Orson Scott Card: the author and the work

I’ve kept up with the recent Orson Scott Card controversy in libraryland, and I respect nearly everyone who has taken a strong stance against the decision by the YALSA to award OSC the Margaret A. Edwards award for adolescent literature for 2008.

But.

I’m not sold on the controversy here.

There is no denying that OSC is a homophobe…no, that’s probably not strong enough. “Fear of homosexuality” doesn’t approach his views. OSC is a heterosexist bigot, based on his own words, and does not deserve either our respect or our patience. But the two works that are being honored, Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, are not homophobic. They don’t seem to speak with the same voice as OSC in interviews. They portray strong, smart kids doing incredible things, and should stand above and beyond the idiocies of the author.

The award is given, according to the description online, in order to:

…recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.

The works do just that.

The author can be an idiot…hell, it could probably be argued that most artists of any sort are damaged in some significant way. Insanity, adultery, substance abuse, and yes, crazy beliefs…all crop up in the pantheon of artists. Just because the author is nuts doesn’t mean that the work is nuts.

Would I give OSC an award? No. Would I honor the work? Yes, I would. It’s a fine line, but otherwise I find myself having to question every piece of art by examination of the artist.

10 thoughts on “Orson Scott Card: the author and the work

  1. well… respectfully… let me ask. The committee will make 25 decisions in 25 years. A lot of people will never get selected. Of all the people they could honor, was this guy, with his obvious public baggage, a priority?

    It really took my breath away to see his virulently homophobic website bragging about this award.

  2. As librarians, I think we have a duty to separate our honoring the work from the personality and politics of the author. Much as we provide access to works without prejudice, we are bound to determine the worth of literary works AS literary works, and not as personality-extensions of the authors.

  3. “was this guy, with his obvious public baggage, a priority?”

    I think that’s the point — it’s not about the guy, or his baggage. It’s the book. And the book is a priority, because it’s an amazing piece of literature for children that has stayed popular since its publication.

    This all reminds me of the day that a respected colleague described to me the way that Wallace Stegner disrespected the intellectual property of a family in order to write Angle of Repose. Was I dismayed to know that Stegner’s morals weren’t in line with mine? Yes. Did it make me respect the book less? No. It’s a brilliant novel, even if Stegner’s a jerk. I recommend it to people with the caveat that Stegner’s research ethics were sketchy at best, but it’s a lovely novel.

    I do the same with Card and Ender’s Game. Because, is OSC repugnant to me? Yes. Is Ender’s Game a fantastic book for young people to read? Yes. Does one negate the other? I say no, in both directions.

  4. KGS: I would honestly say that yes…if you asked me to name a top 10 most important adolescent books of the last 30 years, Ender’s Game would be at least in the top 5.

    I am really unhappy that OSC gets to crow about the award. But the books are incredible.

  5. “Just because the author is nuts doesn’t mean that the work is nuts.”

    I agree, but how do you convey that to the general public who may see it as endorsing the author as well? I think one of the best things that has come out of this controversy is the information about OSC’s views and other writings. It’s allowed many to say, “Yes, these are books that deserve the award, even though the author is a ‘heterosexist bigot’ and doesn’t deserve the attention.” Knowledge is power.

  6. Jason,

    I appreciate your distinction between honoring the art and honoring the artist. Ideally, the award should do the former and not the latter. And I agree with you about the value of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow (perhaps even more so.) I can walk right up to the line with you, but can’t bring myself to cross it. Here’s why:

    I think to myself, if OSC were making these about Blacks, Jews, Women or any other group that has been historically discriminated against in our country, but now enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, would our profession see fit to bestow awards upon his work? My honest answer is no, we wouldn’t. I’m willing to bet that if Mel Gibson tomorrow penned the 21st century equivalent of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, hell would freeze over before he received an award from a library association.

    So in an ideal world, I’m with you, let’s honor good art, and the views of the artist be damned. But we don’t live in a compartmentalized world. It’s not an easy call. It’s not a clear line. And I’m not completely comfortable on either side of this issue. But I’m more comfortable with the idea of passing OSC over and giving the Edwards award to someone who is not spouting hateful speech, aimed at demonizing and disenfranchising our fellow human beings.

  7. Pete’s points are good. Remember that the committee wasn’t charged to decide if OSC deserved an award. They were charged to find an award-winner. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.”

  8. “was this guy, with his obvious public baggage, a priority?”I think that's the point — it's not about the guy, or his baggage. It's the book. And the book is a priority, because it's an amazing piece of literature for children that has stayed popular since its publication.This all reminds me of the day that a respected colleague described to me the way that Wallace Stegner disrespected the intellectual property of a family in order to write Angle of Repose. Was I dismayed to know that Stegner's morals weren't in line with mine? Yes. Did it make me respect the book less? No. It's a brilliant novel, even if Stegner's a jerk. I recommend it to people with the caveat that Stegner's research ethics were sketchy at best, but it's a lovely novel. I do the same with Card and Ender's Game. Because, is OSC repugnant to me? Yes. Is Ender's Game a fantastic book for young people to read? Yes. Does one negate the other? I say no, in both directions.

Comments are closed.