Teen Writers Bloc

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Sona Believes Banning Books Is A Slippery Slope

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 30 - 2011

KaviBannedBook 400x600 Sona Believes Banning Books Is A Slippery Slope

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And sometimes it’s true.

Take the image above. My husband, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, took it two weekends ago at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s the second time we’ve gone, and Kavi’s first — not bad for a 20-month-old. She had a grand old time. She got to color, run around the kids’ tent, hear Mo Willems read, eat gelato. It was a fun-filled day for her. And it’s continuing to instill in her a passion she already very much has, even though she’s not even two. It’s a love for books.

She can’t read them yet, but she can make things out, pointing to puppies and apples and creating her own little version of the story in her head. It’s a good place to start.

Boy was she excited to see that Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, on a shelf of books at the festival. But boy were we disappointed to see the reason it had been placed there. It took its place, on the shelf of shame — or perhaps it’s pride? — alongside titles like The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Judy Blume’s Forever and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, all in a tent set up by the very noble organization, the American Library Association. The non-profit was on a mission that day: to get people reading banned books. In fact, they created a YouTube Channel of Americans across the nation participating in a Banned Books Read-Out to counteract the effects of censorship. It’s a genius idea, one that builds one person at a time.

Now I’m not saying that sometimes there isn’t sex and violence and drug abuse and other issues too heavy or perhaps inappropriate for specific readers in some of these books. Certainly that can be the case. But here’s the thing: most readers will find the right books when they’re appropriate for them. And if they’re not appropriate? Well, perhaps they’ll simply put them down. In the case of little ones, like Kavi, I think it should be up to the parents to make informed decisions about what their kids — but not everyone else’s — are reading. You decide what’s right for yourself and your family, but you don’t decide what’s right for a classroom full of kids — or a nation, for that matter.

And in this case, I certainly wouldn’t prevent Kavi from reading Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax once she’s ready for it. In fact, the book has a very important message, one I’d like Kavi to ponder herself, once she can actually read. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read to her. Even if some of those books are banned.

49628 hi ThisIsTeen postcard 214x300 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensYesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the This is Teen Live event in New York City, featuring the amazing YA authors Libba Bray, Meg Cabot and Maggie Stiefvater. I also had the distinct pleasure of taking several of the students from the school where I am a librarian to meet the authors. These students are readers — they are required to finish at least 50 books a year, and many of them have doubled that — and to them meeting the authors whose names adorn the books in their library was akin to meeting movie stars.

The event was very successful. The Scholastic Store was full to the brim with avid teen and adult readers. The authors were entertaining and honest in their answers and the Q and A was brief and to-the-point.

The highlight of the experience for me was when one of our students was called on to ask a question, not merely because it was fun to see him with a microphone in front of these authors, but because of their honest and powerful answers. He asked, “What do you hope teens will learn from your books?”

beauty queens 98x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensLibba Bray, author of the newly published Beauty Queens and many other books for young adults, fielded this question first with an answer that I thought was truly inspire. In short, she said: “Whatever they want.” She pointed out that she is writing to tell a story, not to teach teens about the world. She wants all of her readers — teens and adults alike — to feel that they own the book at the end.

I was so blown away but the honesty and respect in her answer that I was unsure if the other two panelists could possibly have anything to add. But they did.

Meg Cabot said she agreed fully with Ms. Bray, but with the one caveat that she wants her readers to understand they aren’t alone. abandon meg cabot book cover 103x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensShe wants her readers to recognize the truth behind the emotions in her fiction and realize that other people have been though the same trials they go through. For example, in her new book, Abandon, the main character dates someone her mother does not like — the God of the Underworld.

While Ms. Cabot — and presumably all of her readers — have never faced the trial of dating someone literally out of Hades, the emotions there are ones to which almost all humanity can relate. But Ms. Cabot also pointed out that writing for adults, young adults, or middle-grade children — all of which she has done in her long career — is essentially the same thing.

Forever 100x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensFinally, Maggie Stiefvater reminded us that reading is a form of entertainment. The message she has been putting subliminally on each page is simple — “buy the next book.” And, it’s working. That’s why so many people will be flocking to book stores the minute Forever hits shelves in July.

I was thrilled that the young readers who attended this event with me were able to hear such honesty from the authors of the books they devour. They were spoken to like people instead of like little people. After meeting the three authors and getting signed copies of the books for our library, all of them were leaving feeling special and respected. And, of course, looking forward to the next This is Teen Live event!

Steven’s Rant: Celebrity Book Rehab

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On May - 19 - 2011

Perez Hilton Stevens Rant: Celebrity Book Rehab“Life was hard. But a pouf? That should be easy.” This is the first line of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s first foray into literature, A Shore Thing. If you can get past the obvious tense shift and make it to the next sentence, it doesn’t get any better, either. The novel is about — well, I don’t really know because one page into reading it at my local Barnes and Noble, I nearly passed out from losing so many vital brain cells.

Ok, I get it. Every celebrity is now a “writer,” right? Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, James Franco, Snooki and her delinquent band of alcohol-soaked rejects. Ok, so James Franco went to Columbia and NYU, but that still doesn’t mean he got published just from his talent alone. I read one of his short stories, and it read like a pretentious NYU student’s — full of pretentious pretentiousness. Light bulb time for Mr. Franco: write under a pen name and then submit your work to agents. End rant. (On James Franco, at least.)

