Last month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!
Q: What brought you to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?
Ailynn Knox-Collins. Redmond, WA:
I came across Tu Books when I bid on a copy of Tankborn for a charitable cause. Soon after, I had the good fortune to sit next to the writer, Karen Sandler, at an SCBWI conference in LA. I was delighted to find an imprint that is dedicated to putting books out there that are written by and feature characters of color.
Why is it important, you say, that there be this need to highlight multi-ethnic writers and stories? Because to me the world is colorful and always has been, but many of the books I love haven’t always reflected it. Too much of my own childhood was spent thinking that to be a hero or heroine, I had to look a certain way, and mostly not like me. Yet, when I look at the amazing people in the world I grew up in, they came from all sorts of backgrounds, colors and cultures.
So I had to be a part of this endeavor and I congratulate Tu Books on their first ever New Visions Award. I submitted my science fiction story and (wow!) now I’m a finalist. The other finalists are remarkable writers from excitingly varied backgrounds. I am honored to be in this group with them.
I’m a person of mixed ethnicity. My Chinese mother married an Englishman at a time when that act alone could get you disowned by your family. I grew up in several countries from England to Singapore. As a child I had my hair stroked by strangers (“Interesting color.”), my nose pinched (“Your ‘bridge’ is so high” or “flat” depending on the country) and my eyes commented on (“Ooh! Double lids.”). I got used to being asked, “What are you?” and my answer eventually became a feisty, “Human!”
When I began writing seriously a decade ago, my fictional worlds reflected how I see the real world. My characters naturally look like people I’ve encountered in my life, and they are of all colors. In GENERATION ZERO, my entry to the New Visions Award, everyone happens to be of mixed ethnicity for a horrid, sinister reason — “Mixed breeds are sturdier, like mongrel dogs”. Strangely, someone actually said that to me long ago. Astonishing, isn’t it?
I am so excited to play a small part in bringing attention to something that has been close to my heart for so long. I fell in love with books the day a teacher sat our class under the shade of a giant Raintree and read to us from CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I longed to be one of the Pevensies, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that they, and many subsequent heroines I loved, looked nothing like me. I did my best to ignore descriptions, but I couldn’t help feeling left out. If, as a writer, I can make one child imagine herself the heroine of a story, and know that nothing, especially not the color of her skin, can stop her from achieving her dreams, then I will be satisfied and incredibly humbled.
Well done, Tu Books for your vision and congratulations to all the finalists of the New Visions Award.
Ailynn Knox-Collins is a mother and teacher, as well as a ‘crazy dog lady’ with four great rescues who slobber all over the furniture (well, what else is it for anyway). She is an unashamed Trekkie and is learning to speak Klingon to add to the other 6 languages she already speaks. She loves to read everything and has been inspired to write science fiction so that young people today can experience the same wonder she did growing up. Please visit her at www.taknoxcollins.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @talkc
Valynne E. Maetani, Salt Lake City, UT
Initially, I heard about Tu Books when it was still Tu Publishing, and I was ecstatic about its mission . . . and a little dismayed that I didn’t think my book qualified for submission. At the time, I thought they were only interested in fantasy and sci-fi. While my book had a fantasy fairy-tale element, it would definitely be classified as a mystery.
Imagine how excited I was when I heard about the New Visions Award given to a fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery novel. Unfortunately, it was three weeks before the submission deadline. With so little time and a manuscript in dire need of revisions, I realized I couldn’t make it.
Determined to support their mission, I told myself I would send a manuscript in through their regular submission process at some later date.
But then someone replied to the announcement for the award with the following response: “I was slightly concerned to see that this publisher was seeking submissions for a contest, but only from writers ‘of color’ . . . It appears that the means to the laudable end of ‘true diversity’ in YA/MG lit is more submissions by ‘authors of color.’” The person went on to ask why it mattered if the writer was “white.” S/he suggested they get rid of the term “of color” from all the fine print of their website.
I am the first to say that I have read many wonderful books, with diverse characters, written by authors who are not “of color”—books that were meaningful and shed light on different cultures such as The Good Earth by Pearl Buck or Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury. But to me, underrepresented voices are just as important. This award matters. I am a Japanese-American writer, who grew up in Utah, surrounded by people who looked nothing like me, reading books about people who looked nothing like me. I am an author of color. Our voices matter.
And so I worked hard to get my chapters ready for submission.
I truly appreciate that Tu Books seeks to encourage diversity in children’s literature as well as diversity in the authors who write these books. I am humbled and awed by the talent of the other New Visions Award finalists, and I am proud to have my name listed with theirs.
Valynne E. Maetani received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. She has managed script editing for stories for disadvantaged youth and has edited several screenplays, including My Little War in Juarez, the winner of the 2010 Creative World Award. She can be found at www.valynne.com and on Twitter @valynnemaetani
Stay tuned tomorrow for part II as we hear from our other three finalists!
New Visions Finalists on writing from different cultural backgrounds
New Visions Finalists on their relationship to books as young readers
New Visions Finalists on diversity in genre fiction