II: Mrs. Boulley, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! Congratulations on your debut novel!
A: Thank you so much! Please call me Angeline. (I’m not a Mrs.)
II: I just finished Firekeeper’s Daughter, and it absolutely blew me away! Can you tell me what influenced you to write this novel and what the process of writing and publishing your first novel was like for you?
A: It has been such a long process! I first had the idea when I was 18, but I didn’t start writing it until I was 44 and my own children were teens and pre-teens. I spent ten years writing and revising. Finally in 2019 I was ready to get an agent and try for a book deal. So I had a very long incubation period for the story but everything took off quickly at that point. I had an agent three weeks after I started querying. I did a modest revision over the summer based on my agent’s feedback. The manuscript went out on submission in mid-September and two weeks later there was a 12-party auction. Two weeks after that, there was a film option deal with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions for a Netflix series.
II: As a biracial Anishinaabe and Ojibwe woman who also has French roots, there is a strongsense of community that Daunis Fontaine frequently references within Firekeeper’s Daughter. How would you define community, and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote the characters and setting in your novel?
A: I define community as people bonded by their connection to land, family, teachings, and history. I wanted Daunis’s heritage to reflect the history of Sault Ste. Marie. Her background is that mixture of Anishinaabe, French, and Italian that made the town what it is now. I did this because our struggle for identity is also a struggle for a community to recognize the contributions of all.
II: My favorite part of your novel is the way that you center Ojibwe and Anishinaabe culture. This can especially be seen in the way that Daunis and her family use the Anishinaabemowin language throughout the novel. Was there a conscious choice on your part to not go the traditional route of italicizing the Anishinaabemowin phrases and categorize these lines as “out of the norm” for readers to truly have to immerse themselves into Daunis’ world and see from her point of view? If so, is there a greater role you wanted language to play in your novel?
A: Yes. It was a conscious decision not to italicize because Anishinaabemowin is not a “foreign” language. I wanted the language to feel very organic, where readers could figure out what a word meant through context instead of a glossary. The story is told from Daunis’ point of view and the language is a big part of her cultural teachings and upbringing. I couldn’t have readers inside her mind without immersing people in the language. I was extremely fortunate to have Dr. Margaret Noodin from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee be part of the editing process with my publisher. She loved the story and saw its potential as a teaching tool for people learning Anishinaabemowin. So, yes, I saw a greater role for language to play in the novel.
II: You mentioned on your website that you were apart of the We Need Diverse Books(WNDB) Young Adult Mentorship Program for the 2018 class. This non-profit’s movement to diversify the publishing industry has brought forth amazing novels from voices that were once pushed to the publishing field’s margins. As a Native writer who is writing in this “new era,” do you ever feel pressure to represent the broad spectrum of Indigenous culture within your work? And if so, how do you pushback on that narrative of the “single story” that Black, Indigenous, and other authors of color are still forced into despite the WNDB movement?
A: No. I don’t feel pressure to represent a broad spectrum of Indigenous culture. I am committed to telling stories set in my tribal community, while acknowledging the diversity within bands, clans, and families. I’ve been vocal about pushing back on the “single story” narrative. I bring up in interviews and conference panels that there are so many stories from underrepresented communities. BIPOC authors may have other storytelling formats – beyond the typical Three Act Structure – that are like treasures readers haven’t experienced before. I’ve also discussed how important it is for the publishing world to recognize the richness, depth, and nuance that can come when an author writes from their lived experience.
II: Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences that have inspired your work?
Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She is a former Director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Angeline lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island. Firekeeper’s Daughter is her debut novel.
“People can cry much easier than they can change.” ― James Baldwin
What was the last over-hyped book that left you feeling unsatisfied?
I finished Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi last week for my African-American Literature course and felt as if Auntie ‘Retha had taken up residence in my body.
While it is clear that Kendi put a lot of work into this book, it was very much a “beautiful gowns” type of text for me…or rather “beautiful sources.”