Almost every celebrity now-a-days has a book out or a book deal in the works. Maybe it’s because celebrities simply can’t get by on just their craft — they have to be a brand. Musicians can’t just sell records anymore (thank you, piracy), so they need perfumes and colognes and their own line of skin products and shoes. So why not write a book? How hard can it be, right? I mean, especially for those writing for children or young adults. Hilary Duff and Lauren Conrad, like, totally did it! And now, Perez Hilton is coming out with a children’s book. Then again, his skills as an author are unparalleled! Look out, Hemmingway, Hilton is coming to getcha! Here’s a Lady Gaga-inspired summary from Amazon on Perez’s new book (kudos on the originality, Perez): “He was born that way — The Boy with Pink Hair. He had a cotton candy colored mop that no one had ever seen before … Life is not easy being pink. Adults stare at you, little children giggle behind your … back and some kids are just mean. But when you have a best friend who appreciates your uniqueness and parents who are loving and supportive, you can do just about anything.” Ok, fine, his book is promoting equality and all that jazz, but I just don’t care. Maybe if I create a website where I post self-indulgent boo-hockey about myself, cry on video like a little bizznatch, tear down talented celebrities day after day, and WrIte LiiKe ThiS LOLZ AMAZEBALLZ! I too can catch the eye of a publishing house.

Is this what it’s come down to now? Is this what publishing houses are looking for? A brand to sell their books? I’m sick and tired of seeing these “celebrity” hacks getting book deals simply because of their names. What happened to giving up-and-comers a chance to show their talent to the world? If JD Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye in 2011, would it get a second look by publishers if he hadn’t been in the latest blockbuster film or appeared on celebrity rehab? Have publishing houses lost faith in the unknown? Is it all about instant profit in a world of instant gratification? I’m asking these questions because every other week a celebrity releases a new book, and I’m not any closer to getting published. Then again, would a publishing house really be more willing to publish me, an unknown, over someone like Lindsay Lohan? Probably not. Which just means I have to set myself apart. I have to prove myself better than a celebrity, because, well, life is hard. Right, Snooki?

Photo Credit: Amazon.com, Celebra Books

Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the Holocaust

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 3 - 2011

 Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustStarting Sunday evening at sundown, people around the world will light candles and say prayers in memory of those lost in the Holocaust this week.

As a child, I learned about the Holocaust in the 4th grade through the wonderful books The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (as well as a little known book Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier, which I still have my tattered copy of). These books were instrumental in helping me conceptualize the horrors of what happened to Jewish men, women, and children, but also how a group of people persevered with hope and strength. These books were placed in my hands at the perfect time developmentally, and even as an adult, I still have vivid memories of Annemarie and the casket in Lowry’s Number the Stars and the tension I felt when Hannah opened the door to welcome the prophet Elijah.

 Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustLike all kids learning about the world, I remember being horrified that something like this could’ve happened, and can recall pummeling my mother and father with questions that had no real answers. I remember the awkward expressions that donned the faces of my Jewish classmates as every non-Jewish kid stared at them, waiting for their reactions to the things our teacher told us about the Holocaust. I remember walking home from school with my Jewish friend Stephanie, wanting to ask if her grandparents survived the camps, but felt too ashamed to do so. Well-written books about the Holocaust helped me find avenues into the complexities of  this horrific event. I do wonder if these books help Jewish children grapple with this inherited burden? Or do the books have more of a profound impact on non-Jewish people who are “witnessing” the horrors of another group? (I’ll have to pose the question to my fellow TWB Alyson Gerber .)

Number the Stars Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustBeing exposed to the tragedy of the Holocaust helped me wrestle with past atrocities related to the Black American community. Fifth grade was the year we learned about American Slavery and the Middle Passage. Now I was in the hot seat the same way my Jewish counterparts had been the year before. Faces turned to look at me and the three other black kids in class (Kara, Brett, and Whitney). I knew vaguely about slavery, as I grew up with southern parents and grandparents who had left the south for a reason. But my parents didn’t prepare me for what I was going to learn in school.

Our teacher showed us clips from the movie Roots and we read excerpts from slave narratives and folktales, as there were no books for us to read about this experience at that time. It was horrific coming face to face with the painful reality of how your people came to America. But my teacher connected it back to the Holocaust and the values of strength, perseverance, and overcoming adversity. I think learning about the Holocaust helped prepare me for the details about American slavery and the Black slave experience. Being able to read about the terrible things that happened to Jewish people helped me confront the horrible things that happened Black people, and start to grapple with the inherited burden in my past.

Coming full circle, as a former third/fourth grade teacher, I taught Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, and was able to use the horrific event of the Holocaust as a way to explore other human atrocities, and help students from diverse backgrounds start to think about how they can relate to this terrible event in human history. I am thankful for top-notch children’s literature on the Holocaust as a vehicle to explore what happened and ensure that it will never happen again.

In the words of President Obama, “We must heed the urgency to listen to and care for the last living survivors, camp liberators and the witnesses to the Shoah. And we must meet our sacred responsibility to honor all those who perished by recalling their courage and dignity in the face of unspeakable atrocities, by insisting that the world never forget them, and by always standing up against intolerance and injustice.”

Never forget…

Photo Credit: Sandpiper, Puffin, ArmyMWR, Yisi.org

twilight bella and edward YA Movie News: Shia LaBeouf Replaces Robert Pattinson In Breaking Dawn, Part IIThe Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon announced Thursday that due to the persistent lack of chemistry between the film’s stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, Pattinson was let go from the film Thursday.

“Robert just wasn’t working,” said Condon. “He had a very limited range of facial expressions. There’s only so much brooding the audience can handle.”

Condon had first approached current it boy Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Beastly), but the British heartthrob was too busy deciding between adaptations of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy to respond.

Since the first part of the movie has already been shot, Pattinson will still appear up until six members of the wolf pack appear together half naked, at which point the audience will be too distracted to notice the change.

