Ssince the publication of Nancy Garden's groundbreaking novel Annie on My Mind, the story of two teen girls in love, she has since written more than 30 books for young readers, many of which feature gay characters. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish her newest book, Hear Us Out!: Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present, along with an anniversary reissue of Annie.
The collection works through the decades, mixing short stories with essays about the gay rights movement. Why is it necessary for young readers to learn gay history? "It's important for people to know that this is a civil rights movement, and it has a long history," Garden says. "It has been quite a struggle and it's going to continue."
Can you start by talking about where the idea for Hear Us Out! came from?
I stopped writing short stories because I was writing novels, and I really liked that better. Then Marion Dane Bauer asked me if I would submit something for Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence, which I did. That made me think, "Maybe I do like writing stories."
After writing for other anthologies, I finally decided to write a bunch of stories and see if I could put them together in a book. But in the process of doing that I said to myself, "Now wait a minute. You've looked at some story anthologies and usually there is something that ties them together—and maybe just being stories about gay kids isn't really enough." I then got the idea of writing essays about the gay rights movement.
How did you choose what to include?
I wrote several new stories for Hear Us Out! Some previously published stories seemed to fit, as did a couple of old stories I hadn't published. I certainly tried to reflect what was going on in society in each decade. In the '80s section, there's an AIDS story, and in the '90s, there's a gay-straight alliance story.
What do you hope readers get from this book?
If the reader is a gay kid, I hope the gay kid will see that although there are still problems now, there have been problems in the past and we have overcome them. And if it's a straight kid, I hope the straight kid will get some insight into what it's like to be a gay kid, and what it's like to be a gay person. And we're not monsters. Most straight kids know that now. Kids somehow know more than the grown-ups do.
Speaking of readers, you must get a lot of letters. Do you think authors who tackle social issues have a special responsibility to their audience?
I think an author who tackles social issues has a tremendous responsibility, and it's sometimes scary. I've gotten some eloquent, beautiful letters, some heartbreaking letters, letters from kids with some pretty bad problems, and letters from kids who are terrifically confident and sure of themselves and their place in the world—and that there is a place in the world for them. I always write back.
I've had correspondences with kids that have gone on for years. Some of them, I can look back on when they were 14 or so and wrote me and were really having some serious problems. Now that they're 24, they are much better—and that's wonderful. When I know that somebody's having problems I do try to skim their letters right away to make sure that nothing devastating is happening, because a couple of times I have missed some crisis and I felt really awful about that.
Annie was involved in a famous First Amendment case. Do you expect Hear Us Out! to be challenged?
It might be, I don't know. Any gay book for kids can be challenged, but there are many more of them that are published than are challenged. I don't really worry about that. If it happen it happens.
There certainly are more gay books published now. Do you see the genre continuing to grow?
I see it continuing to grow, absolutely. That means books for both younger and older teens. Also, I see no reason why we can't have verse novels, graphic novels, all the developments that are happening in YA anyway. Our books are beginning to have more of a sense of community in them. That's important. In a lot of our early books, kids were in isolation; they didn't know anybody else who was gay. Now with gay-straight alliances and other things, kids have contact with other gay kids. Plus, gay people are all over television and the movies—it's clear that there are a good many of us—and gay kids now can encounter gay adults much more openly. It's good to reflect that.
We do need to include bisexual people and transgender people—there is a shortage of books about both of those. And there is shortage of books about gay and lesbians of color. But the most important thing in any book is to tell a good story, and that's the most important thing in our books too.