At the request of the ALSC Executive Committee, I have formally resigned from the 2018 Newbery Committee. Let me explain.
At the beginning of this month, I tweeted a story about one of my kid library patrons and their reaction to a book. (this tweet thread is now deleted, in case you were looking for it, at the request of the ALSC Executive Committee, though I do wish if they were going to ask me to resign all along I could have known and kept it.) I do this all the time, as you probably noticed. But this story went viral. It got over 1,000 RTs and according to Twitter’s weird tracking thing over a million views. So, lots of people saw it and I talked in twitter replies with a handful of people about it, including the author of the book and someone from the publishing department. I literally didn’t give a second thought to this because, in my opinion, I hadn’t said anything about the content of this title, I was simply telling a story about a child’s reaction to the mere existence of this book. I would NEVER have shared this story if I had thought this would be the end result.
Further let me state clearly: I, like so many other librarians and educators, have “relationships” with many people in our industry from authors to people who work for publishing companies – I have blurbed books, been taken out to dinner by publishers, been sent ARCs, but I have never been paid by a publisher for anything. Not this year, for sure, and not EVER. What is a “personal” relationship beyond a casual? How will we know when we have crossed this line? How is that defined? Is it a case by case basis? I work diligently to be a fair and objective judge of content and I think my work as a reviewer, committee member, material selector, and professional has born out this. I will not claim to be perfect or have no biases, I am only human of course I do, but I work to mitigate them and be critical with them. And, of course, I never make decisions alone, whether it be on committee or in my daily work. I am not sure how NOT to “have relationships” with people in our field, to be honest, or what that would even look like.
The ALSC Executive Committee decided that this gave the perception of bias and favoritism for both this title and this publishers. It was further noted that this “suggested a personal relationship beyond a casual one” and it was again stressed here that “it is the perception, not the reality, of this relationship that impacts the award.” I had received a previous warning (in March) because I had re-posted a Kirkus review of an eligible title. At this point, I was asked to resign from the 2018 Newbery Committee. I didn’t want to do this. I so desperately did not want to do this. But it is what the Executive Committee wanted and so I complied.
Being selected to stand for election to the Newbery and then winning that ballot from the ALSC membership with over 50% of the vote was the greatest honor of my professional life. It is never one I took lightly. And this was – this is – the worst thing that’s ever happened in my professional life. It was – it is – completely and totally devastating to me. I cried so hard when it happened that my husband was worried I had become hysterical. I probably had. It was humiliating and so, so embarrassing. It feels like the opposite of everything I have worked for and towards in my professional life and it makes me so angry all at the same time. I feel like I have completely and totally fucked myself and yet also feel, with great conviction, the perception of the situation should not take precedent over the reality. And yet here we are. Now the perceptions of me is: I am untrustworthy, I am unreliable. I am a conflict of interest, I can’t follow simple directions. I hope that that’s not the reality of me, I work hard so that this is not the reality of me and the work I do, but there you have it. I am sharing this with you because I don’t want to minimize my emotions and I want to give them their full space. That’s important to me.
I have worked tirelessly for this committee and this organization for 7 months, paying for all conference attendance and memberships out of my own pocket, working on this during hours upon hours of my personal free time, searching out the best 2017 titles from every genre, focusing so much of my mental and emotional energy on this because I believed in this. I read and read and in June when we met for the first time, I comprehensively and critically discussed titles. I was a productive, active, valuable member of this committee. That’s reality. And now it is nothing. It is ashes. Though I know logically this is not true this makes me feel like nothing and it is a crushing blow to the work I have done and the years, years, I have built to this point. When one of my high school friends found out about Newbery he said, “What’s the honorarium for this work?” Ah no, I corrected him proudly. I’m paying them. He looked at me in complete shock. I am sharing this with you because I think it’s important context for how absolutely gutted and devastated I am. It’s important to me.
“I don’t want this to have a damper on your work” I was told during this process. And yet how can it not? How can it not have a damper on my work? On my professional life? On my … everything? I feel there is a damper on everything now and I have a sorrow that my words cannot describe, a sadness I cannot put into words.
For the past ten years, I have tried so hard (so hard) to make a difference in librarianship. In shifting conversations and status quo, in transforming our profession, in breaking down barriers and “this is the way it always is.” I have learned and grown and fucked up and apologized and learned and grown and I hope that I have helped others with this same journey. I don’t want to center just me. For real, I get how that’s always a problem. It’s not just about me, it never is. But honestly right now … I just feel so broken. *I* do. I, Angie Manfredi, feel this way and that’s natural and that’s OK. I’ve cried three times just writing this post, knowing that this is true. It’s not tired. I don’t feel tired. I feel broken. And the idea of further having to discuss this with colleagues, even those of you who have nothing but love for me … it’s just more than I can take right now. (Although some of you obviously know how to reach out to me personally, I just can’t promise a super coherent, timely response.)
So…I am going away for a while. Online, I mean. I’ll still be reading a million books and sharing them with kids and doing storytimes for babies and booktalking to teens and launching my local 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program (at last) and doing all that librarian-y stuff that sustains me. But I want to be gone from online for a bit. I suppose this can read as me going somewhere to lick my wounds. Hey, maybe it is. I have been wounded, I won’t deny it. Maybe those wounds need some licking.
I’m gonna concentrate on my daily librarianship, the heart of everything I have ever been, and figuring out what’s next for me. I am deactivating my Twitter for at least a month and I’m not going to post on the blog for a bit (not like it’s been super active lately anyway). I’ll still have my Facebook up because, uh, I use that as a more personal outlet so I still want to have that around so my best friend and I can post about chicken nuggets on each other’s walls. I want to be back someday, sooner than later, I do. I mean I have so many fucking 2016 books I can now tell you ALL ABOUT. I just can’t right now.
My final notes: I have nothing but respect for my colleagues on the 2018 Newbery committee and I know they will make a choice that will stun all of you with its brilliance. They are a superb group of professionals beyond reproach and I was honored, beyond words honored, to be among them. I owe special gratitude to Sujei Lugo and Kirby McCurtis, who reached out to me with open hearts and held me up during my hardest moments. Personal thanks to my beloved husband who supports me through everything, my family for their endless cheerleading, my co-workers and supervisors at the Los Alamos County Library System who always inspire me, and my best friends Elliot and Whitney, who are just the best people.
As to “all the books” sent to me by publishers for review for the award (should anyone be worried I am hoarding/selling/destroying them, lol) I hope they stop coming, I’d be so happy to never see another box of them. But any that do come have the same destination as the rest: I had always planed to donate all titles I have received/will receive to my local New Mexico tribal libraries so they won’t “go to waste” and that’s still the plan.
One of my favorite works of fiction is Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which has sustained me during some of the darkest moments in life. This is one of those moments. Many of you have heard me quote it as I believe it is our duty in librarianship and education to be a part of “The Great Work” Kushner refers to. In fact, I think that is our truest duty. It is the one I have always, above all, sought to work towards. The Great Work. It continues, my friends, and I plan to still and always be part of it. Even if I don’t know where my path is headed next, I know that. At the end of the play, Prior tells the audience “The world only spins forward.” I know this is also true.
The world only spins forward. I go on now to see what’s next.