From the offset, it is jarringly clear that this book was written pre-2016 Election when many folks believed they were living in a “post-racial” world and were congratulating themselves for having elected a Black man for president. This sentiment of us being “post-racism” props up Kendi’s book’s thesis that “everyone’s a little bit racist, so no one should really be allowed to call another person out. We’re all equal in ALL ways.” #Paraphrase
And, this is where Kendi lost me.
To be fair, Kendi direct quote about Anti-racism is:
“Anyone can believe both racist and antiracist ideas…[and] to think as an antiracist: [is] to think there is nothing wrong with Black people, to think that racial groups are equal.”
The latter part of this is a beautiful sentiment, but that first part brings us into a sticky territory that teeters very close to absolving racist from the harm they’ve inflicted.
White people’s racism gives you 400+ years of oppression.
It gives you Tulsa and Rosewood.
It gives you the Klan/a corrupt police force, the “school-to-prison” pipeline…
a “not guilty” verdict in the Breonna Taylor case…etc.
A non-Black POC or indigenous person showing anti-Black sentiments hurts my feelings and leaves me baffled. But, it is rare that any of these groups have the power to inflict the level of harm and injustices that I experience at the hands of White people. This isn’t to say that these groups don’t need to dismantle and unlearn their behaviors.
However, the presentation of facts in Kendi’s books makes it seem as if the collective onus is on ALL of us when this work is a top-down process where the colonizer and those in power have to dismantle whole systems to truly bring us “equal.” This contrast to the BIPOC community, who could unlearn every bit of their biases and anti-Black sentiments and still be left without access to participating fully in American systems. This fact contributes to us trying to create hierarchies that would give us some semblance of “power” over each other.
Yet, Kendi’s book repeatedly ignores this fact when analyzing Black historical figures. The narrative he creates does not do enough to dismantle the notion behind “why” these individuals held these racist beliefs. And, even though I, as a #wellreadblackgirl could recognize the “why” behind these Black historical figures’ self-hating beliefs, I worried about the average reader identifying these same reasons when trying to dismantle their racism.
Add to this Kendi’s erasure of Black female scholars and their contributions to each era he spoke of the outside of him using them to prop up the idea that we’ve contributed to the “hatred” and “degradation” of Black men, and you can see why I wasn’t impressed by this book.
I feel as if Kendi’s is too ambitious in the timeline he tries to cover. Yet, I understand why it is beloved by all the #AntiracistBookClubs and why Kendi has become the darling of White America as they strive to become “Anti-Racist™️”. I would just say that there are other books that express the ideas presented in this book more precisely and in a more balanced way.
A: Thank you for your time, Ms. Dixon! I got a chance to read your essay collection, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and your poetry collection, No God In This Room, last month, and both pieces really resonated with me!
What was the process like writing and getting The Incredible Shrinking Woman published? Did you find your experience with an independent press different than working with a larger publisher?
AD: The manuscript started as a series of individual essays in 2012. I was going through a pretty rough breakup and I found poetry wasn’t giving me the space I needed to express everything I was feeling. I began writing personal essays as a remedy. In 2016, I attended a creative non-fiction conference and started toying with the idea of pulling together a book. I threw together every essay I’d written over that four-year span and started trying to make sense of it. It didn’t go too well and I went back and forth in adding and subtracting pieces from it. I continued to write and publish work from time to time and in late 2019 I thought I’d come up with a decent manuscript. I researched presses I thought would be a good home for the book and came up with a list of four. I did not pursue publishing with a larger press at all. Fortunately for me, Split/Lip was on my first-choice list and wanted to give the book home.
Working with an independent press has been great! From the very beginning I’ve felt that they were not only interested in the book, but also me as a person. Writing personal essays can be a very scary thing and having a group of people working on your project who respect that is a gift. Being with an indie press allowed me to have a stronger voice in the kinds of edits I was willing or unwilling to accept. I also had amazing freedom in deciding on my cover design, promo events, and blurbs. It felt more like a collaboration than someone doing me a favor by publishing my work.
