Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Children's Literature Roundtable Discussion Follow-Up Blog


October 4th, 2017. A clear, sunny sky overlooked SDSU and the Storm Hall building where the Children’s Literature Roundtable discussion was about to take place. Available seats dwindled to standing room, and a few souls even braved sitting on the floor to see the discussion on the current state of Children’s Literature as presented by four eminent professionals of the field (in order of their presentations): Professors Mary Galbraith, Phillip Serrato, Angel D. Matos, and Joseph T. Thomas Jr.
            Professor Galbraith began the roundtable discussion. Teaching at SDSU since 1996, she focuses her research on childhood studies: an interdisciplinary field that “brings together material from literature, psychology, history, anthropology, and neurobiology.” Her presentation began with example sentences to show the importance of focusing on grammar in Children’s Literature and ended with pages of William Steig’s Agony in the Kindergarten to specifically show how “literature shows what cannot be said,” emphasizing the difference between an adult’s language versus a child’s reaction.
            Next to follow was Professor Serrato, whose research interests tend to revolve around identity, sex, and gender in Children’s Literature. His current research project focuses on children’s gothic literature and media, titled Queer Possibilities: Pleasure, Power, and Identity in Children’s Gothic Literature and Media. The book will focus on how “queerness functions in multifarious forms in children’s gothic literature” with the intent of trying to “unhook queerness from sexuality by conceptualizing and deploying it more broadly in terms of strangeness, non-normativity, unconventionality, and illegibility”. The ultimate goal of the project is to “suggest queerness in and the queerness of Children’s Gothic speaks to the challenges of being and creating and being created in the twenty-first century.”
            Professor Matos was introduced after Professor Serrato and specializes in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, LGBTQ+ Fiction and Media, Film and Television, Space and Place. He begins his presentation by discussing the history of LGBTQ literature as texts that one wouldn’t read to “expect positive outcomes” as “they generally end with death, despair, and disappointment”. His book project, therefore, tentatively titled Feeling Infinite: Queer Affect History and World Making in LGBTQ Young Adult Literature, “explores the tension between a history of negative emotion, of negative affect, and what happens when you have more positive emotions and more positive frameworks merging within this narrative”. He continues that one of the interesting points of tension that rises from this is due to “Young Adult Literature being considered too hopeful--too optimistic--to the point where it overshadows or conceals potential issues that exist today in LGBTQ communities” and wants to find out “whether young adult literature is truly deceiving its readership.”
            Last but not least, Director of the Children’s Literature Program at SDSU, Professor Thomas’s research revolves around “the avant-garde, poetry, children’s poetry” and is interested in “how something is determined to be aesthetically beautiful when it comes to Children’s Literature.” He opens his presentation addressing the neglecting of aesthetics in Children’s Literature and how that neglect stems from the “contemporary understanding of the discipline of Children’s Literature itself.” He continues by saying that even when Children’s Literature became a purely literary study, it was “shaped in a theoretical milieu suspicious of objective claims of aesthetic value--suspicious, even, of the unproblematic category of literature itself” and that “while the discipline does engage with aesthetic debate, these debates are rarely put in terms of aesthetics.” This lead to the discussion of his article ‘Apologia,’ that he wrote in conjunction with fellow scholar Michael Joseph about the qualities required for a reader to “experience the ontological weight of art,” and the dialogue between Jerry Griswold and Kenneth Kidd that discussed the growing field of Children’s Literature and its progressive focus on Cultural Studies as a tension among the discipline.
            With that, the lightning talks ended to applause, and the floor was open to questions. Linda Salem, a librarian at the SDSU library and curator of the Edward Gorey Collection, asked Professor Galbraith to clarify her point about literature that refrains from doing things. Professor Galbraith then discussed the idea of “aesthetics that are grounded in Children’s Literature, beginning with Children’s Literature.” This sparked a debate amongst the professors about the nature of audience and Children’s Literature, especially the focus of those who study Children’s Literature, such as Professor Serrato being in interested in it as “an art, a medium for critique or aesthetic exploration.” The conversation emphasized the fact that there needs to be multiple perspectives taken into account when considering the audience of Children’s Literature, and that, if anything, the discipline is still full of productive tensions, to borrow Professor Thomas’s words.
A considerable amount of the questions revolved around Fan-Fiction, another area Dr. Matos researches, and it soon dominated the conversation. The discussion ranged from the tensions of fan-fic audience and fan-fic authorship, the capitalistic impulses of Fan-Fiction as a genre, to the eventual aesthetic of material texts that is lost in Fan-Fiction, which in turn transitioned into a conversation about book packaging and how it plays into the book-buying market. Interestingly enough, it once again led back into a conversation about audience.
From aesthetics to online communities, the roundtable talk emphasized the liveliness and wide-reaching presence of the Children’s Literature field. The four scholars presenting exemplified how much the field is growing and how much it has to offer those interested in the subject matter—and maybe sparked a moment of thoughtfulness in those that didn’t think they would be! We all left the talk continuing the discussions as we walked back out into the San Diego sun with newfound knowledge and appreciation for an interesting and diverse field of study.

Many thanks to each of the professors for taking the time to speak to both SDSU students and professors alike!

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