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Discussion Starter #1
I know this isn't the first time this has happened. I know that authors have had their award status given and taken based on varying arguments and shifting criteria, but this struck me. A children's author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, having her award-winning book's reputation ripped and then stripped of its status for portraying her own life experience.

I realize that this is a hotbed topic, because the content of Little House on the Prairie is dated, and seen by some people as...well, offensive. The arguments against it are a fair bit controversial as well. If this needs to be struck from the boards, I understand.

I won't ask if what's going on is right, but I will ask this: what precedent do you think this will set for future authors who manage to earn awards similarly? Because this won't just affect Laura; this decision will inevitably set a standard for future authors. Is depicting your life via literature a thing that authors should avoid in the future, less they face the wrath of those who feel their experiences are in some way unworthy of award status?
 

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I had to google to see what the deal was, but apparently they just changed the name of an award that was named after her. I don't see the big deal? Whatever organization that gives out an award has the right to name it after whomever they want or change the name whenever they want to. If someone else wants to foot the bill for an award to be given out, they are free to do the same. It's a decision made by a nonprofit because for whatever reasons they thought it would benefit them and their cause, not a court ruling for crying out loud. Nobody forced them to do it. Times, they change.
 

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An interesting topic. It's useful to consider how our own books might weather changing cultural norms, IMO.

I think some see this change with Ingalls Wilder's books as not worth the attention it's gotten, but based on the coverage I've seen, for others it prompts strong feelings. Let's continue to keep it civil. :)
 

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If you've written books that children have loved to read as much as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books you should not only have a prestigious award named after you but they should be erecting shrines to you in public libraries and bookstores everywhere in gratitude.
 

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JRTomlin said:
They changed the name of an award largely because the books, entertaining as they may be, are not historically accurate, particularly in their portrayal of Native Americans. They did not take anything away from her books or anyone who cares to buy them. The books also make major changes in her 'experiences', by the way. They are still on bookshelves in stores and libraries. They didn't strip awards from authors who had previously won. They changed the name of an award, frankly in the scheme of things, not a big deal.

The American Library Association gives the award and they certainly have ever right to call it whatever they want. Nor did they strip her of the award as she was the first author to receive it. It is recognizes authors who have contributed gems to children's literature and that what it will do whatever it is called.
This.

They changed the name of an award. They didn't even take away the one she won, just decided that her image didn't fit them in modern era. Times change, people change, names change.
 

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JRTomlin said:
Native American children who read it, particularly passages such as "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" might disagree. But I expect many people will continue to read them. Maybe parents might decide to discuss some of the unpleasant factors though.
Which was a line of dialog made by a different character expressing an opinion - which LIW did not share, nor did her father, as is made clear by the context in which it occurs in the book. ALL of the sentiments so expressed in the examples I have seen are in dialog by other characters, not opinions expressed by the author. The actual interactions the family had with indians seem to be reasonably depicted and Laura was obviously much more fascinated by them than scared of them. Her Pa was on good terms with the ones who lived in the area, he very much disagreed with such statements as the one above and told her so, and as anyone who has read the books knows he was by far the biggest influence on her thoughts and character growing up.
 

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Personally, I'm a bit concerned by this trend of judging the work or actions of people who lived in radically different historical times through the lens of the present. For a few reasons - for one, I worry about the slippery slope implications. First we remove Laura Ingalls Wilder from the name of a children's book literature award, when she was one of the pioneers of that genre, because some of the statements or concepts in her books offend our modern sensibilities. But a huge proportion of the classic canon contains such things. Do we remove Mark Twain from our schools because his characters use racial slurs? Or Rudyard Kipling for his views on colonialism and race? These authors are firmly woven into the fabric of world civilization - do we just go back and pluck out the threads that don't match the modern pattern? This sort of revisionism is honestly a little dangerous, I think.

And my second reason is connected to the first. Once we start removing or diminishing authors with views problematic in modern times we risk having the same thing done to us. It's rank arrogance to assume that our views are the endpoint of morality. Fast forward 150 years and I wouldn't be surprised at all if consciousness studies evolve to the point where we recognize the rich inner life of most animals, and the moral consensus is that eating meat is monstrous. That consuming conscious creatures for a fleeting hit of protein is horrific. Will books that glorify modern eating culture be excised from the cultural canon? You might think this is outrageous, but would the idea of boys who had transitioned into girls competing in athletic competitions against other girls seem any stranger to someone born a few centuries ago?

