Continuing our guest blog series, I’m pleased to present a contribution by Eric Tribunella, Chair of the Department of English. Dr. Tribunella has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on such topics as the Golden Age of children’s literature, young adult literature, British children’s literature, trauma theory and children’s literature, children’s literature before 1865, and lesbian and gay literature. He also frequently teaches courses on literary criticism and theory.
He has published aricles in such journals as Children’s Literature Annual, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature, and Children’s Literature in Education. His recent article “Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves (1891) and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature” received the Children’s Literature Association Article Award in 2014. His essay on sexuality in children’s and young adult literature was recently published in the Cambridge History of Lesbian and Gay Literature (Cambridge UP, 2014).
Steven R. Moser, Dean
John Green and David Levithan at Southern Miss
By Eric L. Tribunella, Chair
Department of English
College of Arts and Letters
When I speak to prospective students at recruitment events, one fact about Southern Miss that almost always excites future English majors is that we are home to the original manuscripts of John Green, the award-winning author of young adult (YA) fiction. Known for novels such as Looking for Alaska (2005) and The Fault in Our Stars (2012), Green won the 2006 Printz Award, given yearly to the best work of fiction for young adults, and his books now routinely top bestseller lists upon publication.
Green donated his papers, including drafts of his book manuscripts, to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at Southern Miss after visiting campus in 2009 for the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. One of the largest archives of children’s literature in North America, the de Grummond Collection holds over 160,000 books, the earliest of which dates to the year 1530, as well as manuscripts and illustrations from over 1,300 writers and artists. Undergraduate and graduate students from the English department are able to make use of this extraordinary resource, and we have students who come to Southern Miss specifically to study children’s and young adult literature. On February 10, a group of English students and faculty visited the de Grummond Collection to examine the Green manuscripts and talk about the research opportunities they present.
The de Grummond curator, Ellen Ruffin, shared with us the manuscript for Green’s novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010), which was co-written with David Levithan, another major figure in YA literature known for books such as Boy Meets Boy (2003) and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006). Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a YA novel about two teenagers who share a name, one straight and one gay, and how their lives intersect through their relationship with a boy named Tiny. Since the book was co-authored, its manuscript is especially interesting in terms of how the alternate chapters contributed by Green and Levithan fit together to form a coherent whole. The comments from Green’s editor at Dutton Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel, can be found in the margins of the manuscript, and reading the drafts alongside the published novel can shed light on Green and Levithan’s collaboration and writing process.
As students and scholars of literature, we are interested in how works are composed and take shape. Members of the English department at USM, where we also have a strong emphasis in creative writing, are especially attuned to the issue of craft, and having access to a writer’s manuscripts makes it possible for us to study how a book moves through the drafting process. This kind of archival research can be particularly productive for children’s and YA literature scholars, since some people wrongly assume that writing for youth lacks complexity or artistry. Studying manuscripts like Green and Levithan’s provides a unique opportunity to correct this misperception and contribute to the field of literary knowledge.
It is exciting for students to be able to hold original manuscripts in their hands. English doctoral student Paige Gray noted that “it is honor for USM to house Green’s papers, since he is such a major figure in the publishing world.” Gray added that “it is especially exciting that Southern Miss students can be among the first scholars to study Green’s manuscripts and drafts. Doing so will provide an important insight into young adult literature and culture in the early decades of the twenty-first century.” The group discussed the many possible research projects that could be undertaken with the manuscripts. For instance, we spent time talking about how Green’s editor helped the authors craft the voice of their characters and sequence the events of the narrative. Dr. Alexandra Valint, the English department’s Victorian literature specialist, studies multi-narrator novels and also teaches children’s and YA literature. She compared the editor’s comments on the Will Grayson manuscript to the kind of feedback nineteenth-century readers offered in response to serialized installments of literary works.
David Levithan will be visiting campus this semester to speak at the Kaigler Book Festival on April 10, and students and faculty are looking forward to the opportunity to hear directly from Green’s co-author on Will Grayson. Scholars travel from around the world to visit the de Grummond Collection, but students who attend Southern Miss simply have to walk over to McCain Library to take advantage of its amazing holdings and guest lecturers.