In recent decades, the young adult (YA) market, which targets 12- to 18-year-old readers, has become a multi-million dollar enterprise, said panelists at a creative writing colloquium on YA literature, held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
The Nov. 29 event, which drew dozens of undergraduate and graduate writing students, featured several prominent names from the YA field:
- Sangeeta Mehta, book project consultant and former acquiring editor at Simon Pulse, the teen paperback division of Simon & Schuster, and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers;
- Ted Malawer, also known by his pennames Ted Michael and Theo Laurence, author of several YA books, including The Diamonds (Delacorte Press, 2009) and Crash Test Love (Delacorte Press, 2010); and
- Sharon Dennis Wyeth, associate professor of children’s literature at Hollins University and adjunct professor in Fordham’s creative program, and author of several YA books, including My America: Freedom’s Wings: Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary (Scholastic, Inc., 2002), and A Piece of Heaven (Turtleback Books, 2002).
Although youth-oriented books have existed for centuries, the YA category has only been formally recognized since the mid-20th century, Mehta said. J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye marked an important transition into this burgeoning category, followed by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1966) and Paul Zindel’s The Pigman (1968).
These coming-of-age books were written for and about adolescents, dealing with taboo topics such as drinking, drugs, gangs, and suicide.
In 1997, YA literature took another turn with the publication of the first Harry Potter novel, Mehta said. Stories of the supernatural caught on quickly for young readers, sparking legions of books dealing with vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, and other magical creatures.
Dystopian books, such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993) and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008), also became popular among adolescents.
“For the first time, these books weren’t just selling as well as adult books—they were selling more,” Mehta said.
YA authors Malawer and Wyeth agreed that writing for young adults requires a particular set of literary skills and strategies.
“They are voracious readers. They know what they like, they know what they hate, and they’ll blog about it,” said Malawer, whose latest novel Mystic City takes a futuristic twist on Romeo and Juliet. “This is an industry where people get really excited to read.”
Because of the ages of the YA audience, Wyeth said, it is important to retain certain elements in the literature, such as writing in a tone that appeals to adolescents and including a villain. In addition, YA books must be authentic.
“You can’t fool a young audience,” she said.
“I would say there also must be hope,” she added. “There are books out there that deal with very heavy topics… These must be something that provide growth.”
The colloquium was sponsored by the English department’s creative writing program.
— Joanna Klimaski