Look, I understand that this is a slippery slope argument, and most mainstream folks aren't advocating for removing classic literature that doesn't sit well with modern sensibilities. But I feel this is a step down that path. And I'd much rather keep these important books and people in the curriculum and discuss their books and the context of their views rather than trying to shove them out of sight.     
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Becca Mills said:
An interesting topic. It's useful to consider how our own books might weather changing cultural norms, IMO.

I think some see this change with Ingalls Wilder's books as not worth the attention it's gotten, but based on the coverage I've seen, for others it prompts strong feelings. Let's continue to keep it civil. :)
I'm glad that you see value in it. I, too, saw value in it. How will readers' changing opinions and views affect the books we create? How will our stories be viewed in 50 years or more? Will they be championed? Seen as cautionary tales? Or will we be reviled and jeered at for our "backwards" way of thinking and experiences?

AlecHutson said:
Personally, I'm a bit concerned by this trend of judging the work or actions of people who lived in radically different historical times through the lens of the present...Look, I understand that this is a slippery slope argument, and most mainstream folks aren't advocating for removing classic literature that doesn't sit well with modern sensibilities. But I feel this is a step down that path. And I'd much rather keep these important books and people in the curriculum and discuss their books and the context of their views rather than trying to shove them out of sight.
I agree with all of this. It wasn't terribly long ago the people burned books because they didn't fit "the criteria of the world" someone wanted to create. The fact is, the past is ugly at times, and written as ugly. Some books contain racist/sexist/etc themes, things that some people wouldn't want to see. But does that mean it's OK to chip away at an author for portraying those themes? I don't think so.

Paranormal Kitty said:
I had to google to see what the deal was, but apparently they just changed the name of an award that was named after her. I don't see the big deal? Whatever organization that gives out an award has the right to name it after whomever they want or change the name whenever they want to. If someone else wants to foot the bill for an award to be given out, they are free to do the same. It's a decision made by a nonprofit because for whatever reasons they thought it would benefit them and their cause, not a court ruling for crying out loud. Nobody forced them to do it. Times, they change.
The big deal is this: she wrote herself into the story. It's largely autobiographical. The themes that made the book as popular and controversial as it is were from her own experience growing up. It may not be how historians see it, but it's how she saw it. And for that, the award that was named after her has now been renamed. They crossed out the name of a self-made, hard-working female author and replaced it in the name of being "sensitive to the change in cultural views."

Personally, I see that as wrong. She earned that award and her right to have it named after her. And while they didn't drag her name through the mud like some of the books' detractors, they ultimately decided that, because of the issues that came with her experiences in a different time, and the modern-day reaction to those issues, her name wasn't worth defending. If it could happen to her, it could happen to any author. I think that is worth worrying about, if you care at all about how your story will fare in the changing climate of the future.

JRTomlin said:
Native American children who read it, particularly passages such as "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" might disagree. But I expect many people will continue to read them. Maybe parents might decide to discuss some of the unpleasant factors though.
As stated before by others, the author didn't share that view. But it wasn't an inaccurate view. History has shown that themes like this ran rampant through older cultures, and still reside to this day. Did Laura deserve to have her name struck off an award she earned because she chose to include the ugly side of what she saw in her life? I think not. Perhaps you think differently, and you're entitled to.
 

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And my second reason is connected to the first. Once we start removing or diminishing authors with views problematic in modern times we risk having the same thing done to us.
Seems fine to me. Not sure why that's such a terrible thing. I like to hope we're progressing as a species and if that leaves me behind, so be it.
 

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Speaker-To-Animals said:
Seems fine to me. Not sure why that's such a terrible thing. I like to hope we're progressing as a species and if that leaves me behind, so be it.
My point was that in our time we see certain people / ideas / books as historically significant. They have a huge impact on our cultures and civilizations - like Laura Ingills Wilder. By pushing her to the side you are in effect re-writing history so that it is more palpable to evolving moral sensibilities, and ignoring the very real contribution she or other people had. I wasn't talking about 'us' personally.
 

