A couple of weeks ago, you and I were talking (IRL) about Australian YA literature and how pervasive it seems to have become, so I decided to look at some numbers.
There’re been 62 Printz Medals and Honors, of these:
- 39 were won by Americans
- 9 by Brits
- 2 by Canadians
- 1 by a Dane
- 10 by Australians*
- 1 by a New Zealander
So, a ton of things leap out at me about these numbers. First, Australians represent the largest group (or second largest: see footnote) of non-American winners. Second, the first non-American, non-British authors recognized by the Printz were Canadians Kenneth Oppel and Allan Stratton in 2005, and the first Australians were Marcus Zusak and Margo Lanagan in 2006, so we’re actually talking about 10 Australian awards out of the last 35 awards. That is stunning. It’s partially mitigated (maybe) by the fact that 4 of those awards were given to two authors, Zusak and Lanagan, but if just count people, it’s 8 Aussies out of 31 authors, for more than 25%. Finally, there has only been one translated book that has been recognized by the Printz committee (Janne Teller’s Nothing).
What can we make of this? Obviously, part of it has to do in some sense with my last point, above. The Printz has a bias for books written originally in English, and Australia and Britain are pretty good places to go looking for those books. But that doesn’t explain why there are no authors from South Africa or India, a couple of countries with huge native English speaking populations (the Man-Booker Prize, for example, which goes to books written by members of the former Commonwealth, has recently gone twice to Indians, and twice to Irish writers).
So what is it about Australia? Are there no YA books coming out of those countries I mentioned above? I remember from library school that a lot of the most innovative library programs are going on down in Australia and New Zealand – might that have some effect on what books get looked at by Americans? You know more about the way books make their way into the hands of committee members–anything there that might skew the balance? Or are we just to conclude that Australians are writing the best books?
*I’m counting Lucy Christopher and Christine Hinwood among the Aussies. Hinwood was born in the UK, but grew up and went to college in Australia. Christopher was born in Wales but grew up in Australia. If you’d rather give a half point to each, it’s 10 Brits and 9 Australians.