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Author M.T. Anderson On What 'The Death Of The Cute' Means For Young Adult Lit

Stuart Ramsom
M.T. Anderson accepts the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This year, he won the ALA's Margaret A. Edwards Award for his work in young adult literature

Vermont-based author M.T. Anderson is the winner of the 2019 American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award for lasting contribution to young adult literature. In his acceptance speech for the award earlier this month, Anderson addressed the role of YA literature in today's society.

More from VPR — Vermont Author M.T. Anderson Wins Lifetime Achievement Award For Young Adult Literature [Jan. 30]

Below are some excerpts from an interview with M.T. Anderson about the recent award acceptance speech. Listen to the broadcast version above, or scroll to the bottom of the post for an extended cut.

"The Death Of The Cute"

In his Margaret A. Edwards Award acceptance speech, Anderson called out a cultural phenomenon he called "the death of the cute," which he traces back to a shift around the early 2000s. 

"Anything that was considered to be sort of cute, sweet, that kind of thing, had to be destroyed," Anderson explained. "Or cuteness had to be tempered somehow."

For more — Read the full text of Anderson's speech here, via School Library Journal

Anderson said he noticed this "death of the cute" impacted the tone of children's literature. Some of this shift, he said, is "legitimate" in that the real world does actually have a lot of darkness — but he said he also pushed back on the view that liking something nice demonstrates naivete or foolishness.

"It happens in my own work, too," Anderson said, "but on the other hand, then I stop myself sometimes and think: 'But wait a second, we also have to be talking to kids about the things that are wonderful about being alive.' The things that are great about sort of being with friends, seeing things that we love; a world that's so vivid and so full of strange and miracualous events and wonderful people you're waiting to meet."

Hope Vs. Cynicism

Anderson spoke about how he works to balance hope and cynicism in his writing.

"We can make meaning by becoming a community; by being with each other, we make meaning. We force ourselves to mean something important to each other. And that is wonderful, that is joyous," Anderson said. "So that's another thing that I want to train kids in a sense to say, 'this is a part of your life that you can love. This is a part of your life that you can celebrate.'

"At the same time, part of that is also taking responsibility — and that's where seeing the images of the things in life that might not be so easy, that's where that becomes important too. Because you have to say, 'Look, for us to be a community, for us to be together, for us to have these very positive elements, we have to look out for each other too." 

Young People's Power

"The age of action is beginning," Anderson said in his award acceptance speech — and in his conversation with VPR, Anderson noted that the way youth are engaged with issues has shifted in the time since he started publishing books.

"I feel like it's a younger generation that's looking around at this world that those of us are older are handing them and they're saying 'Wait a second — what did you do? What did you do to this place?'" Anderson said. "And I really do think that there's tremendous hope in the fact ... that they're going to be picking up the pieces, the messes that we've made."

So can the young audience that Anderson is writing for overcome cynicism and create change? The author said he thinks they do have the energy to do just that.

"I think that the young have a tremendous force for change," he said.

A thin grey line.

We only had time to run a small segment of our interview with M.T. Anderson on air. If you'd like a longer version, including more of his thoughts on immigration, climate and what's unique about Vermont, here's the extended director's cut:


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