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Yeah, I too think there are two separate--but connected--issues here.  One is context.  So a character in a book says "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."  The question here is:  does the MC, or the book's omniscience, agree with that POV?  Bad guys are bad guys for a reason, and villains (or other characters) often say hateful or outrageous things.  Not a surprising thing, or a big deal in its own right.  (Plus, it can provide good-vs-evil lesson, or an opportunity for character growth.)  The second issue, as others have pointed out, is the context of the times.  Even such 'harmless' books as Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins are guilty of having characters say things or express ideas that were common and uncontroversial for their times.  Same is also true for Twain's books, btw.  There are some instances in which books simply need a figurative (if not literal) footnote attached, to explain that while such language/ideas were common at the time the book was written, that language/idea is not considered appropriate by current standards.
 

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Kal241 said:
The big deal is this: she wrote herself into the story. It's largely autobiographical. The themes that made the book as popular and controversial as it is were from her own experience growing up. It may not be how historians see it, but it's how she saw it. And for that, the award that was named after her has now been renamed. They crossed out the name of a self-made, hard-working female author and replaced it in the name of being "sensitive to the change in cultural views."

Personally, I see that as wrong. She earned that award and her right to have it named after her. And while they didn't drag her name through the mud like some of the books' detractors, they ultimately decided that, because of the issues that came with her experiences in a different time, and the modern-day reaction to those issues, her name wasn't worth defending. If it could happen to her, it could happen to any author. I think that is worth worrying about, if you care at all about how your story will fare in the changing climate of the future.
You can see it as wrong all you want, but at the end of the day this is a private organization making a decision they felt was best for their vision. What do you propose be done? The government step in and forbid them from changing it? If someone feels strongly enough about her having an award named after her, then they're free to create one. This is how a free country works. You can't control what other people think, now or let alone 100+ years into the future. Any author today will be lucky if their name is even still remembered.
 

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AlecHutson said:
Personally, I'm a bit concerned by this trend of judging the work or actions of people who lived in radically different historical times through the lens of the present. For a few reasons - for one, I worry about the slippery slope implications. First we remove Laura Ingalls Wilder from the name of a children's book literature award, when she was one of the pioneers of that genre, because some of the statements or concepts in her books offend our modern sensibilities. But a huge proportion of the classic canon contains such things. Do we remove Mark Twain from our schools because his characters use racial slurs? Or Rudyard Kipling for his views on colonialism and race? These authors are firmly woven into the fabric of world civilization - do we just go back and pluck out the threads that don't match the modern pattern? This sort of revisionism is honestly a little dangerous, I think.
That's how I feel about it. Pretending history wasn't what it was isn't good for people today. If you don't know how things were in times before you lived, you misjudge how things are in your own times and don't recognize how much or little change there has been. If more people knew history, we might be less doomed to repeat some of the worst of it.
 

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Writing alternative history, I spend a lot of time crawling around in the heads of characters who lived one or two hundred years ago, and it can be both eye opening and demoralizing. To cope I found an insightful quote from Louis L'Amour.
He said, "A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time."

As an author, this is the view I take about the past. When I tell stories, I want people to understand the past as it was understood by the people who lived in those times, as best as I am able to describe it. It's one of the things that motivates my writing.

 

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Annie B said:
Nobody is pretending anything. Her books aren't changing. This is an award whose board decided that celebrating a work that is to modern audiences out-dated and racist isn't something they want to do anymore. That's it. It's just the award, nothing is being censored or changed in the work itself. It is there for anyone to read.

It isn't like white people's views on indigenous people are being wiped from the historical record, geez. It's that as a society some people are choosing to recognize that there is more to history than just one perspective and that we don't always have to celebrate that single perspective. Which, as private citizens, we're allowed to do. The award can call itself whatever it wants to. And please remember that our historical record is highly flawed and often revised in ways that put it through a lens which isn't accurate at all and which erases many aspects.
Read this nodding furiously, then scrolled left and saw it was you.

Will just say "Ditto."
 

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Annie B said:
Nobody is pretending anything. Her books aren't changing. This is an award whose board decided that celebrating a work that is to modern audiences out-dated and racist isn't something they want to do anymore. That's it. It's just the award, nothing is being censored or changed in the work itself. It is there for anyone to read.

It isn't like white people's views on indigenous people are being wiped from the historical record, geez. It's that as a society some people are choosing to recognize that there is more to history than just one perspective and that we don't always have to celebrate that single perspective. Which, as private citizens, we're allowed to do. The award can call itself whatever it wants to. And please remember that our historical record is highly flawed and often revised in ways that put it through a lens which isn't accurate at all and which erases many aspects.
 

