02/28 – Diana McCollum

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Passing Of A Giant

Hi everyone!
I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline says it all - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

Life keeps intervening in my posts for Romancing The Genres, or in this case death. This month the theme is writing collaborations which I thought timely because I am on the lookout for a writing partner.  Two heads being better than one, I would love the opportunity to work with another writer and see how/if my writing would go if I were part of a collaborative team. Partnerships sometimes move mountains. That's why I am on the lookout for a critique partner. 

I have just started writing a series of YA paranormal novellas about The Vessels, a group of  Black, Latino, and bi-racial heroes and heroines called upon to fulfill an agreement their souls entered into before they were born and give their lives to save the world from a demon invasion.  I wrote a small piece of flash fiction I called Final Choice that introduces readers to one Vessel (he doesn't know what he is yet). Final Choice was recently published in the summer edition of a local journal, the Arlington Almanac (Click here to read the story. ) It's only seven hundred words (this publisher is serious about word count) digested down from a four thousand word short story that gives you a lot more about Juvon's background and some of the demons he will have to face.

Click for Obituary

But last week one of my inspirations passed away. Walter Dean Myers. That changed the rest of what I was going to write in this post. 

He wrote more than 100 books for children of all ages, with two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books. He was the winner of the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

At a time when people in the publishing industry may finally be hearing the message that #weneeddiversebooks the loss is a reminder that too few authors of color have ever been allowed on the center stage. His loss leaves a huge hole.  He was the go-to guy for all too many schools and librarians.  
Need a book for a black boy reader? Get him something by Walter Dean Myers. Oh, he’s already read that author's books and would like to see another well-written, quality book where he can find himself mirrored on the page? Sorry, no one else comes to mind.
Yes, I am being a little facetious, but only a little.  Try asking your local children's or teen librarian about black authors and see just how few they can think of much less have on their shelves for their kids to find.
I corresponded with some librarians over the holiday weekend who loudly proclaimed what a gem he had been. There would never be another one like him, they all said. I hope they are wrong. In fact, I’m sure of it.  Because if there is no one to take up the slack, what happens to the kids? Is it really true that the entire race could only produce one great children's author? Or is it just that the other authors labor in obscurity? Authors out there who are not afraid to write for this audience because “those books don’t sell” or “those kids don’t read,” and who are bypassed by publishers and the gatekeepers of children's lit and never seen or known. The thing I liked most about his books was that they didn't look down, or up, to anyone. They were all about relationships, parent and child, best friends, worst enemies. Characters who weren't the villains they looked like at first, and characters struggling to overcome villains.  Especially about building friendships and relationships between people who might not seem to have anything in common,  like Darius & Twig the most recent Myers book I read about the friendship between the kid who wants to be a writer someday (So I have to love him) and the kid on the way to a scholarship in track if he can get by the unscrupulous sports agent in his path.

In a few months I will be giving two workshops at a librarian convention.  One will be on ways to build up multicultural collections, including books that will provide both windows and mirrors for a variety of young readers. The second will focus on many of the invisible books by African-American authors.  I usually start that talk out by telling attendees there is one author whose name I should not even have to mention.  I will be giving him high tribute in October at the OELMA conference during both talks.

This man would have been number one on my list of collaboration partners.  Or maybe I would have just looked over his shoulder and watched him work, hoping to absorb some of his skill. Plotting, characterization, setting, he was a nimble craftsman who sucked you in and made you care about the story unfolding on the page. Both eager and reluctant readers were drawn to his words. And I know I am going to miss the joy of opening his future books. But I know there are other voices out there, and hope to see many authors building on his legacy.

PS, I'm still on the lookout for that critique partner.


Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to an author who will be missed. May he guide others to follow in his footsteps!

Thank yo for your tireless work to make diverse books available to all children, B.A.

Judith Ashley said...

Your tireless work on behalf of children who need books showcasing the diversity of the world around them is awesome, BA. My neighborhood high school reports that their students and families speak over 100 different languages! My granddaughter, who is white, was in the minority in her high school. The world is changing! Hopefully publishers and librarians will catch up.

Again, thanks for being a strong advocate! and let us know how the critique partner search goes.

Diana McCollum said...

I read your 700 word story! You are such a great writer. Mr. Myers will be sorely missed in the field of children/young adult authors. Bless you for bringing his work to our attention.

B. A. Binns said...

Thank you Sarah, Judith and Diana for all your kind words. I feel a little old to have so recently found a mission, but he more I do the more I want to help kids and authors bring the real world to young readers. During a talk with kids one told me she wanted to see more books that show the real world. That's what I try to do, bot with my books and the books I advocate for.