A.S. King & Cindy Minnich: A Conversation About Glory O’Brien
CINDY: I’m more curious in what you want to talk about. What are you wishing people were asking you?
AMY: For this book, I’m getting a lot of questions about women’s rights and the word feminism. It’s such a muddied word. I guess over the years I wish people would ask more about my decade teaching adult literacy and how that affects my writing and world view. You have no idea how much that experience affects my world view. It’s huge.
CINDY: I’m really intrigued about the feminism questions. I’ve wondered how the word somehow became synonymous with being anti-male in a very angry sort of way.
AMY: The word causes such controversy when its definition is really no different than the definition of civil rights. I’ve never doubted my equality, so it’s hard for me to define feminism to people who have misunderstood or redefined it. I don’t want to defend what feminism isn’t, you know? It’s a very simple definition. It’s in the dictionary. Advocacy of the political, social and economic equality of men and women. Did you know that a study showed this year that in our home county women are still paid 59 cents on a man’s dollar, Cindy? That was the national average in the 1970’s. And while some people think women have made it because we can vote and can have a say in (most of) our life decisions under law, I find that the pay gap is a really important missing piece of the puzzle. That’s what the future in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is about.
CINDY: The future you imagined in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is terrifying and so freaking possible.
AMY: It’s sort of a parody of what could happen. I had no idea that in the three years between when I wrote it and the year it was published, that parody would become more real. Weird right?
CINDY: I noticed that! I was wondering if that was intentional?
AMY: Not even a little bit intentional. The idea, as librarian Angie Manfredi put it more eloquently as I could on Twitter, is that the dystopia is Glory’s present day. And the future she sees is a parody of what could be. But that wasn’t really intentional either. It’s just the way the book turned out. Glory took me there. I followed and wrote what she told me to write.
CINDY: It’s clear that Glory is a feminist. And I love the fact that her father so clearly raised her with those beliefs in mind. (Go, Glory’s Dad!) Parents seem to be highly influential in this book—maybe even more than in your other books.
AMY: Parents play a huge part in my books. I can’t understand why people who write down “rules” for children’s/teen fiction insist on removing adults. Adults were a huge roadblock in my teen life. They were a huge roadblock in Glory’s and Ellie’s lives. How could I not include them?
CINDY: I’m thinking about the role of parents and the role of books in combatting what girls and boys seem to see everywhere else in the media about how they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do. Even Ellie is susceptible to it on the commune…but Glory rejects it. I see a huge amount of parental influence in what happens with them, but I see the potential of books like this to get readers to slow down and think about what they believe…and maybe even to change their way of thinking.
AMY: Yes! The whole reason I write books is to try to get people to look at things a different way. My favorite books to read are the ones that make me think. I never want to tell a reader how to think. I want them to think. That’s all. And even if they only think I’m a weirdo, that’s fine.
CINDY: Dystopias have an imbalance of power—groups get shut out and disenfranchised. Since you brought it up and since the whole need for feminism is part of the imbalance of power in our society, I can’t help but think about what you were talking about regarding your experience with adult literacy. An inability to read puts people at a distinct disadvantage. What is the role of reading and in books in making change?
AMY: I think the role of books in making a change in society is enormous. I just wish adults who can read would read fiction more regularly. Preaching to the choir here at Nerdy Book Club, I know.
What you say about literacy is so true. Not being able to read puts people at a huge disadvantage and it’s easy to never think about it if you are not part of that disadvantaged group. Whenever I see any politician debating the worth of public schools or putting down teachers, I’m perplexed. Do they not realize that without teachers they wouldn’t be where they are?
It is a privilege that we can read. I know this because I’ve known a lot of incredibly intelligent people who can’t read. It doesn’t just mean they can’t read this conversation we’re having. It sucks out the self-esteem and self-worth. It’s the vulnerability of relying on other people to read a bus timetable, a measuring tape, or a ballot. There isn’t one thing it doesn’t impair. It’s deep. My literacy students achieved so much without this skill. They were highly intelligent. But deep down, they knew they had been robbed of something important and they eventually stepped over the literacy center’s threshold. I’d say the average age of my students was around forty. Can you imagine not being able to read until you were forty?
CINDY: I absolutely cannot imagine not knowing how to read until I was forty. That’s beyond my comprehension. Just thinking of all that would’ve kept me from doing is overwhelming. I think so many of my students are unaware that being able to read and write is a privilege.
I think the connection here is empowerment. Glory recognizes that girls are at a disadvantage because equality hasn’t been fully achieved. Your adult students recognized that they were at a disadvantage without the skill of reading.
AMY: Empowerment is key. Most people who have things don’t think about the people who don’t have things, and that this is the nature of the privilege conundrum. The more you meet people who have less than you and can find compassion for them, the less likely you are to disrespect a person who is essentially fighting for something you already have. Respecting and empowering people in their own struggle for equality, in whatever way that means, is how the world will get better.
It’s funny. I’ve been watching M*A*S*H with my daughter. We’re on season five now and Frank Burns is an amazing character when it comes to this topic. He’s paranoid, racist, mean, and a jerk, but most of all, he can’t stand when people fight for things they want or deserve. The episode we watched tonight had a US soldier of Korean descent marrying a South Korean woman and Frank was vehemently against it because A. He thinks Koreans don’t deserve the same rights as he deserves. B. He can’t marry Margaret Houlihan. His contempt for a happy Korean man is directly linked to his racist views of Koreans, but more linked to his own privilege and unhappiness. He’s sort of a selfish little rodent. And I mean no offense to rodents.
CINDY: I haven’t watched M*A*S*H in years. Wow. I suspect I’ll have a whole new perspective watching it now.
AMY: I was a M*A*S*H junkie in my childhood, but this is another experience all together because I’m watching it with my kid and hoping it will have the same positive effect on her as it had on me at her age. The experience of watching the series in order is different, but the show still has the same effect on me as it always did. Hawkeye Pierce is still the person I aim to be. He is, in every way, a real person inside of a parody. He is suffering but surviving. He asks questions and thinks with his heart and in turn makes viewers think with their hearts. He is common decency personified. I want to be that.
CINDY: Who knew we’d end up talking about M*A*S*H?
AMY: It’s actually a great way to end. Next year’s book, I Crawl Through It, features a main character who claims that Hawkeye Pierce is her mother. And in many ways, Hawkeye’s knack for questioning everything comes out in all of my books—Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future included.
Glory isn’t afraid to ask questions to figure out why her world is the way it is. Both her personal world and the larger world. She asks: What does a real woman look like? I think, on many levels, this is a question I’ve been asking all my life. And in writing Glory I may have finally figured out my answer. My mirror shows me. Your mirror shows you. As long as we are true to ourselves, the answer is in the mirror.
A.S. King is the award-winning author of highly-acclaimed young adult novels including Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Reality Boy, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Ask the Passengers, Everybody Sees the Ants, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz and the upcoming I Crawl Through It. After fifteen years living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania. Find more at www.as-king.com.