In Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility, author David Levithan has portrayed the queer teen experience in the new century. His latest, Wide Awake, sees the election of a gay, Jewish president through the eyes of a 16-year-old gay, Jewish boy. We caught up with the writer (whos single!) at home in New York City. Here are outtakes from the interview that is in the September issue of Out.
How did you find yourself writing books aimed at young adults?
I think because I work as a teen book editor its where my head is at during the day. Seeing firsthand what other teen authors books could do and how the right book at the right time makes all the difference in the world was a pretty good motivating factor. My first book [Boys Meets Boy], I didnt write thinking it was a teen book, I was just writing it as a story. But the reaction to it both from adults and teens made it all worth it.
Have you been accused of trying to convert kids to gaydom?
Yeah. The apex of that was last October when I did a library visit in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and we actually had picketers, which is a very, very rare thing. The American Library Association does a week every year call Teen Read Week and their theme was get Real @ the Library. The Kalamazoo library decided to have me come in as well as a panel of gay youth to talk about LGBTQ issues. And a group calledgotta love itStudents for America decided to organize a picket. But the key was they had, I believe it was 23 protesters. But inside we had over 200 people show, which was the largest event in the history of the Kalamazoo Public Library for an onsite reading. It really galvanized the community. One of the amusing accusations thrown was that the book, because it starts with an anecdote in which the main character realizes hes gay in kindergarten, they said it would encourage kids to come out in kindergarten, which is ridiculous. It was like going through the looking glass. But the moral of the story is that many more people were supportive than were critical or homophobic.
You always go out of your way to thank librariansand they even appear in your books. Have school librarians been generally receptive to your books? They do have more mature themes than, say, Green Eggs and Ham.
Right. Absolutely. Specifically librarians who work in the teen sections, teen librarians, really understand the books that their teens need and have been extremely supportive of LGBTQ lit. It helps that its not in the childrens section.
Do you hear from a lot of young people?
By now I have gotten thousands of e-mails, from gay teens, from straight teens, from gay adults to straight adults. Its astonishing. Its totally different than when I was a kid, and if you wanted to contact an author you had to write a letter and get an envelope Now I get so many e-mails that start I just finished your book five minutes ago and heres what I think You really get to see the impact. Certainly Ive gotten e-mails from kids that have said Your book has helped me and made me feel less alone. And Ive also gotten some from kids who have been out since they were 11 and say Im 13. How do I find a boyfriend? How did you find a boyfriend when you were 13? I have to say, things were a little different then. For my first book, my favorite e-mail I got was from a 70-year-old who said he loved the world of Boy Meets Boy, wished it had been his experience of high school, and then said my favorite line: Things sure have changed since the 1940s. I wrote back and said, Yeah, they sure have.