By Sam Stachurski
A seminar that took place at the Fetzer Center on Friday, Nov. 4 called, “On the Edge: Reading, Teens, Transformations,” discussed what draws teens to “Twilight,” “Harry Potter” and dark literature. A few authors were invited to help with the discussion.
The Kalamazoo Public Library presented “On the Edge” as its 34th annual Youth Literature Seminar. This year’s focus was on dark literature: specifically, what attracts teens to books that can be horrifying and, in some cases, unsettling. Holly Black, author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Tithe,” and many other novels was one of the authors at the seminar.
“I think that teenagers are not so different from other readers,” said Black. “In part, we are drawn to darkness in books because we get to flirt with danger while remaining totally safe. For a little while, we can live inside the skin of a detective wrestling with his morality, a monster thirsting for blood, or a killer seeking redemption.”
Black believes people are also drawn to reading about darkness because they have experienced it in our own lives and need to see themselves and their experiences represented in books.
“Teenagers know that the world has darkness in it and whether they have experienced it personally or are reading about it, I think that dark books, just like light ones, have an important place and an important function on our bookshelves,” said Black.
The discussion led by Black covered the edgy subject matter of popular young adult novels and sexism, misogyny, and strong female characters in teen literature.
“I think that for the most part, writers are people who have a lot of strange interests which might later turn into inspiration,” Black added.
“I might want to know more about con artistry or faerie folklore or competitive eating or living in abandoned spaces underneath cities without any real awareness of how I might use that in a story,” said Black.
“Later, though, I might find that research useful. Books aren’t really an idea, they are a whole bunch of ideas. Ideas about characters and setting and story, all mixed up together. For my most recent series, ‘The Curse Workers,’ I started out wanting to both tell the story of a kid who’d been raised by drifters and to retell an old French fairy tale, ‘The White Cat.’ Those might not seem like they would go together, but that’s what I started with. What I wound up with was a story about a world where magic is illegal and controlled by the mob.”
Literary agent Barry Goldblatt, Associate Director of IT & Production at Ann Arbor District Library Eli Neiburger and librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan were also guest speakers at the event. Rutan and Dobrez talked about popular recent novels as well as upcoming ones. Goldblatt and Nieburger, on the other hand, discussed the change in content that teens read nowadays and whether or not this genre will continue to be popular in the future.
Marti Fritz of the Kalamazoo Public Library, the teen librarian, said Stewart Fritz coordinated the seminar.