Condon said this will allow a smooth transition to LaBeouf’s interpretation of the character. “Shia has moved so far beyond his debut performance in Holes, where he acted a little too much like a real person,” he told Teen Writers Bloc. “Now that he’s had experience pretending to fight evil cars from outer space in Transformers, we think he’s demonstrated the emotional range we’ve been looking for.”

transformers shia poster l 200x300 YA Movie News: Shia LaBeouf Replaces Robert Pattinson In Breaking Dawn, Part II“I’m very excited,” said LaBeouf. “I like the idea that when I become a vampire, I’ll sparkle and I won’t have to sleep.” Pattinson could not be reached for comment, and though Stewart answered her phone, she professed not to know who Pattinson was. “We use a green screen,” she said, and then hung up.

Fan reactions to the move were generally positive. “It doesn’t really matter,” said 14-year-old Twi-hard Emily Smuthers of Boulder, CO. “I mean, I go for the realistic plot and the thought-provoking dialogue. The lines are so meaningful that anyone could say them.” Haley Roberts of Buffalo would have gone even further. “I think they should cut the whole character,” the 12-year-old said. “The movie is about one girl and the abs she loves. I don’t see where the vampires fit into it.”

What do you think? Is LaBeouf a good choice to replace Pattinson? Leave your comments!

Photos: Twilight courtesy Summit Entertainment; Transformers courtesy FOX

african history month 300x200 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceWhen I was growing up, I used to think every character in a book was white. If a character wasn’t described explicitly my mind drew a picture of them and they were almost always white. I still do this. It is an automatic thing that happens when I read.

My mother once told me that when I was in elementary school I used to always ask her why everyone in the books I was reading was white. Did only white people populate fiction (especially fantasy stories)?

So I wondered if I was alone and polled a fantastic bunch of black authors and kidlit bloggers to see how they felt.

As a young reader/teen reader, did you imagine the people in books as white? When did you first encounter a black teen or child  in a book? What was that experience like? Did you have a different connection with the text? Do you remember the first text you encountered with brown folks in it?

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceEbony Joy Wilkins, author of Sell Out, answered:

“I also remember assuming every character I read about was white. I’m not even sure I can explain that at this point in my life, other than to assume I just wasn’t exposed to enough literature with African American central characters.  I can’t pinpoint the exact text when I first encountered brown folks, but I’m pretty sure the book was read in celebration of an MLK jr. day ceremony or for Black History Month. Although I cannot remember the specific text, I do remember the feelings I had of empowerment and validation after seeing brown folks like me on the page. I wish those feelings for all readers of color.”

Dia Reeves, author of Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry, says:

“The first book I read like that was Bizou by Norma Klein, which I read in elementary school. The main character was biracial and French, which I thought was so cool. Looking back, that’s probably why Hanna from Bleeding Violet is so exotic–Bizou made a powerful impression on me. Because, like you, I also thought that all characters in books were white, unless otherwise stated. Sad, but true.”

Sherri L. Smith, author of Flygirl, Sparrow, and Lucy the Giant, says:

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience

“Hmm.  I understand what you are saying.  I think you saw everyone as white because if a character is white, the author tends to just describe them as a person.  Race is only mentioned when it’s non-caucasian, ie. “A tall man and a short black woman entered the store.”  I suppose the very first book I read with a black character is one of two picture books—Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day or Don Freeman’s Corduroy.  In YA books, it gets a bit tougher, especially at my age because YA was relatively new in the 70’s and 80’s, and much of the stuff I read was written in the 60s.  Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, that sort of thing.  Sometimes there were Latino migrant workers as part of a mystery story, but not necessarily in the lead.  Novels with black protagonists tended to be about being black — Richard Wright’s Native Son was assigned reading in my high school.  Pretty intense reading and definitely not an escapist piece of entertainment!  Of course, at the time I was more into fantasy and SF, so there were all sorts of races and species involved.  Maybe that’s why the shortage of African American characters didn’t bother me.  I was just as happy imagining I was Misty of Chincoteague as I was daydreaming about being Peter Pan’s Wendy, Nancy Drew or Uhura.  My parents raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be, so I didn’t feel limited by what I read.  Race was incidental.

These days, when books have trailers and get turned into movies left and right, I think it’s important to take a more worldly view of race.  Also, it’s discussed a lot more.  If a kid feels alienated because the books they read don’t reflect their own lives, then we should consider writing some that does.  Since I was such a big SF/Fantasy/Fairytale nerd growing up and nothing I read reflected the real world, I was more bothered by characters without parents.  It seemed to me I could never have an adventure until I discovered I was adopted.  Kids with their own families never turn out to be heroes in novels.  I understand the fairy tale paradigm now—the child being forced into self-sufficiency as a means of growing up.  But at the time, particularly when I was in elementary school, I would day dream about being an orphan. Only then (or so I thought) could my life really get interesting!”

Wendy Raven McNair, author of Awake and Asleep, says:

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience

“I don’t remember how old I was but I was very young (probably in Kindergarten) when I came across Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. I really connected to that story but as a child if you had asked me why, I probably would’ve said because it was about snow and I liked the pictures. I would’ve been oblivious to the fact that a main black character in a children’s book was rare. I grew up in Houston, Texas which is notorious for its snow-less winters and as a young child I felt cheated by this. So The Snowy Day gave me a taste of the frozen wonderland I dreamed of and the melancholy tone of the story appealed to me as a melancholy child. I also remember enjoying Keats’ Whistle for Willie and Goggles but not nearly as much as The Snowy Day.

After that, I don’t remember reading another book with black characters until The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I loved that book. I was a college student so that was my earliest “teen” experience and The Snowy Day was my “young reader” experience. That’s shocking to me now but when I was younger, I wasn’t as observant, so I don’t remember questioning the absence of black characters in the books I read. However, I’d be hard pressed to remember many of the books I read as a child even though I was a voracious reader. I had an active imagination and enjoyed daydreaming of my own made up stories which were always populated by black people so maybe that’s why I never noticed their absence in books. So what’s significant in my experience is that even though I read a ton of books without black characters, the stories I remember most clearly are the few that did have black characters. I’ve tried to make sure my daughter has a variety of books but finding variety within black titles has still been very challenging.”

