Although books like And Tango Makes Three and The Perks of Being a Wallflower have been regulars on the American Library Association’s annual lists of most challenged titles, LGBT publishing for children and teens has made considerable strides in recent years. Queer characters are increasingly common and visible, in both starring and supporting roles, and in genres where they aren’t always often seen (think Malinda Lo’s SF novel, Adaptation; Perry Moore’s superhero YA, Hero; and Scott Tracey’s paranormal Witch Eyes). Just days before the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, thereby expanding federal rights to married same-sex partners, four gay authors with new YA books hit the road on a mini-tour of the Northeast.
The Openly YA tour was the brainchild of author/editor David Levithan, who came up with the idea after realizing that the 10th-anniversary edition of his novel Boy Meets Boy, Aaron Hartzler’s memoir Rapture Practice (Little, Brown), Alex London’s dystopian novel Proxy (Philomel), and Bill Konigsberg’s YA novel Openly Straight (Scholastic/Levine) were all publishing within a few months of each other, along with Levithan’s forthcoming Two Boys Kissing (Knopf).
“It seemed natural for us to take our show on the road,” said Levithan. “I’d known all three of the other authors before, but they didn’t really know each other well – I got to be the literary gay matchmaker.” The name of the tour riffs on the title of Konigsberg’s novel (which itself plays on the term “openly gay”), and Hartzler created the logo. “It always helps to have an author who does graphic design on board,” Levithan said.
Events got underway on June 19 with a reading, discussion, and signing at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan, before continuing on to Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.; Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia; Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, N.J. (where Ask the Passengers author A.S. King joined the tour for a one-stop appearance); and back to Manhattan to close the tour at Books of Wonder on Saturday, June 22. The authors will reunite in November for an appearance at YALLfest in Charleston, as well as at next year’s Texas Library Association conference.
Cristin Stickles, children's and YA buyer at McNally Jackson, said she was "thrilled with the turnout and reception" the event received, with more than 90 in attendance; she hopes to expand on the idea for next year, "possibly extending it into a week's worth of programming during Pride month." Books of Wonder owner Peter Glassman said he had a full house at his store for the final event of the tour, with attendees sitting on the floor and standing in the back. “My favorite moments happened whenever one of the guys would start to give an answer or tell a story that they had apparently told many times before on their tour,” said Glassman. “The other three would chime in, upstaging the person speaking, with each of the other three doing part of the speaker’s story as though they were him! It was truly hilarious. And the audience loved it!”
Levithan planned the tour to coincide with LGBT Pride Month and to lead up to New York City’s own Pride festivities. Although the tour’s timing in relation to the Supreme Court’s (at that time) imminent ruling was accidental, Levithan said it was also “very much on our minds. I think all four of us feel we’re living in such a changed world from when we were teens – or even, for me, from when Boy Meets Boy first appeared. The difference for me between Boy Meets Boy and Two Boys Kissing is very in step with the difference between 2003 and 2013 – and it was the same for Aaron, Alex, and Bill. There’s no way they would have written Rapture Practice, Proxy, or Openly Straight in the same way (or at all) 10 years ago. We realize how much we’re a part of the moment we’re in.”
Read on for a selection of photos from the tour.