A: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were writing The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: I generally consider myself my first audience and from there I hope to find a connection with people who’ve had similar experiences. I hope that I am writing for people who feel on the fringes or invisible—kinda like background music. Those people who help make the world go ‘round but aren’t necessarily the ones in the spotlight. I think it is important to craft stories for audiences who are dynamic and interesting in ways that may not always get attention. There is a world of people who feel as if they don’t have a voice and I hope that in my exploration of my own invisibility and shrinking I am helping them be seen and heard as well.
A: In a virtual craft chat with The Writer’s Center, you mentioned “wanting to be seen and then being afraid when you [were] seen [and] working through what you’re asking people to see.” Did this sentiment play into naming your essay collection The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: The collection had several names, but this one seemed to fit the best once the final slate of essays was solidified. When I began writing, I thought I was writing about something completely different, but as the manuscript progressed it seemed more and more, I was writing about ideas of shrinking and invisibility. I’d never considered just how much time I’d spent trying to fit into boxes and roles that never seemed to contain all I believe I am. But I also had to confront what it means to be seen. Asking for it and actually having it are worlds different. There’s a bit of a play on words with the title, too. There is the active shrinking that takes place, but there are also elements of a sideshow or exposure in the use of the word incredible.
A: My favorite essay in your collection is “Reader’s Insert.” In the piece, you say:
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve slipped myself into roles that don’t quite fit, roles that aren’t quite real…I’ve always felt invisible, so accurately telling the story of me starts with a disappearing act.
Invisible. It’s a word that has gotten blowback from friends and family in ways I never expected. I suppose they think they see me. But I don’t think anyone really does. At least in terms of a whole person, that is.”
This quote resonated with me because, as a Black woman, there seems to be a substantial gap between the expectations placed on us individually and as a group versus the actual empathy that is offered to us as human beings. Instead, we seem to be rendered as invisible or treated as pieces of a whole. Did your perception or definition of yourself change as you wrote this collection of essays and came into your voice as a writer?
AD: My greatest fear putting the collection in the world was being exposed and judged. I thought people would see me as weak or damaged in some way, but I found that I grew more confident personally and creatively as the collection took shape. I think it is partially because I was able to let go of some experiences that had been weighing me down and also realizing there are dynamic parts of me I should share with the world despite my fears. As well, by examining some of the issues in the collection, I was able to see parts of myself I couldn’t while I was in the thick of it. I learned I am much stronger than I knew and that I have so much to offer to not only myself but also the world. I think writing the book helped me unlock portions of myself I’d hidden away in order to fit what I thought the world wanted to see of me.
A: Your essay, “Native Tongue,” was another favorite for me. One of the things I loved about your essays is the way that you give voice to those Black girls who aren’t labeled as being “conventionally Black” in the way you described your cousins as being with their “Salt N’ Pepa hairstyles” or even your best friend, Greta. Why was it important for you to tell this particular story of coming into your Blackness in “Native Tongue?”
AD: It was important for me because I think sometimes there’s an idea that if you are born into a particular background you settle in smoothly. For me, I always felt loved and cared for, but I struggled to find where I fit within the confines of the culture around me. I so badly wanted to be like my cousins and my parents, but I never considered the idea there were other avenues that were tailored to me. And I think it was important to recognize and acknowledge my own narrow view of what I thought Blackness entailed.
A: There’s a line in “Vagina, Slightly Used,” where you say:
“It’s because I’d felt so invisible my entire existence that I gathered greedily what was laid out before me. I’ve always felt like my being deemed desirable by a man was a fluke.”
In the same way you give voice to the “non-conventional” Black girls, you represent for women who are believed to take up too much space physically with their bodies and those Black women who are denying themselves a “fairytale ending” because the world said we can’t/don’t deserve one.
Currently, soundbites of “image consultants,” like Kevin Samuels, and celebrities, like B. Simone, are going viral for shaming Black women for daring to believing we deserve a happy ending. Do you feel as if there is starting to be a movement to commodify the inherent “shame” that Black women, like yourself and I, are fed throughout our lives by mass media and brands?
