Doctoral candidate DeAnza Williams successfully defended her dissertation, "BlackBoyYALit: Seeing Black Boys in 21st Century Young Adult Literature," on November 5.
Her committee included Associate Professor Carol Tilley (chair); Assistant Professor Rachel M. Magee; Associate Professor Kate McDowell; and Karla Moller, associate professor in the College of Education.
Abstract: My dissertation investigated how African American male teens are portrayed in contemporary realistic fiction books published for young adults from 2000 to 2017. Educators and librarians value young adult literature not only for its role in developing adolescent literacy, but also for its ability to help teens to affirm their identities, observe how others deal with problems, and connect emotionally or psychologically with characters. Yet for more than two decades, African American male teens have underperformed on tests of reading proficiency. Researchers such as Feger (2006), McCullough (2008), and Tatum (2005; 2009) suggest that if African American male teens had access to more books that were culturally specific and relevant to their lives, their reading performance might be improved. Using qualitative content analysis, this study explores: (1) the characteristics of African American male teen protagonists in young adult fiction (2) the subject matter of the novels as well as their cultural relevancy and (3) who are the producers (the authors and the publishers) of contemporary realistic fiction featuring African American male teen protagonists through the lens of critical race theory. Through answering these questions, this study provides insight into the presentations of race and gender of Black male teen characters in 21st century young adult literature.