Even though the young adult genre is largely dominated by female authors, there's a history of men winning a disproportionate number of literary prizes. Which is probably why so many people were upset when the list of Locus Awards finalists included only male authors in the young adult category. Because even though the finalists are chosen by voters — meaning no one was out to deliberately snub women in the category — it's still a pretty clear indication that even in YA, there's still work to do when it comes to treating work by women fairly.
The Locus Awards are given annually to works in the science fiction and fantasy genre, and among other categories, gives out an award for young adult books that fit the bill. Yet despite the fact that young adult novels are overwhelmingly written by women — and the fact that sci-fi and fantasy are becoming more inclusive themselves in recent years — the five works nominated for the Locus Awards Young Adult prize were all written by men. One author, Joe Abercrombie, even got two nominations. And while all four authors are undoubtedly deserving of praise and awards nominations, when women don't receive a single nomination in a genre in which women are the vast majority of authors, something has gone off track.
Of course women missing out when it comes to young adult awards is not new. In 2013, the VIDA count looked at nominations and prizes given by the ten most prestigious awards for children's and young adult literature, they found that men are overrepresented in most. In fact, for a few awards, men actually make up the majority of total nominees and recipients over the past few years, despite female author being the overwhelming majority in the industry.
"[It's] true that being female is not nearly the barrier to initial publication for us that it often is in the adult literary landscape, but ... being male still seems to carry some particular advantages when it comes to recognition, prestige, and awards for literary merit," VIDA explains. "For a relatively small percentage of our authors, men are very well represented among our award winners and list-mentions."
And so it's probably not surprising that people were upset about the fact that women weren't represented at all in the Locus Awards' young adult category.
Locus, meanwhile, was quick to assure everyone that they weren't responsible for the final list of nominees. Though the magazine compiles a recommended list for people to vote on, ultimately it's Locus readers who vote for the finalists.
And while we can question whether or not 50/50 representation is a good or bad thing when that means the number of men is still not proportional to the genre as a whole, the point is that they obviously weren't trying to shut women out of the category by any means.
And many chimed in to say that Locus is usually a lot better in representing YA than this finalist list would suggests
But that doesn't really change the fact that this is a problem. The fact that readers went so overwhelmingly for male authors is also in and of itself an issue, and reflects wider trends in the genre, where male authors often get more attention and critical respect than their female counterparts.
One of the best responses, though, might come from Daniel José Older, whose young adult novel Shadowshaper was nominated for a Locus Award. Older decided to respond to the issue by making a video recommending many of the amazing female writers in science fiction and fantasy. So there's your new reading list.
The whole thing isn't necessarily anyone's fault, but that doesn't mean it's not still a big problem. For authors in any genre, being nominated for awards is good for your career. It sometimes comes with prize money if you win, but even more significantly, it helps authors find more readers. And so the fact that women at a disadvantage when it comes to award nominations means this isn't just an issue of basic fairness, but of a sort of workplace gender inequality.
And that's true whether finalists are chosen by a panel of judges or a reader poll.
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