AD: I do. I think people are so intent on solidifying their own importance, and pockets, that they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of others in order to do so. I think it’s easy to prey on people’s insecurities while setting impossible standards they can never achieve because the goal posts always move. There is a part of me that feels some of this is a backlash to the “less desirable” women starting to gain confidence or ignoring what society thinks they should be. The shameful part of it is when other Black people, who know discrimination and harm first hand, take part in it denigrating their own people for the sake of profit and popularity.
A: The Incredible Shrinking Woman is raw and has so many visceral moments that left me, as a reader, swept up emotionally in your words because of their authenticity and how true they rang in my lived experience as a Black woman. How were you able to draw on so many powerful emotions as a writer, and not become bogged down by them long enough to get your thoughts onto the paper?
AD: I was able to do that in some instances, but there were a few times that I got lost. I couldn’t read “Liturgy” without crying for about a year after I wrote it. Part of that was because I hadn’t really dealt with that grief. Fortunately, I’d processed, or started to process, most of the other topics I covered in the book. I look at my subjects as a bruise. If I can touch it and there is only an ache then I feel safe writing about it. If there is marked pain, then I know that I am not ready to fully explore that topic for public consumption.
A: Music is heavily attached to your writing with your father being a DJ. What’s on your playlist now?
AD: I have a playlist for everything, but there are few things I have on repeat right now. “Everything I Wanted” by Nuq, “Moment” by Victoria Monet, “Good & Plenty” by Alex Isley, “I Mean It” by PJ, “Vibe” by Cookie Kawaii, and “Whoa (Remix)” by Snoh Aalegra feat Pharell Williams. I’ve also been using “Whatever Lola Wants” by Sarah Vaughn and “All Blues” by Miles Davis to craft a few pieces on my plate at the moment.
A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?
A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?
AD: I would say write for yourself before anyone else. If there is no heart or passion behind what you are writing your audience can tell. If you don’t like what you are writing why would your readers?
A: Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Dixon! I can’t wait to read more of your work!
Athena’s work has appeared in various publications both online and in print. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2016, 2017), a Best of the Net nominee (2017), a Callaloo fellow (Oxford 2017), a V.O.N.A. fellow (2018), and a Tin House Workshop attendee (Winter 2019). Athena is a member of the Moving Forewards Memoir Writers Collective. Additionally, she has presented at AWP (2013, 2020), HippoCamp (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and The Muse and the Marketplace (2019) among other panels and conferences.
To win a copy of The Incredible Shrinking Woman, follow my blog via email or WordPress reader, and comment below your favorite poet or author you’ve been moved by. Extra entry for following me on Instagram @IntrovertInterrupted and share a screenshot of this post in your IG stories every 24-hours and tag me. The giveaway is open internationally!
Fans of Netflix’s On My Block and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Angie Thomas will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.
Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and the memories she has growing up there with her friends. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of her friends’ families moved away. Kate, whose family owns the local corner store, is still there and as long as that stays constant, Nelo’s good.
When Kate’s parent’s store is vandalized and the vandal still at large, Nelo is shaken to her core. And then the police and the media get involved and more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to “fix the neighborhood.” Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.
Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Now Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything–and everyone–she loves.
A: Congratulations on your debut novel, Like Home, Ms. Onomé! What was the process like writing your first book?
LO: Thank you! The process was honestly pretty fun. I love every stage of writing a book because I tend to treat them as separate opportunities to fine-tune a story. When I was drafting, I had the most fun making things up and throwing things together to see what stuck. My process is a little chaotic. When I was revising (which I learned to do effectively while writing this book), I enjoyed asking myself tougher questions about how each character or each plot point was showing up. Overall, it was such a great learning experience.
A: The neighborhood of Ginger East felt so authentic to the story you’re telling about gentrification and coming of age in a place that others have written off as being “rundown” or “unfavorable.” Did you have any specific places that inspired the creation of Ginger East?
LO: Ginger East was loosely inspired by the neighbourhood I grew up in just west of Toronto. While the place I lived was more residential and had a mix of household incomes, it also had a growing immigrant population and was enriched by the experiences people brought to the neighbourhood. I was honestly very fortunate to have had that experience.