Nathalie Mvondo, blogger at Multiculturalism Rocks, says:

“That first question demoralized me. As a young reader, I don’t ever recall encountering a black teen (emphasis on teen) in a book. Ever. It’s disheartening, and this is coming from someone who also lived in Africa in the 80s, so you’d expect that books with teenagers from my culture would have been available there. That said, I encountered black children, i.e. three characters while growing up in Cameroon, in Central Africa. One was Kouakou, the main character of local comic book, widely popular even outside our borders. In my memories Kouakou was around 7 years old. Its adventures were seasonal and published in French. The two other characters were part of my grammar and vocabulary book throughout elementary school, and published by the French publisher Hachette. We followed and grew up with Mamadou and Bineta while learning about adjectives and irregular verbs. The fact they looked like us, lived our lives and had a variety of things happen to them, made most of us (students) read the book entirely before the end of the school year.

Slice of Cherry 204x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceAll the characters in the books I read in my preteens and teenage years were Caucasians, and many were adults (think Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, etc…). Chester Hines’ books are an exception (thanks to the teacher who added him in our reading list), but the characters were adults. I only got exposed to a more diverse cast when I read some comic books such as Marvel or DC, with characters like Storm and theBlack Panther, but again: They’re adults. Some French comic books provided a variety as well with Asian or Native Indian characters, but from what I remember the stories were never set in the present. There were either taking place in another century or they were science-fiction and fantasy.

Folktales also appeared as the best source for finding culturally diverse characters: There you got people from over the world (Africa, Asia, South America)… conversing with speaking birds, snakes and lions. Outside of that realm, there were no brown teenage spy, wannabe doctor or else, no light readings of the sort. The first texts I encountered with Black Folks seemed all to be about slavery, except for the aforementioned Cameroonian folktales. Reading about the history of slavery, reading Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and more classics in the same vein is important, but that is not all you can feed a brown child. Our identity is not limited to that part of our history, and when teenagers think of their future, that is not the first thing that comes to mind in terms of career path (obviously). A kid cannot only see a Black person portrayed in chains in books.

The first time I read a book with teenage brown characters was as an adult, after moving here, in the United States and working as a Children’s bookseller years ago. Marvel and DC comics were available there, but I found out about authors like Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Thomas or Jacqueline Woodson only after moving here. I The emotion that overwhelmed me was the same as when I was kid wondering where all the black dolls were. I will never forget the day I held my black baby. Every time I come across a book featuring a great story and a diverse cast, I’m excited and just can’t wait to share it with others, to put it in a reader’s hand and say, “Here it is. Enjoy.” hope that publishers consider the foreign market a bit more.”

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceNick Burd, author The Vast Fields of Ordinary, says:

“Oh, God. I really can’t remember the first time I encountered a black teen in a book. I know I read books with black characters as a kid, but I have no idea what they were right now. As a teenager I was always more interested in why there were no gay characters in books. I finally found Edmund White and Bret Easton Ellis toward the end of my high school career and that was a very transformative moment for me as a writer and a reader. And really just as a human being as well.”

Crystal Allen, author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, says:

“My first encounter was a book entitled Manchild In the Promise Land by Claude Brown.  Since I wasn’t an avid reader, I don’t even remember who gave me the book, but I know I didn’t get it out of a library. I do remember it was paperbacked with several dog-eared pages, a missing cover and the book was very thick!  I was intimidated at first, but once I got started, this book changed my world from black and white to color in a matter of moments!  Even though I wasn’t raised on the streets of New York, but on a farm in Indiana, I could relate to Sonny, the main character in this book, and I didn’t know why.  Now that I look back, I think that book had been passed around so much that it lost its cover and the dog-eared pages represented bookmarks from different people.  What a tribute to Mr. Brown!”

lamars bad prank won 200 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceKaren Strong, blogger/writer, software geek living in Atlanta and working on a YA paranormal suspense novel, says:

“My mother was an avid reader so I followed in her footsteps. We spent many days at the library until it closed and I would go home with stacks and stacks of books and get lost in the pages. Most of the characters didn’t look like me and although I kept reading tons of books, a thought was always at the back of my mind, “Do brown girls like me live in pages?”

It wasn’t until I traded in my pink library card for my “big girl” beige one that I found The Friends by Rosa Guy that I felt a true connection. This book was so different from all the others I had read: This story was about a brown teen girl. I read the book several times and even bought copies for my cousins. I was just so excited to read about a girl who looked like me on the printed page. I soon found other books but unfortunately not many more as a teen.

Teens today have a lot more choices then I did growing up. But there is room for so much more. More “slice of life”, more mystery, more romance, more science fiction and fantasy. The landscape for readers of color is vast and there is room for more books that break the mold of the tried and true storylines.

I will always remember my first experience reading a YA novel featuring a POC character because it also sparked something inside of me: If Rosa Guy could write about brown teen girls, maybe I could too.”

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Eighth-Grade Superzero, said:

8thGradeSuper RESIZED 198x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience“I think the books like Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, Black Folktales, etc. were among the first I read on my own. I loved Langston Hughes.  I *adored* Maya Angelou and Malcolm X; Bette Greene, Mildred Taylor…Virginia Hamilton, Rosa Guy, Walter Dean Myers…In high school,  Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin left me laughing, open-mouthed or tight-lipped.  (Or all three.) I connected with Chinua Achebe and the other African Writers Series authors’ works in a wonderful way.  I was fortunate to have parents who actively sought out multicultural literature, from many cultures and countries.  Books in our home were about people living all over the world.  I would often stumble across offensive imagery and racist depictions, but learned early on not to ignore them, but to see them as they were and think critically about the culture that produces those things. There also wasn’t a whole lot of variety in the U.S. stories — often, in contemporary or historical fiction, their whole story was struggle without much beauty. I know that even then I craved variety, to see Black and Brown characters in different worlds, in other worlds.”

