REIYL Spaces

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This second post about the Museum’s ‘Black History Month and Beyond’ programme, is guest authored by Breanna J. McDaniel, who submitted a proposal for REIYL spaces; a series of conversations about race and racism in depictions of museum spaces in youth literature.

In 2018 two graduate students decided to come together and create a network of early career academic scholars, with some intergenerational engagement, whose work focused on inclusive representations of race, disability, class, gender and sexuality along with other topics and identities in youth literature. Those graduate students were me and the other co-founder of Researchers Exploring Inclusive Youth Literature (REIYL), Joshua Simpson. Through our experiences at our respective universities and doctoral programmes, we’d found that focusing on inclusive youth literature in our scholarship didn’t always yield ready access to resources or opportunities for connection. Our response was to build a network to engage others working in the same space in conversations and programming – even if they’re an ocean or just a train ride away. What we found when we started to reach out was that, once we widened our expectations and understanding of what a researcher is – acknowledging the contributions of educators, librarians, authors, illustrators, literary charities, parents and of course the readers too – the opportunities for building impactful experiences and connections were numerous!

Attendees in Glasgow at the REIYL conference, 2019
We Are REIYL, a picture from our 2019 conference before our final keynote (Photo credit: Joey Simpson)

The result, a year later, was ‘Transatlantic Conversations on Research in Inclusive Youth Literature’, a phenomenal conference, held in Glasgow with 50 attendees. In 2020, with the pandemic, we shifted our efforts to build an online literary programme called ‘Coming Into View’ for children in the greater Edinburgh area who we connected with authors of colour for facilitated writing and illustrating activities. Through this we have been able to advocate for their inclusion in youth literature whilst also being able to present 30 families with a collection of books from the authors in the programme. The fun part is, we’re just getting started!

Books

When the opportunity came to partner with Manchester Museum’s ‘Museum from Home’ programme, we proposed ‘REIYL Spaces’, a webinar series about work being completed by (our broad definition of) researchers working at the intersection of inclusive youth literature and human geography. These Manchester Museum conversations focus on race and racism in depictions of museum spaces in youth literature, and we were so privileged to kick off the series with a talk and Q&A with Dr Zetta Elliott on ‘The Colored Girl’s Quest: Finding Mirrors in Museums’.

Woman holding two books
Dr Zetta Elliott with two of her books`

Dr Elliott gave us a brief but comprehensive timeline of the movement to publish and support racially inclusive youth literature before sharing the inspiration behind her story Milo’s Museum. This book is about a little Black girl who wondered about the lack of representation of African diasporic people in her local museum, and ended up opening her own museum; one that started out being for her but that eventually became a space for her community. Dr Elliott’s research and her creative work resonates strongly with our community and the work that REIYL will continue to do; ensuring that every researcher, whoever they are, will be able to find themselves in inclusive youth literature or be supported in their desire and will to create their own spaces, just like we did.

REIYL’s work continues to inspire other opportunities like the End-Of-Year Colloquium organised by Striving Toward Anti-Racist Research in Youth Literature (STARYL) which we were really proud to support. STARYL was developed by graduate students at the University of Cambridge who were discouraged by the lack of support for – bringing in AND compensating – scholars of colour within their research centre. The students responded by collectively raising money to start their own series of webinars for a full academic year, culminating with the week-long symposium “Archives as Sites of Radical Resistance” in June of this year. Again, this connects to our collaboration with Manchester Museum and the function of many museums, serving as archival spaces.

Author headshot
Danielle Jawondo, author of And the Stars Were Burning Brightly

Our second event in the ‘REIYL Spaces’ series was “A Conversation with Danielle Jawando on Museum Spaces, Inclusion and Belonging” on 8th July, where I was privileged to speak with author Danielle Jawando about the connections between the characters in her book And the Stars Were Burning Brightly and her personal connections with the Manchester Museum.

Author speaking at an event
Rita Faire, who will be facilitating our final REIYL Spaces session

The final event “Mapping REIYL and Imagined Spaces” will take place on 28th July 2:30 BST, with Rita Faire facilitating a mini-book making workshop for 7-13 year olds. During this free workshop, participants will get to imagine shared spaces with people from different places and communities as well as sharing descriptions of where they are now, for other participants to use as a starting point for creating imagination maps. You can still book onto this workshop here.

We’re excited for this truly unique and inspired opportunity to build with the Manchester Museum and for this chance to highlight the work that we do on various platforms and with researchers at every experience-level possible. Thank you to the Manchester Museum and everyone who continues to collaborate with and support REIYL.

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