A: There is a strong sense of community that Chinelo constantly references within Like Home. How would you define community and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote Chinelo and the characters of Ginger East in your novel?
LO: I define community as a place where you are seen and heard for who you authentically are. As such, Nelo really feels at home in Ginger East, not only because she grew up there and doesn’t know anywhere else, but because the people there understand her as well as she understands the area. It was important for me to define it that way because sometimes, as shown in Like Home, we live in communities where not everyone has our backs, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a part of the fabric of that neighbourhood.
During the lecture, Lee touched on how gentrification was ruining the local neighborhoods in the boroughs of New York City in his rant asking, “Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?… What about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore!”
Why was it so important for Chinelo, a sixteen-year-old teenager, to evoke the same disdain and possessiveness over the gentrification of her Ginger East community in your novel as Spike Lee, a then fifty-seven-year-old man, did for his neighborhood of Fort Greene?
LO: That’s such a great quote! In Like Home, Nelo’s possessiveness comes strictly from her inability to accept change. She’s sixteen and all she knows is the place she grew up. To see it change so brazenly without any regard for the people who live there, her family and friends, it begins to make sense how she would have such anger over new businesses moving in or rent prices increasing. Something she knows so well is being pulled out from underneath her by people she knows don’t care about people like her. That feeling of being neglected, of not really being seen, is a strong pain point for her and I think is something a lot of marginalized people can relate to.
A: In the same vein, Chinelo is facing an uphill battle trying to convince people in her age and friend group that fighting against Ginger East’s gentrification is important. This is in direct opposition to Maree, one of Chinelo’s ex-best friends, who becomes a social media influencer and capitalizes off her connection to what she deems her “old trashy neighborhood.” Why was it essential for you to include a character like Maree in Like Home and the discussion of gentrification in contrast to Chinelo?
LO: Great question! It was important to me because a lot of us have to deal with people like Maree in our daily lives. There is a recognition there, unfortunately. Maree represents the largest block that Chinelo has to face when it comes to attitudes about Ginger East and places like it: apathy. It’s one thing to try and change a place, but it’s harder to try and change someone’s mind. Chinelo believes if more people cared, then it would be possible to make a difference, but Maree exists in direct opposition to that in many ways.
A: Black girlhood is a multi-faceted thing that can hold joy and beauty. However, it also can be a scary time in a Black girl’s life. Like Home strikes this wonderful chord where it is perfectly nostalgic of what being a teenager is like in the age of social media while also honoring the fact that Chinelo’s character is the child of immigrants and held to a different standard than others in her age group maybe. Were there any parts of your childhood as a Nigerian-Canadian author that you used as inspiration to writing Chinelo’s character?
LO: Yes I agree! It’s such a delicate time, but so multi-faceted. There were small instances I mined from my experience as a Nigerian-Canadian that I put into Nelo’s experiences, such as the chain messages from family, but not a lot of overt things. Instead, her Nigerian-Canadian identity is more in her way of being and existing in the world. I guess it’s like that for everybody, though.
A: In a blog post you did for the “Her Story: Ladies in Literature” series on Pop Goes the Reader’s last year, you made mention of the fact that when reading, you “[identify] with the quieter characters; ones whose motivations maybe are subtler, or ones who aren’t at the forefront of a conflict….[since] our motivations aren’t always lived out loud.”
This quote really resonated with me because when reading about Chinelo, her character felt relatable. There’s a debate currently in the book community about how #OwnVoices authors are often asked to draw on traumatic or stereotypical experiences to get published, which does not always leave room for a “quiet character” in areas like Black Literature. Did you feel any pressure to make Chinelo or the story you wrote fit into either of these categories?
LO: Thank you, I’m so happy to hear that resonated with you. I’m thankful in that I didn’t feel that kind of pressure to make Chinelo anything other than who she is. I modelled her after the girls I had seen and the girl I had been growing up in the Greater Toronto Area. I know so many Chinelos. She’s not an uncommon figure around here: someone who has opinions, doesn’t always speak when spoken to, and prioritizes her friends and family above all else. I didn’t want to write a character who was meant to be some sort of martyr or one-size-fits-all representation for Black girls, because as we know, Black people aren’t a monolith. I hope readers can find comfort in knowing that even though Chinelo isn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a YA protagonist, she still has value.
