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AP: Your fellow writer John Green said a Hollywood producer once told him: ‘The only thing audiences hate more than smart teenagers are gay teenagers.’ Does that extend to books for kids and teens today?
Levithan: That producer would be laughed out of one of my editorial meetings, for certain. Readers embrace all kinds of characters, as long as they are written with emotional truth.
Ten years ago, there may have been some hesitation on some people’s part. But it’s a different world now, and the best-seller list is full of novels with well-developed gay characters — not just in gay-themed novels like ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ (co-written by Green and Levithan) but in works by best-selling authors like Cassandra Claire, Maggie Stiefvater and Ellen Hopkins, where the queer characters are part of the multifaceted worlds they are creating or reflecting.
AP: Are LGBTQ kids and teens fairly represented in books for those age groups? Are there enough stories where LGBTQ themes are taken on but also books that just happen to include such characters but are not about that experience?
Levithan:There is constantly a need for diversity within the representations. It’s just as limiting to say there’s only one kind of gay story, just as it’s limiting to say there’s only one kind of straight one. As for how much being gay is central to the character’s identity or story — as in life that totally depends on who the character is and what he or she is going through.
The important thing is for the characters to feel real, and to be given the humanity they are due. That granting of humanity is what separates a full portrait from a stereotype.
I think it’s dangerous to talk about ‘Oh, that character just happens to be gay’ as some kind of goal for us and our literature. The important thing is to show as much of the spectrum as possible, and to continue to investigate it.
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