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AlecHutson said:
Personally, I'm a bit concerned by this trend of judging the work or actions of people who lived in radically different historical times through the lens of the present. For a few reasons - for one, I worry about the slippery slope implications. First we remove Laura Ingalls Wilder from the name of a children's book literature award, when she was one of the pioneers of that genre, because some of the statements or
....
Look, I understand that this is a slippery slope argument, and most mainstream folks aren't advocating for removing classic literature that doesn't sit well with modern sensibilities. But I feel this is a step down that path. And I'd much rather keep these important books and people in the curriculum and discuss their books and the context of their views rather than trying to shove them out of sight.
I agree with all of this. And such behaviour, revisioning the past to comply with the (too often too hysterical and absolutist) present is what is giving people engaged in doing this a bad name. It's nothing less than active censorship.

I'll add two points:

Ingalls-Wilder's books are very present all over in print. There will be no final retconning of her stories, just as that will be impossible with Twain, Shakespeare, Kipling or Blyton. Unless someone starts burning books again. Modern authors often don't have these enormous print editions to fall back on. Even with trad published authors you get runs of just a few thousand physical books, and indie authors often only have electronic files. As of now there is no institution which keeps original files truly securely filed for all time (forget national libraries, because obviously they aren't tamper proof either). Revisioning our books will be child's play.

I recently wanted to read an unedited (in this instance indeed negatively revised) version of a short story by an author friend. She had suffered a bad hard drive failure, so she had lost all files. And now only the edited (in her case edited to quite undeserving sensitivities) version is left. This will be how the future will remember her work. Not the way she created it and now adhering to morals and fashions not worthy.

The second thought I have is that future generations will not even have the chance of learning from the past. The effect is already well-known regarding history taught only from the perspective of those who won the wars. How much worse with the distortion become, if we strike any adversary opinion from books just so that children never have to engage a brain cell?

You won't stop such things as racism or sexism by obliterating every hint of it. It's truly not as if our current time has become so enlightened that we can afford not to show children and youths what certain behaviour caused and how people formerly thought. How should they ever conclusively compare their own behaviour towards migrants with how the people of Twain's era thought of black people? People learn by example, bad as well as good examples. The civilised way would be to print footnotes, and not to rewrite books.
 

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Or will we be reviled and jeered at for our "backwards" way of thinking and experiences?
Going by the current situation not only in the US, but around the world, I'm going to give that an emphatic YES. Yes, we will be judged by our descendants about what we thought and what we did, or didn't do. Frankly, Wilder, Twain and others who are derided for books written in the past aren't the first, and they certainly won't be the last.

Don't forget, either, that the victors write history. Try imagine how the world would be if the opposite side ended up winning. I doubt it would be better, but it certainly will be different.
 

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Annie B said:
Nobody is pretending anything. Her books aren't changing. This is an award whose board decided that celebrating a work that is to modern audiences out-dated and racist isn't something they want to do anymore. That's it. It's just the award, nothing is being censored or changed in the work itself. It is there for anyone to read.

It isn't like white people's views on indigenous people are being wiped from the historical record, geez. It's that as a society some people are choosing to recognize that there is more to history than just one perspective and that we don't always have to celebrate that single perspective. Which, as private citizens, we're allowed to do. The award can call itself whatever it wants to. And please remember that our historical record is highly flawed and often revised in ways that put it through a lens which isn't accurate at all and which erases many aspects.
I'd like this framed.
 

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Annie B said:
Nobody is pretending anything. Her books aren't changing. This is an award whose board decided that celebrating a work that is to modern audiences out-dated and racist isn't something they want to do anymore. That's it. It's just the award, nothing is being censored or changed in the work itself. It is there for anyone to read.

It isn't like white people's views on indigenous people are being wiped from the historical record, geez. It's that as a society some people are choosing to recognize that there is more to history than just one perspective and that we don't always have to celebrate that single perspective. Which, as private citizens, we're allowed to do. The award can call itself whatever it wants to. And please remember that our historical record is highly flawed and often revised in ways that put it through a lens which isn't accurate at all and which erases many aspects.
GeneDoucette said:
I'd like this framed.
As an historian, I say framed in gilt.
 
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