My name is Olivia James and I am a senior majoring in Creative Writing and Literature with a minor in African, African American Diaspora studies.
This summer—against the backdrop of racial protest, violence, and division—I worked with professor Beverly Lyon Clark to understand how the young adult (YA) genre can amplify and grant exposure to Black voices and the Black, American experience.
The primary way we went about exploring how YA offers an outlet for diverse voices was by collaborating to write a paper discussing the visibility of Black voices with a particular focus on Kekla Magoon’s 2014 novel How It Went Down. Examining the significance of multivocal narration in involving the reader, creating and assessing character objectivity, and developing community, we crafted a paper discussing how polyphonic novels in particular offer an outlet for minority experiences and characters.
Throughout the summer we (remotely) worked to write, share, and revise until we had a single, cohesive paper of about twenty-four pages. After spending more time editing and rewriting, we submitted the paper to an academic journal in the hopes that soon—as academic publishing usually takes several years—our piece will be published and shared.
Additionally, in light of the racial conflicts that spiked over the summer, we decided to embark on writing an editorial about the ways YA literature can expose audiences to Black realities in America and serve as a vehicle for classroom discussions on diversity, experience, and conflict. For me, this portion of the project was particularly important following the protests for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders which gave greater visibility to the continuing plight of Black Americans in the modern day.
The article was a way to examine the relevance and importance of our work and share our findings and beliefs on a larger scale than that offered by academic writing. After completing our article, we submitted it to several papers in the hopes of being published and were chosen by the Providence Journal. The editorial, titled “Young-adult novels offer a window on the Black experience in America,” was printed in the physical Providence Journal in addition to being published on their website and later being reposted on several other news sites. This editorial was one of the most exciting parts of my summer project and was, in my opinion, the culmination of our efforts which helped demonstrate the value of our work and the impact of the written word.
My summer project with professor Clark helped me to better understand the role of literature in the modern world with specific regard to how YA offers a way for POC to share their experiences with the world and, hopefully, break some of America’s racial boundaries. Additionally, this project has taught me a lot about the process of academic writing and two different facets of the publishing industry—scholarly and journalistic—which I would not have had the opportunity to see first-hand without this project.