Dead White Men Rise Again

In this weekend’s New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates, when asked about her favorite young adult novels, described a “radically extended sense of what ‘young adult’ literature can be.” She then went on to list  “Huckleberry Finn,” (published in 1884) “The Call of the Wild,”(1903) “The Member of the Wedding,” (1946) “To Kill a Mockingbird, “(1960) “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951), and “Lord of the Flies.” (1963)

All wonderful books. But all written before the existence of the personal computer, the video game, the ATM, or Ritalin.

Before the widespread use of the birth control pill.

Before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan.

Before the voting age was lowered to 18.

Before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Before AIDS, Facebook, or the Stonewall riots.

Surely it’s not too radical to suggest that Ms. Oates read a few books written in the past 50 years.

For one of this country’s leading writers and intellectuals, it was a shockingly obvious and lazy choice of books. And for someone of her stature, it was a missed opportunity to be generous to her fellow (contemporary) young adult writers.

It’s been a while since Joyce Carol Oates was a young adult. Cherry Ames was still a student nurse and Nancy Drew was driving her Roadster. But surely, since then she’s heard of Markus Zusak, Carolyn Coman, and John Green.

Then again, maybe not. After all, she’s the one who said that young  adult fiction “is just stripped-down adult fiction with more dialogue and less description.”