St. Clair’s book examines the cultural influence of literature

by Christy Smith

When Associate Professor of English Nancy St. Clair’s children were young, she read to them often. She became interested in what they read and how it shaped their worldviews.

St. Clair’s interest in this literature was not just a casual one. Along with Joanne Brown, a teaching friend at Drake University in Des Moines, St. Clair decided to write a book about how literature helps girls define themselves.

“We decided to write a book about how girls were represented in 18th to late 20th century literature, with the focus being on how representation of girls in the last 10 years has influenced young girls and why,” St. Clair said.

“The biggest shift in representation of girls in young adult literature is that from the 18th to the late 20th century a successful coming-of-age for girls meant learning to accommodate mainstream or dominant culture’s notions of acceptable femininity, ” St. Clair said.

“More recent literature shows girls learning how to resist cultural ideals that are damaging and learning how to define themselves in ways that maintain their integrity.

The two professors titled their book, “Declarations of Independence: Empowered Girls in Young Adult Fiction, 1990-2001,” and it will be published this spring.

Research for this book began two years ago, according to St. Clair.

“We read hundreds of books, nearly 300 young adult novels,” St. Clair said.

This was not the first project these two professors have collaborated on.

“We have worked together before many times,” St. Clair said. “We have presented papers together, we’re both teachers, we have shared interests in literature and we are friends.”

According to St. Clair, there are many steps to follow in order to get a book published.

“We would write a chapter and send it to a reviewer,” St. Clair said. “They would cut it, we would revise it, we would send it to the publisher, they would send it back, and we would proof the page proofs. The process of printing would begin and then finally our first book is done. The whole process is really fun to do,” St. Clair said.

It may have been fun, but it wasn’t necessarily easy, according to St. Clair.

“Getting yourself to actually sit down and write is the most difficult part,” St. Clair said. “You just have to make yourself stop reading and start to write.”

“Declarations” will be published by Scarecrow Press, which according to St. Clair, is an academic publisher.

Another book is in the works for St. Clair.

“I am starting another book, it is a historical fiction book for young boys and girls,” St. Clair said.