Ari, blogger at BlackTeensRead2 and teen student, says:

“What a coincidence this question is because I recently started thinking about this very topic! I don’t remember the EXACT first black teen I ever encountered but I do remember marveling over the fact. I discovered both the It Chicks series by Tia Williams and the Drama High series by L. Divine in 8th grade. I had gone through most of my life only reading historical fiction about white people. When I finally found Christopher Paul Curtis, it was a miracle. That was middle school and he wrote historical fiction. Amazing historical fiction to be sure, but historical fiction nevertheless.  Besides middle grade historical fiction, I read a lot of middle grade contemporary and back when I was growing up you can forget finding a middle grade book that was not” issues heavy” about kids of color just hanging out, solving mysteries, falling-in-like/developing a crush, dealing with friend drama, etc. Nope obviously kids of color didn’t have fun. I honestly cannot recall a single book with main characters of color between the ages of 9-12 that I read that was not historical fiction. How sad is that?

So you can imagine my reaction when I finally found books featuring teens of color. First, I distinctly remember just starting in amazement (I was at the library) then I eagerly grabbed it, in case anyone else tried to take it. Then I had to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. You see in the past I had thought books were about characters of color but it turned out the books really just featured cover models who were quite tan. Some of the stories were really good anyway, some not so good. Regardless, it was rather crushing to find out that the main character was actually not at least half something of color.

bleeding violet 199x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceMost girls read The Clique and Gossip Girl series. Yes the Clique series had a Latina character, Alicia and Gossip Girl briefly mentions some girl who was biracial (Isabel I think?), but neither of those girls received much attention in the books (Full Disclaimer: I quit with the Clique books right before Alicia apparently got a storyline but I faithfully read the Gossip Girl books until we all graduated and went our separate ways). But the It Chicks series, the Drama High series and (I later discovered) the Hotlanta series and the Del Rio Bay Clique series were my own versions of Gossip Girl, The Clique, Private, It Girl, etc. FINALLY I had found guilty pleasure reads about bratty upperclass black kids. Even better not all the teens were brats, but the books were pure fun. No one was running away from an evil slave master, no parents were abusing their kids, instead Jayd (Drama High) had to deal with haters, Sydney & Lauren (Hotlanta) had some serious family secret drama going on and Tangie (It Chicks) was KILLING it at her NYC performing arts school. All black main characters, non “issue” books. I was terrified and excited by high school so reading about these teenage girls’ adventures was an eye opening experience to say the least. You could say I was overly prepared (I definitely expected some mean girls to be prowling the halls of high school and desperately worked on some witty comebacks like my favorite main characters. Wouldn’t you know it; there aren’t a lot of mean girls at my school? And my comebacks really weren’t that good? Heh).

If I’m completely honest with myself, I was a lot more lenient towards books with main characters of color. When I go back and re-read certain books (doesn’t apply to any of the above books because I have fond memories of them regardless of quality) that I really liked, I can’t believe I read them. Especially if I end up reviewing them, I can be way more critical than I ever would have been had I not started blogging and discovered more books about people of color. I put up with some poor writing, ridiculous main characters and slow moving plots, all out of desperation. What if this was it? When would I finally read all the books about black teenagers in my library and run out? Then what would I do? I would have nightmares about this fact (erm ok not nightmares but it was BAD. For awhile I would constantly check out the same books one week, 8 new ones the next week and then only check out my old favorites the next week, it was a never ending cycle).

Don’t even get me started on the fact that I didn’t find any books with Latina/Asian/Native American main characters until after I started blogging in high school. But we’ll save that for Hispanic/Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American heritage months. The golden era of diverse middle grade literature is upon us. I figure it started in 2008. My middle grade years were roughly 2005-2008 and I am SO ENVIOUS of the more diverse reads coming out now and back in 2010. If I had found Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s Eighth Grade Superzero I would’ve died from happiness.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Fell at HOZA

delirium 397x600 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’

I was lucky enough to work for Lauren Oliver over the summer and through my first semester at the New School. Not only is she a crazy successful YA author and all around superstar, she also has the most eclectic, delicious sounding grocery lists I’ve ever seen. It’s quite the combo!

She also let me get sneak peeks at some of her upcoming work. I have read Delirium and its right up my alley — dark, edgy, dystopian, but also sweet and lyrical and suspenseful. Think Hunger Games page-turner intensity mixed with a Romeo And Juliet level of love story.

We asked Lauren to answer some questions for the blog about her new book, her journey in the publishing world and living the writing life. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

I went to University of Chicago and studied Philosophy and Literature. I knew I wanted to write — I finished my first “real” novel my senior year, and went through the process of querying and getting an agent — but I didn’t think of it as a feasible career. After college I floated around for a bit, bartended in a club, and then decided to get my MFA at NYU. I simultaneously found a job, somewhat arbitrarily, in children’s publishing, and that’s when I began to write young adult fiction and work on Before I Fall, my first book. I don’t exactly write full-time now because I have a literary development company as well, but since I’m either writing or reading or editing, I don’t really think of myself as working all that much!

I’ve never wanted to be a writer, exactly. Writing was always just something I did and I needed to do, like I need to sleep. It’s all just a way of staving off the craziness (with, arguably, only limited success).

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Delirium? How did you come up with the concept? Was it a very different process than from your first book, Before I Fall?

