Speaker Series

Zoom information will be posted here the day of the event.

Queer Young Adult Novels that Sadden and Hurt: Adam Silvera’s Oeuvre and the Politics of Unhappiness

Angel Matos | Bowdoin College

Thursday, January 28, 2021 | 3:00-4:00 PM CST

When we look at texts with queer themes and characters published throughout the twentieth century and beyond, words such as “hope,” “optimism,” and “happiness” are generally not the first to come to mind. In many ways, these texts can be approached as an archive of negative affect and emotion—a notion that is relatively unsurprising due to the oppression, violence, and discrimination that queer people and communities have experienced in the past and present. The fact that cultural productions focused on nonnormative sexualities and gender identities became an archive marked by pessimism and despair has significant effects in terms of how we examine queer texts crafted and circulated today. These effects are especially palpable when it comes to queer representation in contemporary young adult literature, which frames young queer life and experience in ways that are commonly approached as “hopeful,” “positive,” and “optimistic.” Young adult texts therefore serve as a case study to examine the emotional and narrative transformation of queer literature in light of changes in the sociocultural circumstances of queerness (especially in a U.S. context), and the broader implications that arise when queer literature centers on notions such as happiness, joy, and hope. In other words, queer young adult literature presents us with the opportunity to examine an instance in which a field characterized and cultivated by negative emotions and attachments has transformed into one meant to instill a sense of optimism, comfort, and resilience for younger audiences. Through an examination of the notoriously “sad” and “devastating” works of Adam Silvera—including his novels More Happy Than Not, History is All You Left Me, and They Both Die At the End—this talk will explore the possibilities, tensions, and issues that emerge when contemporary queer young adult novels center negative emotions and galvanize the legacy of hurt and oppression that was foundational in the development of the queer imagination. Even more so, a close examination of Silvera’s works will demonstrate the negotiations and compromises that queer young adult literature must make in merging queer and young adult representations, and the possibilities that this merger suggests for redefining what we mean by happiness and optimism in the first place.  

I readed it!” (Marissa, four years): What the research and the children themselves tell us about the experience of reading

Lynne (E.F). McKechnie | University of Western Ontario

Thursday, February 18, 2021 | 12:00 – 1:00 pm CST


This talk draws on three studies conducted to explore how children develop as readers and how public libraries enable that development: an investigation of what happens at baby storytimes with a special focus on the babies themselves; an observation study of preschool girls during and immediately after one of their regular trips to a public library with their mothers; and, a study of boys and reading through interviews with the children crafted around an examination of their personal collections of reading materials. One of the findings brought me great joy: here was good empirical evidence to support the notion that public libraries do indeed help children grow as readers. 

But all is not well. Research indicates that some interventions that libraries have introduced and continue, such as reading aloud with children, have been quite effective. But others, I argue, interfere with the work of supporting children in their reading. Kelly Gallagher (2009) refers to this as Read-i-cide, “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” (and, by extension, libraries). This talk examines three practices common in public libraries which get in the way of children and their reading: an overemphasis on particular skills, the promotion of dialogic reading, and the implementation of leveled reading.

Most stories for children have a happy ending. And this story could too. We will close by looking at simple, research-grounded strategies for addressing Read-i-cide and healing the harm associated with it.

Lynne McKechnie is a Professor Emerita in the Library & Information Science Program at the University of Western Ontario where she teaches in materials and public library services for children. Professor McKechnie practiced as a children’s librarian for almost twenty years before becoming and academic. She is the co-author of Reading Matters: What the Research says About Reading, Libraries and Community (2006) and its sequel Reading Still Matters (2018).

Tropes and Tribulations: Exploring Computational Text Analysis with the Data-Sitters Club

Lee Skallerup Bessette | Georgetown University; Katia Bowers | University of British Columbia; Maria Cecire | Bard College; Quinn Dombrowski | Stanford University; Anouk Lang | University of Edinburgh; Roopika Risam | Salem State University

March 11, 2021 | 3:00 PM CST

Within the broad, interdisciplinary field of digital humanities, scholars have been using computational methods to answer new questions — and refine answers to old questions — for decades. While these methods have seen prominent uptake in English Literature and History departments in the United States, their impact has been more limited in other fields, including Children’s Literature and Literatures other than English. The Data-Sitters Club is a team of scholars whose own work spans a wide range of topics, from Anglo-American children’s literature, to postcolonial studies, to comparative and non-English literatures, to digital humanities infrastructure. Brought together by their shared passion for Ann M. Martin’s series “The Baby-Sitters Club” (1986-2000, and recently revitalized by a graphic novel series and Netflix show), and supported by the Stanford Literary Lab, the “data-sitters” have applied many different text analysis methods — including TEI, text reuse algorithms, and natural-language processing for multiple languages — to the Baby-Sitters Club corpus, and written up the process in a conversational, accessible way on their website, in order to support scholars who are new to these methods. In this talk, the data-sitters will reflect on the value of public-oriented feminist collaboration: what’s worked, what’s failed, what kinds of questions they’ve come closer to answering. They will also share advice for other scholars interested in undertaking collaborative DH work.