The 2015 Inky Awards

The Inky Awards is a celebration of Young Adult literature, where the shortlist and the winners are all chosen by teenagers. It’s hosted by the organisation Inside a Dog, which is the Centre for Youth Literature run by the Victorian State library. The Gold Inky goes to an Australian author, and the Silver Inky goes to an author from overseas. The Inky Awards will celebrate its tenth birthday next year, and I remember voting for them when I was a teenager, and I remember voting for Looking for Alaska in the very first Inky Awards. Since then, the quality and overall amount of Young Adult literature has skyrocketed (my YA reviews on this blog are easily some of the most popular). I had no idea I could have applied to be a judge for these awards (although I was in Year 12 in 2008, and my performance anxiety was through the roof, so it wouldn’t have been a great idea), and now I really wish I had.

Thanks to Twitter, I saw that I could buy tickets to the 2015 Inky Awards ceremony, which was held yesterday (October 13) afternoon at the State Library of Victoria. The tickets were less than $10, and it was on one of my days off, so the timing was perfect. The only shortlisted book I’ve read is Fangirl, which is a book I love (and I have very complicated feelings about the main character). None of the Silver Inky nominees were at the ceremony, which makes sense because Australia is a long way from most countries (although the author from New Zealand could have made it. It’s not that far), but all of the Gold Inky nominees spoke to the audience about their books, and how they came about. By far the most interesting comment came from Justine Larbalestier, who said that she thinks the Inkys are the most important book awards in Australia: “A teen choice award lets me say ‘get stuffed’ to adults who thinks my books aren’t suitable.” The Centre For Youth Literature twitter account has live-tweeted some of the other great things that were said at the ceremony, by both authors and judges.

I was also really impressed with the five judges who were present at the ceremony. The way the awards work is that a panel (of non-teen fans of YA) create a long list, then teenagers can apply to be judges. Seven judges are selected, who whittle the longlist down to a shortlist, and then teenagers from around the country get to vote on their favourite book on the shortlist, which is pretty great. A lot of assumptions about young people/millennials and how all we care about is partying and we don’t work hard. I saw my younger self in those teen judges, and they had such insightful comments about why it’s important to have a teen choice award for books (all comments are copied off of that twitter page): “It’s a community thing. It gives teens a voice. Adults don’t know what we like – they shouldn’t be able to choose”. Everyone is disappointed with moth awards ceremonies in the arts, and that’s entirely to do with the demographic of the judges. Australian teens’ favourite Young Adult books in 2015 are The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. That’s pretty great.

The above quote was one of the judges’ responses to a question about why teen awards are important, and she talked about how a teen choice award is more important than the Childrens Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards. I was talking to a friend who is a librarian and CBCA member last night. After the CBCA awards were announced a couple of months ago, she wrote about how for awards that are supposed to celebrate books by Australian authors, none of the books were actually set in Australia, and most teenagers want to read something they can relate to. All of the books on the shortlist for the Gold Inky were actually set in Australia (some were period pieces). It wasn’t a novel set in Europe that won, it was set in Sydney.

One of the things that the judges didn’t notice about their two shortlists is that all of the shortlisted authors are women. I picked up on it immediately, because it’s the sort of thing you start to pay attention to when you’re an adult, but none of the judges, half of whom are teenage boys, even noticed until someone pointed it out to them. Two of the Australian authors are women of colour, and there were people of colour on the judging panel. So many of the conversations we have about diversity in Hollywood (or even the Australian parliamentary cabinet) is people being nominated on merit, not just as tokenism, which is a privileged way to look at it. Here is a multicultural teenage judging panel (four girls and three boys), who shortlisted ten books by women without even realising it. When they were asked about it, one of the judges said: “They’re good books. They deserve recognition.” And I’m fairly sure that was the male judge who was able to make it. He’s thirteen.

I went to the Inky Awards ceremony this year because I saw that there were tickets on Twitter, and it happened to be my day off. I’d like to go again next year, but it may not be possible because I don’t know what I’ll be doing this time next year. However, if you are into Young Adult literature and have a chance to go, I highly recommend it, because it was a great time. They also serve tea and cakes after the ceremony if you’re into that kind of thing. Unfortunately I had to leave quickly, but I would have loved to stay.

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