Delirium takes place in an alternate United States, where love has been declared a contagious disease. Every citizen must submit to the cure at around the age of eighteen, and the book tracks a girl, Lena, during her last few months as an uncured. And of course there are surprises and twists and romantic complications. The idea for Delirium came from an essay I read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which he wrote that all great books were about love or death. The next day I was thinking about that quote — particularly about how and in what form a modern love story could be told — while I was on the treadmill at the gym. I was simultaneously watching a news story about a flu outbreak that had everyone freaking out about the possibility of a pandemic, and I was kind of marvelling that people so easily go into panics about reports of these diseases, and at some point the two trains of thought — love, and disease — just sort of combined in my head. And in terms of whether it was harder or easier than Before I Fall…neither. The hardest part of writing, I find, is the doing it, the sitting down and getting into the words and that mental headspace. It’s the same difficulty for every project.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

For the record, I kind of hate the word “process.” My process is simply that I force myself to write every day, even though I sometimes (er, often) find it agonizingly painful. Some days I write at my computer. Some days, if I’m really busy, I write on my blackberry while I’m commuting between appointments. I’ve also been known to write on napkins, in notebooks, and at the dinner table, which isn’t very polite, of course. It sounds cheesy to say it, but inspiration is all around me. Every time I read the paper or watch the news, I see cool stories and think about how they might be books. Every time I read anything, I like to think I’m absorbing and learning.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I think the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is that it simply doesn’t get any easier! I mean, I love writing and I need it, but it still feels every bit as agonizing and hard as it always has. I still feel consumed with anxieties about running out of ideas, or turning out schlock. I guess I thought that being published might somewhat assuage those fears, but it has probably just compounded them!

 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice I’ve received — and can impart — is to write every day, period.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a kid I loved Roald Dahl, and the fairy tales of Grimm, and anything weird and wonderful. I’m actually still into weird and wonderful, which is I believe why I gravitate to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeffrey Eugenides. I also love elegant prose, so I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Ian McEwan. Right now I’m reading a nonfiction science book. I actually read a lot of nonfiction — the real world has plenty to offer in terms of inspiration. And weirdness. And wonder.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

My first middle-grade book for young readers, Liesl & Po, comes out in Fall 2011. I’m currently working on the final book in the Delirium trilogy and tooling around with a middle-grade fantasy that may or may not ever become readable. I’m also working on growing my literary development company, Paper Lantern Lit, and our ever-expanding stable of authors. What’s next in life? Well, I’ll probably take a nap. And in a less immediate sense, I am heading out on tour next week and my first tour event is with none other than…David Levithan!

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I believe they’re helpful up to a point, yes. I loved my workshops at NYU because they taught me two critical skills: when to take criticism, and when to ignore it. You really need to know how to do both as an author. It’s totally possible to depend too much on other people’s opinion as a writer — you need to learn to trust your own instincts, and sometimes I think that depending on a group of writers can disable that. Like everything else, it’s a balance.

Writers Conferences: Plan Ahead to Get the Most Out Of Your Networking Dollars

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 12 - 2011
nycview Writers Conferences: Plan Ahead to Get the Most Out Of Your Networking Dollars

A writer's conference can put you right into the heart of the publishing business.

There’s nothing like being amongst your fellow writers to get you energized about your work — whether it be writing or selling. Luckily, I’ve got my buddies at the New School’s MFA program to motivate me. But sometimes you just need that extra kick in the pants (MFA or not).

That’s why writer’s conferences are like a quick fix of creative adrenaline. A concentrated take on the craft and business of writing, they can really get the creative juices flowing, and get you right into the thick of things, whether or not you’re a natural-born networker, like our own Dhonielle.

But there is a right time to go — and not every conference is a great fit for everyone. That’s why, when you’re budgeting your networking dollars, it’s a smart idea to take a really close look at what your options are. Especially given that, these days, you could probably find a writers’ conference in your area any given weekend. But which are worth the investment? And when should you go?

It all depends on you and where you are with your writing. A few of us here at Teen Writers Bloc, for example, are gearing up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York City this month. But others among us — like me — know that, as much as we’d like to go, we’re nowhere near ready. Which is why I’ll be saving my conference dollars for the summer.

What writers conference will give you the most bang for your buck? Only you can decide. But since it’s a new year (and hopefully, new budget!), we’ve rounded up a few of the best bets for your perusal — and we’ve tried to stick to conferences that would be fruitful for teen and middle grade writers. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Writers Digest Conference
New York, New York; January 21 – 23
Cost: $495 for the full conference, $345 for Saturday only
With lots of big picture overview, including keynotes on the where publishing is headed, marketing in the digital age, social media strategy, apps for writers and even a Kindle publishing workshop, this conference, sponsored by industry magazine Writer’s Digest, is taking writers’ straight into the future of the book business. There’s also an intensive two-hour pitch slam, a sort of speed dating with agents, including YA champions Brandi Bowles (Foundry), Jennifer DiChiara, Molly Jaffa (Folio), Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Lit), Suzie Townsend (FinePrint) and Joanna Volpe (Nancy Coffey Lit).

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators
New York, New York; January 28 – 31
Cost: $375 for members, $415 for non-members
Highlights: The SCBWI annual winter conference is the scene and be seen event for children’s book writers. This year, teen favorites like Lois Lowry, Sara Zarr and R.L. Stine are amongst the keynote speakers, and there are plenty of big agent and editor names on the panels on craft and marketing, too. But conference vet Dhonielle says the best part of doing the SCBWI events is meeting like-minded writers. She’s found critique group members — and life-long friends — at these events. If you can’t make this one, SCBWI has mini-events across the country — and another biggie in L.A. this summer.

San Diego State University Writers’ Conference
San Diego, Ca.; January 28 – 30
Cost: $399; one-on-one consult appointments are $50 each
If you’re working it on the West coast (or trying to get out of the snow here on the East Coast), then you can’t beat the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference at the end of January. The event seems chock full of opportunities for teen fiction writers, including meet-n-greets with editors from Tor Teen for fantasy, and editors looking for YA at St. Martin’s, Grove/Atlantic, and Simon/Pulse, amongst others. Plus, there will be panels on revising your middle grade or teen novel, the “white-hot” YA category, and even making the transition to writing for screen and television.

Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop
New York, New York; March 17 – 20
Cost: $595 before March 1, $695 after
This quarterly, application-only conference, held in New York City every spring, summer, fall and winter, is focused on getting writers in strong shape to sell their novels, offering novel deconstruction and analysis from agents and editors from major houses (including ICM YA champion Tina Wexler). Writers refine their works via panels and intimate workshop groups, then have the opportunity to pitch up to four industry professionals, including editors from Grand Central, Random House, Broadway Books and others.

PennWriters Career & Craft Conference
Pittsburgh, Pa; May 13 – 15
Cost: $275 for three days; $194 for one
No, it’s not New York City. But that’s why PennWriters was able to score commercial fiction biggie — and Pennsylvania native — Jennifer Weiner as their keynote speaker this year. So don’t let the location fool you. The PennWriters’ line-up is chock full of publishing heavyweights, like agents Janet Reid and Jenny Bent (who are teaching useful workshops on social networking and contracts, respectively), Sleepless and Fairy Tale author Cyn Balog, who’ll be teaching workshops on YA and hooking the reader, HarperCollins Children’s senior VP and editorial director Barbara Lalicki (who edits Beverly Cleary) and iconic fantasy writer Jonathan Maberry, who’ll be showing you how to put chills and thrills into your own work.

Backspace Writers Conference
New York, NY; May 26 – 28
Cost: Early Bird registration is $450 (two full days), $550 after Feb. 1
The conference spin-off of the stellar online writers’ community BKSP.org, this three-day event is super-focused on making connections with agents, with panels on querying, crafting stellar opening pages, and what agents are looking for. So if that’s the stage you’re approaching, it might just be the perfect way to network yourself into a deal. Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry is the keynote this year, and given the NYC location, the publishing industry insiders will no doubt turn up in spades.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Plus Conference
Piscataway, New Jersey; October 15, 2011
Cost: $195 for the one-day event, including breakfast and lunch
This application-only event pairs a small number of skilled writers one-on-one with a children’s writing professional — agent, editor, or writer. The plus? Each writer and mentor pair gets to network with several others at round-table discussions about writing, editing and publishing — a great, low-pressure way to network, and it’s very likely you’ll come out of the event with long-term relationships.

What writer’s conferences will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for getting the most bang for your buck at these networking events?

2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 28 - 2010
best of 2010 300x300 2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten
Using your holiday break to catch up on the 2010 reads that you missed this year? Well then, our year-end best-of comes just in time! From vampires to automatons and even New York City teens, we’ve got something for everyone on the Teen Writers Bloc hot list. Check it out!

Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Sona Says: Told in a muted, almost deadpan voice, this controversial novel centers on a date rape on a private boarding school campus. As the protagonist Alex unwinds what really happened to her that night, the Mockingbirds, an underground campus justice system, decides on its own version of the truth. In ways a modern-day take on the Chocolate War, journalist-turned-debut author takes on big themes like rape, violence, justice, shame and punishment in this taut, suspenseful and eventually cathartic novel.

Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins
Amber Says: I just started reading this – thank you Dhonielle, for the recommendation! — and it is already a book that I wish I had had access to when i was a teen. It talks about what it can be like growing up Black American in a predominantly White American, suburban setting, which is an issue that is not discussed nearly as much as other aspects of the Black experience. There are multiple layers to the black teen experience and Sell-Out seems to capture this well, given that ideally all variations of black teen identity should be depicted in literature. Not to mention, she’s also a New School Writing for Children alum!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Jessica Says: I loved every single second of this book. Two authors, two narrators, two teenage boy points-of-view. It’s funny and sad, realistic and whimsical, all at the same time. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Jane Says: I heard winner Kathryn Erskine read from this riveting middle grade narrative at the National Book Awards ceremony at the New School and the book definitely caught my interest. The story is told from the perspective of a fifth grade girl with Aspergers Syndrome. I thought this was a great book because it gives the reader a chance to see the world from a different point of view.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Sona Says: A bullying story told from the mean girl’s perspective, Lauren Oliver’s deft debut touches on a hot-button issue without being preachy or pedantic. Instead, Oliver will have you hooked with her clever Groundhog’s Day meets Mean Girls premise as she slowly but surely unravels the final version of the tale while building an increasingly relatable protagonist.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Jessica Says: This is a novella-length companion piece to The Twilight Saga, and it’s a fun, quick read. The story is all about Bree Tanner, the newborn vampire who is almost adopted by the Cullens in Eclipse but who is killed by The Volturi before she even gets a chance. While this new story doesn’t add much to the story of Edward, Bella, and Jacob, it is interesting to read from the point of view of one of Meyer’s ”bad” vampires — one who mercilessly kills people for their blood. Something else interesting about this novella: Stephenie Meyer and Little, Brown donated $1.5M from the sales of the book to The American Red Cross.

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
Dhonielle Says: After exhausting myself with paranormal fiction, this dystopian book was a breath of fresh air in the teen market. Fischer creates a place so real, I thought it was somewhere on this earth. The darkness in the book was drawn so deftly.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Steven Says: When Dash finds a red moleskin notebook at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan littered with clues to various books throughout the store left by Lily, so begins the back and forth passing of dares between the two protagonists. Just when you think the narrative is going one way, it takes a completely different direction. Dash, written by David Levithan, is a typical Levithan male character, not unlike Nick from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Rachel Cohn’s Lily, however, is Norah’s antithesis: a shy girl who never thought anybody would find and play along with the clues in the moleskin. It’s the refreshing and unique voices that keeps readers on their toes. Not to mention the amazing collaborative efforts between Levithan and Cohn. Definitely check it out!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Corey Says: I love The Hunger Games in a way that is detrimental to my relationship. This long-awaited final installment offers a satisfying end to teen fiction’s most riveting trilogy.

