’s YA Award Study Committee Releases Report

  1. Dang. I can see all the arguments, but calling it the L’Engle Award is one of the few author-names I’d actually have liked for it.

    Ah well. In the long run, the name doesn’t matter all that much.

  2. Lodestar just sounds to me like someone mispronounced the name for Texas. Then again, I’m biased because I think it should be the Diana Wynne Jones Award..

  3. The Wrinkle in Time books were possibly the first SF I ever read (I was maybe 6 or 7 years old), and I loved them.

    But I remember even at that age finding the religious aspect of them a bit squicky. I’ve been afraid of ever re-reading them, because I strongly suspect the Suck Fairy has had a huge whack at those books. 😐

  4. I agree that giving it one person’s name ties it to that person and their language/culture, which isn’t suitable for other countries or future generations (See: the HPL statue kerfuffle). “Lodestar” is a good name.

    Now, deciding what the criteria are — should we just go with the “I know it when I see it” rule?

    This is a very good report. Well done, committee!

  5. @JJ: tl;dr: +1.

    I read them when they first came out, when I was … naive … about religion (I’d completely missed the point of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a year earlier); I don’t remember them being radically worse when I reread them much later (although others have pointed out issues with other L’Engle books, e.g. ubj Cbylulzavn ybfrf ure ivetvavgl juvyr fgerffrq (IIRC that was raised here)). However, I have a personal beef with her orientation (my sister was seduced by the Oxford Movement), and I think her long-term relevance is minimal. IFF there were a name on the award, it should be Andre Norton, who was inclusive long before the term was popular; the adult me finds her writing style very poor, but I remember being absorbed by so many of her stories even if I wasn’t Native American, or raised in a slum, or discarded by central command as a bunch of heterogeneous troublemakers, or many others. But I expect that in time even her work would become contentious (not as much so as Lovecraft, but not universally approved), so not using a personal name is probably the best course.

  6. While I’m aware of the problems with the books now, given my own childhood SF reading history I could live with calling it the Tom Swift, Jr. Award aka the Swifties, he said awardingly.

  7. @Tom Galloway

    An excellent example of a name that doesn’t transcend borders. “Tom Swift, Jr” is virtually unknown in the UK, and I guess the same would apply for most of the rest of the world.

    @Chip Hitchcock

    Of course there already is an Andre Norton Award.

    L’Engle and Norton mean very little personally to me although both were published in the UK too. I guess they were not available at my local library at the right time in my reading development.

    I didn’t respond but I would agree with most of the committee’s conclusions.

  8. I guess I could (possibly) argue for calling it “the Astrid” (to riff of “the Hugo(s)”, after a world-fanmous YA author that arguably wrote a lot of fantasy (Mio, Brothers Lionheart, Ronja, for sure; teh Pippi books are arguably fantasy as well), but there’s already a YA literature prize named after Astrid Lindgren, so there needs not be another one.

  9. Lodestar is a bit bland, but it works. I get a better feeling for it when I translate it into my native language. I’m happy with this one.

    I notice this part of the report:

    “Of the suggestions, 108 (24%) were already used in other award titles and 24 (5%) had trademark concerns.”

    Which says that many people had good naming ideas, they just couldn’t be used because they were already taken.

  10. Wait, they didn’t even consider my suggestion of The How Do You Do Fellow Kids Award?

  11. I liked Lodestar. IIRC, I even voted for Lodestar. So I’m a happy camper.

    I never read Madeleine L’Engle as a child. I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was in my forties, because it kept coming up in recommendations lists and I was curious. My feelings, basically, were that I could see how it might appeal to someone much younger, but as a grumpy middle-aged person I wasn’t getting the magic of it….

  12. The committee seem to have done a really thorough and conscientious job. Reading the full report reveals how much thought and work has gone into this.

    I think that after a few years the Lodestar name will acquire its own “weight”.

  13. Interestingly, there is more than one definition for “lodestar.” I can just imagine the announcer’s patter before handing out the award: “A lodestar is the amount obtained by multiplying the reasonable amount of hours spent by an attorney working on a case by the reasonable hourly billing rate for purposes of calculating an award of attorney’s fees…”

  14. Nigel: Wait, they didn’t even consider my suggestion of The How Do You Do Fellow Kids Award?

    (1) Will I be sorry if I find out what that means?

    If NO, then GOTO question 2:

    (2) What does that mean?

  15. @andyl: Of course there already is an Andre Norton Award. So? There are two independent Campbell awards; Norton may not have directly developed as many authors, but her influence on both readers and the field is wide.

    But I still agree that using any personal name now is a potential issue down the road, and so better avoided.

  16. That was a very, very long and detailed report, particularly considering it was just about the name. (I skimmed; thanks for summarizing, @Mike Glyer!) A lot of tedious work for the YA Award Study Committee; I don’t envy them.

    Lodestar is a slightly odd name, but not bad – a shame it’s not Tesseract (alert: L’Engle connection!), though! Still, one quandary mostly resolved – the name. 🙂

  17. @Chip Hitchcock So? There are two independent Campbell awards;

    Someone making the wrong choice 44 years ago shouldn’t mean we take it as precedent and endeavour to repeat it.

  18. andyl: Someone making the wrong choice 44 years ago shouldn’t mean we take it as precedent and endeavour to repeat it.

    Not only that, I suspect that any attempt to do so would be swiftly met with correspendence from SFWA’s legal rep.

    If Dell Magazines had issued a legal challenge immediately in 1977, they likely would have won. But if they let it slide for a couple of years, then this would be considered by a court as having no objection to it, and a later suit would be dismissed.

  19. If there’s ever something similar for horror YA it needs to be called The Gorey.

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