Sunday, April 22, 2012

Andrew Karre: From Controversy to Craft

Andrew Karre, looking slightly
blurrier than in real life
Andrew Karre is the editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab and Darby Creek, divisions of the Lerner Publishing Group.

He publishes everything from picture books to YA, but focused his conference talk on YA lit, which is a cultural force these days. In a way, he wants to keep that a secret, to keep the excellent collegiality of our industry free of adult authors who will want in.

He opened by talking about the two sure-fire ways of getting attention: launching a new Apple product or bashing YA literature.

"It feels silly when there are so many remarkable things happening in this community, and the variety and power and meaning of the art is substantial," he says. (For more on this and why actually like Apple, read his Hunger Mountain essay.)

Where he started at Flux, they had a tagline: "Young adult is a state of mind and not a reading level." He believes YA is a genre about teens and the teen experience, not reading level. It's about teens, not necessarily for them (because that's more something people who run malls think about).

"Like many of you, I have not recovered from my adolescence," he says. "It you have, you did something wrong. Or not enough wrong."

In other times, adolescents were full-bodied adults. Until the 20th century, teens were as educated as a person would generally get. Now, they're in the waiting room for adulthood. "What a gift for YA writers that is," Andrew says.

So what do you do with outrage and controversy if you're an artist? "If you set out to write a book to save a life, you will write a bad book."

In a way, all the controversy and disapproval of YA work is like adult condescension toward teens. It's proof that it matters. "This must be a bit what teenagers in England felt like around the birth of rock 'n' roll. Disapproved, misunderstood, marginalized. Interesting things came out of that. At the end of the day disapproval is a powerful motivator of any work."

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