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Dhonielle Says: I loved everything about this book: small town, medicine show, the devil, automatons, and a red bicycle. The writing is stellar and can be enjoyed on multiple levels. The atmosphere of the book is spooky, intelligent, and haunting from the very first page. Milford creates a fabulous tomboy heroine, a multi-faceted villain, and weaves a tale of good vs. evil that is fresh and engaging.

New York City MFA Students: We’re Not All Idiots

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 3 - 2010

kendra cover New York City MFA Students: We’re Not All IdiotsIt’s interesting that in the fallout of the expose on James Frey’s fiction factory in New York Magazine last month, New York City MFA students are the ones who come off looking like fools.

That is, at least according to MFA guru Seth Abramson, author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, who wrote all about why we’re apparently idiots for the Huffington Post last week.

“In seeking out young authors to exploit, Frey has done as much as anyone in the United States to reveal the seedy side of unfunded MFA programs,” Abramson writes. “Indeed, research done into MFA programs since 2006 reveals that Columbia University and The New School, Frey’s top targets for young, desperate literary artists, are distinctive in only two respects: (1) they host the two largest MFA cohorts in fiction in the United States; and (2) their fiction alumni are believed to have the highest graduate student loan burden of any MFA graduates anywhere.”

The case he’s making is that students at the New School and Columbia (and no doubt NYU, too, by default) are so desperate to earn their way out of their MFA debt that they’ll sign any old contract, panting breathlessly at the very thought of actually being published. Because apparently we’re that hopeless.

In reality, I think the students that did sign on for Frey’s dastardly deal are simply hedging their bets. Some percentage of a million dollar deal is a hard thing to turn down. Especially when advances these days are often pitifully low. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Really, I’d rather address Abramson’s allegation that New York City-area MFA students are idiots. As a graduate student in the MFA program in creative writing at the New School: A) I’m not going into crippling debt to pursue this. Yes, it’s an expensive endeavor, but I (and many of my classmates) do have some funding. We’re in New York City, the heart of the publishing industry and the known world. Of course it’s expensive, but so are many programs in other parts of the nation. B) I don’t have the the luxury of packing up my life and my family and moving to Iowa or Nebraska to pursue a funded degree. I work. I have a family. I have family in the area. I want to be in New York City. C) I truly believe you get what you pay for. And to me, this degree and the creative community that comes with it are worth it.

But also, having spent a semester in the program thus far, I also see that my classmates are far from being idiots for taking on this purportedly life-altering debt for a degree, as Abramson put it in another HuffPost blog, that is “at base, a non-professional, largely-unmarketable art-school degree that can’t get anyone a full-time teaching job (at least not in the absence of significant in-genre publications) and is not designed to ‘network’ graduates into magazine or book publications.”

In fact, I’d argue that the Writing for Children program at the New School is designed to be pretty much exactly the opposite of what Abramson presents. The class of 2012 consists of 12 students, a small cohort that’s designed to create a close-knit writers’ community. (Hence this blog.) It’s one of fewer than a dozen programs in the nation with a writing for children concentration, so the odds are, it’s building up the next strong group of instructors in this very specialized field (and with YA markets booming, the need for instructors with expertise in this arena is no doubt growing). Its focus is on creativity and the canon, so we know all about where we’re going — and where we’re coming from. It’s a diverse, intelligent, creative group of writers who no doubt represent the future of publishing in this arena.

And even more significantly, the networking element is crucial and a key component of the way this program is built. Case in point: David Levithan. A force to be reckoned with in the children’s publishing industry, and a best-selling writer himself, Levithan hasn’t simply put his name on the program. He’s an integral part of it. For one thing, he teaches every year, unlike some of the brand name authors that serve as MFA ambassadors throughout the nation, pulling students into their fold only to depart on book tours or sabbaticals, rather than teach. And it’s an education only he could provide, given his multiple roles in the field and his careful, articulate examination of it. He also advises students, and even publishes some of them.

Secondly, David and the other instructors in the program — all of whom are working writers and/or editors — play up the networking aspect. Just this past week, David brought in a cadre of eight working writers to class to “talk shop,” as it were. Among these were best-selling YA goddess and Printz winner Libba Bray and National Book Award winner Judy Blundell. We got to ask them questions about their process, craft, publishing, the highs and lows of life as a writer.

Thirdly, given our locale in downtown Manhattan, we’re at the heart and the pulse of publishing every day. Another major part of our program — for all genres — is the writers’ colloquium, which mandates that we attend a minimum of eight author events and readings throughout the semester, either sponsored by the school (which offers a great line-up each year) or within the city. Of course, most students attend far more than eight, considering that New York boasts such readings and events on a daily basis with major names in publishing. One of the first such events I attended as a student was Salman Rushdie introducing new writer Tishani Doshi at the Brooklyn Book Festival, which was absolutely free. Another great one was one of David’s NYC Teen Author readings, featuring David and his Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares co-writer Rachel Cohn and YA icon Scott Westerfeld, amongst other teen lit all-stars.

And last, but certainly not least, are the alumni, who continue to support the program that brought them right into the heart of publishing. Next week, author and New School alum Coe Booth will be teaching our class — and teaching her books, Tyrell and Kendra (both published by David Levithan at his Scholastic imprint Push). She graduated from the New School in 2005, along with fellow published writers Jenny Han, Lisa Graff, Lisa Greenwald, Siobhan Vivian, Daphne Grab, Kathryne Alfred, and Caroline Hickey. (That’s right, the Longstockings.)Given the short history of the writing for children program, an astonishing number of its graduates are published and publishing. Not bad for a throwaway degree, huh?

pixel New York City MFA Students: We’re Not All Idiots

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