Overall, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, has a good history of supporting books that can be or special interest to LGBT youth. James St. James‘ Freak Show was named on their 2008 list of the Best Books for Young Adults and their past graphic novel recommendations include titles like Young Avengers and Top 10: The Forty-Niners. However, the organization sparked a bit of controversy this year when it picked sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card for its Margaret A. Edwards Award this year.
The Margaret A. Edwards Award is given to an author who has a lifetime history of "helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world." Past winners include Ursula K. Le Guin, S.E. Hinton, Anne McCaffrey and Paul Zindel.
This year, the award has gone to science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, who is best known for Ender’s Game, which won multiple awards when it was published (the short story that inspired it is also considered a classic of anti-war sci-fi). However, in recent years, Card has also become known for his political columns where he has expressed some strongly anti-gay positions.
Card’s anti-gay views first came to light in a column opposing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, where Card said that advocates for marriage equality were "guided only by the slogan of immaturity and barbarism: ‘If it feels good, do it!’" Card’s most damning comment came when he advocated for laws criminalizing homosexualty because, essentially, he prefers his homosexuals closeted and fearful:
Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.
Because of his political writings, the decision to give Card a lifetime achievement award has been criticized for going against the award’s stated goals. The Award committee has defended their decision, saying that they were unaware of Card’s views but defended their choice saying that Card’s books had been a positive force for teens and that an author’s personal views aren’t a factor for determining who wins the award.
I can sympathize with that perspective, but Stacy Creel, who edits a magazine for Young Adult librarians, strikes a chord when she notes that "it’s unfortunate that when teens Google his name that these other essays and beliefs will come up alongside his excellent YA books."
That raises an interesting question: can a novel be judged solely on its own merits if the writer is outspoken and his personal views can be found as easily as a fansite? Nowadays, if Ender’s Game strikes a chord with a young reader, they’re likely to go online and seek out other fans to discuss the books. However, since Card’s columns have become so widely discussed, a fan is just as likely to find Card’s anti-gay writings.
I used to enjoy Card’s novels. When I read Ender’s Game, I thought it was an okay novel, but I got hooked at the end where Ender struggles to adjust to peacetime and dedicates the rest of his life to making amends for the destruction he wrought. Card’s anti-gay views were a bit surprising to me (even though I knew he belongs to a church that has spent a lot of money on anti-gay advocacy) since the sequels to Ender’s Game (Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide) argued for taking the time to understand a culture before judging it.
What do you think? Do Card’s political columns and the views he expresses in them undermine whatever value the award committee sees in his books, or should his fiction and non-fiction writing be judged separately?