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English professor Nilsen takes journal full circle


February 06, 2007

They say that what goes around, comes around. In Alleen Nilsen's case, it didn't quite come all the way around, but it got pretty close.

In 1974, before Nilsen was offered a tenure-track faculty position in the department of English, she worked with ASU professor Ken Donelson and started a journal for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, which is part of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

The first issues of the journal, which Nilsen edited, were produced on a mimeograph machine.

“It was a big step up to using a photocopy machine,” Nilsen says. “We typed the stories, and the educational media lab in the College of Education had a headline-making machine. We could print out the headlines and glue them on, but sometimes they fell off.”

Over the years, the journal – now the ALAN Review – moved from university to university as the editorship changed, growing bigger and more elaborate with each change.

“Last year, when James Blasingame, associate professor of English, applied for, and was chosen to be, editor, he did not even know that the journal had begun right here at ASU,” Nilsen says.

Nilsen received an award at the recent NCTE meeting in Nashville for her work in starting the journal.

To illustrate its growth, Nilsen prepared a display with copies of the journal as it made the transition from mimeographed pamphlet to four-color, multiple-page magazine. She called it “Pitiful Beginning to Most Improved Journal.”

“The interesting thing about the journal is that, after it left here, it went to the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and then to a couple of Virginia colleges, and then to Florida State, and finally back to ASU like a child all grown up,” Nilsen says.

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents has grown, too, just like the journal.

“The organization was not my idea, but I did go to the very first meeting, at the 1973 NCTE meeting, when a couple of women had put up a sign saying anyone interested in adolescent literature should meet at a certain time in a certain room,” Nilsen says.

The NCTE had a rule that there had to be 20 members to start an assembly, or subgroup.

“I was the one who pulled out my own money – the dues were $1 – and signed up several absent friends so that we could make the requirement of 20 people,” Nilsen recalls. “That's why they made me treasurer. But the next year, when we raised the dues to $5, I said I couldn't keep track of that much money – so they decided I should do the newsletter.”

Literature for adolescents was recognized as a distinctive genre in the late 1960s, according to Ted Hipple, first executive secretary of ALAN.

S.E. Hinton's novel “The Outsiders,” published in 1967, “is generally credited with ushering in the modern age of adolescent literature, moving the field away from its romantic past toward its realistic present and future,” Hipple wrote in a history of ALAN.

As adolescent literature came into its own, with authors such as Judy Blume, M.E. Kerr, Paul Zindel and Robert Cormier writing books that appealed to teenagers, Hipple says, teachers began asking their students to read them alongside some of the classics.

The teachers decided that “it was better to produce a generation of readers nurtured on young adult literature than to develop a hatred of reading, by insisting on the classroom study of difficult classics that the students regarded as irrelevant to their own ideas,” she says.