GENRE BIAS IN NEWBERY AWARDS?
The Newbery Award was first created in 1921 by Frederic Melcher to celebrate children’s literature and it remains one of the most coveted awards in literature. However, in recent years, the science fiction and fantasy genres have not been well represented on the recipients list of winners or nominees. In one article, Elisabeth Kushner discusses, “speculative fiction” as being “notorious[ly] slight[ed] fiction in favor of realism, especially earnest historical realism”. Is it possible that the prestigious Newbery Medal plays favorites and has some bias against more abstract genres?
Discussion about the reasoning behind the winners or nominees is nothing new. As Maughan explains, people have questioned the winners for many reasons. However, she noted that, “That’s what Melcher wanted—that kind of discussion and exchange. People care about the awards. Even the harshest critics care very much, and Melcher wanted people to care about excellent books.” It seemed that Melcher was not scared of a backlash from critics; his focus was to bring new, different books to the public’s attentions for them to make their own opinions about and discuss. Perhaps, although science fiction and fantasy are popular, they do not meet the standards of challenging readers or creating discussions as Melcher designed the award to do. Or, maybe because of their popularity, the judges choose books in less-popular genres so as to give attention to notable books that are otherwise ignored by the general population (like historical fiction).
Whether these genres can meet the standards of challenging readers is debatable. Literary fiction or realism seems to dominate the literary world while speculative fiction is seemingly discounted because of its outward-looking perspective, which is often beyond the realms of reality. The creativity aspect of each genre, like in speculative fiction, and its popularity, is often the most notable element. Although Melcher may not have seen creativity as a standard to winning a Newbery Award, the lack of creativity in favor of realism does not define what makes a piece of literature excellent. Nevertheless, the negative stigma against these two particular genres is a topic that needs to be addressed.
Kushner, E. (2012, Jan. 24). The Newbery Medal and Speculative Fiction. Retrieved from http://www.tor.com/2012/01/24/the-newbery-medal/
Maughan, S. (2011, Dec. 02). And the Winner Is… Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/49729-and-the-winner-is.html