AT one point in David Levithan’s latest book, protagonist Mark finds himself in a gay nightclub which fills him with a deep sense of pride for his queer sexuality.
Levithan believes moments like this have since taken a different reverberation after the recent mass shooting in Orlando, where 49 people were killed in a gay nightclub.
“Sometimes quite ecstatically and sometimes with a tinge of sadness.
“In my latest book I wanted to show two queer teens who were dealing with love issues, not sexuality issues, because that’s how so many teen’s lives are now.”
The book, You Know Me Well, was co-authored by Nina LaCour and works to upend the usual he-said, she-said conventions in novels.
“If he and she are both queer, the story becomes about something else completely,” Levithan said.
“Friendship is as important as romance, along with pride and community being as important as finding ‘the one.’”
The United States-based Levithan has a longstanding career as an author, and has written a slew of queer fiction for young adults over the years, including the popular novels Boy Meets Boy and Two Boys Kissing.
He has also advocated for LGBTI rights through his work, and helped to raise the visibility of younger queer identities.
However, despite his outspoken support for the LGBTI community, Levithan believes writers and artists are never obligated to become activists.
“For me, telling stories and sharing stories and publishing stories has always gone hand-in-hand with my activism,” he said.
“And this is with the belief that this is the only way we can get society to encourage empathy – not just for ourselves, but for everyone.”
Levithan is slated to appear at this year’s Melbourne Writer’s Festival as part of a number of sessions on queer young adult fiction and his work.
These appearances come on the heels of the Margaret Edwards Award he was recently given by the American Library Association.
“Every time I hear from a reader, it makes me feel very proud of what books can do, and what queer authors and books can do,” he said.
“And to be honest, it doesn’t matter if it’s me hearing about one of my books, or one of the authors I know hearing from one of their readers – it’s all incredible.
“It was astonishing to win [the award] as well, and to know it was being given to me, largely as an ambassador for queer young adults… it made me proud of all of us.”
As a strong queer voice in young adult fiction, Levithan added the importance of having more diverse queer voices represented in fiction.
“I think we’re at a point where it’s not a question at all as to whether queer voices should be included in our literature,” he said.
“It’s now about getting as many diverse queer voices as possible to be a part of our literature.”
When asked what social issue currently affecting the LGBTI community he feels most strongly about changing, Levithan’s answer was simple:
“Here in America, the most important thing is to make sure Trump isn’t elected,” he said.
“Everything else takes a backseat to that.”
David Levithan will appear at this year’s Melbourne Writer’s Festival, which runs from Friday August 26 to Sunday September 4. Book your tickets here.