A: Often, when I’m reading stories about activism in YA, it feels as if it’s taking place in a parallel universe based on how outlandish the methods and situations authors give their characters to carry out. Yet, the way you write about the grassroots movement Chinelo and her community put together to protest the gentrification of Ginger East feels very “do-able.” Is there a message about community involvement and activism that you want readers to take from Like Home?
LO: Yes, for sure. Oftentimes, labels can be somewhat daunting for those of us who just want to help in any way we can. I’d love for readers to take away the fact that all forms of help are different, and you don’t need to have the loudest voice to move the needle. I think it’s important to recognize that starting where you are, doing what you feel most comfortable with, is still good enough.
A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-reads?”
LO: My biggest writing influences are usually music or video games, because I love to try and recapture emotions. But also, I’m such a fan of Nicola Yoon’s work. I think her writing is so sincere and so magical. I’m a big fan of the characterization in Mary H.K. Choi’s work too.
A: What advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the publishing industry?
LO: Just like with reaching out and helping with causes you care about, it’s important with writing to start where you are. Write what makes you happy, write what makes you sad, write easy things, write hard things, find readers you can trust, take feedback, leave feedback, grow, continue to learn. Be as ready as possible for when your number is called, because it will be!
Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Ms. Onomé!
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
– Blurb from Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
What surprised you most about the process of writing this first novel?
The thing that surprised me most about writing this novel was that it did not become this novel until maybe the fourth or fifth iteration. There were things about Grace Porter that didn’t surface until my very last time editing. Some of her motivations and wishes and desires were still hidden until I had both the input from my amazing editor and also an entirely different headspace. I always hear the phrase, “writing is re-writing,” and I think the depth of that truth didn’t really hit me until I was knee-deep in revisions and realizing, like, wow, I needed so much more time to figure out how to say this, but now I can. Surprise!
In an interview she recorded with Balticon 34 in April 2004, Octavia E. Butler talks about wanting to “desensitize” readers with her writing and show them the “world as she wishes it worked” in her novels. One of the things I really loved about Honey Girl is that you don’t waste time explaining or trying to convince the reader that Grace Porter, your main character, and the rest of her friends, who are LGBTQ+, deserve to exist when it comes to their sexuality.
Instead, your writing creates these characters as messy and flawed human beings doing mundane day-to-day activities, like going to graduate school, trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, and falling in love. Why did you feel this was a significant angle to take with your writing? And did you feel, like Ms. Butler, that you were simply writing the world as you saw it or as you wanted it to be in your writing?
I know in theory it’s significant, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that big to me. Grace Porter is queer. Grace Porter is a lesbian. All her friends are queer. Queer people do really mundane things like work and go to school and date and even disappoint their parents for reasons other than being queer! I wrote a world that is very similar to mine, because I’m a queer person with queer friends and we just do really boring things like complain in our group chats and forget to pay bills. It doesn’t feel revolutionary to me because we are out here living our not-very-exciting lives, but then I remember in the larger scheme of things, us living our lives is revolutionary.
All of that is to say, I didn’t go in with any particular mindset except portraying queerness the way it is in my little corner of the world, and now in Grace’s, too. In academia and the corporate world adjacent to it, the reality is very cis-heteronormative and white, so that’s the reality I put on the page. I wish the world did not work that way, but it does. So, to answer the question, I feel like I was writing the world as I saw it and also how it really is, which is a world in which queer people, especially queer people of color, live and breathe and survive for as long as we can.
There is a strong sense of community and collective care that is frequently referenced in Honey Girl. At times, Grace is treated with more love and acceptance from her “chosen family” than her blood relatives. What made you create such a multilayered approach to family and community care when portraying Grace’s support system?
I say this all the time, seriously, but I feel like “found family” or “chosen family” is such an important component of the varied queer experience. It’s so hard to be alone, especially with people who are your blood, and may still love you, but can’t really understand something that makes up such a huge part of you and influences the other intersections of your identity. You need queer friends and queer friends that feel like family because those are the people you lean on and learn from and support on your respective journeys.
For Grace, her chosen family provides her with unconditional love and unconditional honesty. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she gets in her head a lot, and they are right there to be like, hey, you are not the only person going through this thing. They all have their own lives and issues, and though not every problem revolves around their LGBTQ+ identity, because they are all sharing this queer identity, they are able to be their full, authentic selves when they are vulnerable and asking each other for help.
At the same time, I wanted to show Grace’s mom and dad as people she thinks should be infallible and all-knowing, but she has to realize that’s not possible. Parents are not perfect. Parents don’t know everything, or even half of everything. They are flawed people who make mistakes like anyone else. Sometimes those mistakes can be apologized for and relationships redeemed and repaired, and sometimes not. Sometimes the best thing is for people to break off from their parents entirely. It was important in Grace’s journey for her to start to think about the type of relationship she wanted with her parents that was best for all them and didn’t sacrifice her mental and emotional health. Basically family, in all of its manifestations, can be really complicated and intricate and nuanced, and there are so many different ways to build one or multiple with the different people in your life.
What books have you read recently and loved, that inspired Honey Girl in some way or that you very much look forward to reading?
Recently I’ve read and loved Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West, Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey, and of course, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.
There are so, so many books coming out this year that I want in my eyeballs immediately. I can’t list them all, so here’s five:
In August, I read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune after seeing Mara (@bookslikewhoa) rave about it on her BookTube page. Klune’s novel is one of a kind in its depiction of the child welfare state and how “unwanted” children are often herded from place to place with no real care for their wellbeing. Even though this author has placed the children in his story in an alternate world, it speaks to the plight of children who are either minority or LGBTQ+ or “hard to manage.”
Klune’s book starts in this “alternate” version of what seems to be London with Linus Baker, a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, who happens to be gay. Linus is a character who the reader will immediately recognize as a person who’s just going through the motions at work. For all those in the helping profession, you’ll recognize him immediately as a person who’s “burned out” and just going through the motions of his job.
However, this all changes when he’s sent to check up on Arthur Parnassus and his gang of “misfit” children. The children under Arthur’s care can be seen to represent several unwanted groups of children, such as those with behavioral issues (Lucy, the Antichrist), those who are transgendered or non-binary (Talia, a female gnome, & Chauncey, an anthropomorphic blob), mischaracterized BIPOC children (Sal, a Black teenager who has been characterized as “violent” even though he’s just introverted), and the neurodiverse (Phee, a sprite who relates more to nature, & Theodore, a wyvern with limited speech patterns).
While the world and Linus at the beginning of the book view Arthur’s charges as a danger to society, he knows better. Through careful work with each child, he’s able to bring out the best in them. Sadly, this is not the route many people take when dealing with children in each of these populations, causing them more harm than good.
I will admit when I met the kids in Klune’s book, I was a little taken aback by the fact that Sal, who seems to be the only child of color, was depicted as a “were-dog.” Yet, it hit me that this was a stroke of brilliance since Sal’s transformation from being this “scary animal” that society sees him as mirrors the plight of black men everywhere once they go past the toddler stage. Sal is a victim of circumstance who has PTSD from the violence inflicted on him. He’s not only intelligent and poetic, but also the calmest child out the bunch. Likewise, the fact that Klune subtle pokes fun at the irony of dogs being highly protected by society when BIPOC aren’t had me smirking.
This book is a heartwarming tale that everyone needs to read! I gave it 4 ⭐️. It’s a book for the whole family. Checkout some of the character avatars that the publisher, TOR Forge, shared on their site below and on their website!
Furia is the story of Camila Hassan, a soccer prodigy that lives in Rosario, Argentina. As the only daughter of a misogynistic father, Camila is forced to hide her dreams of playing soccer from her parents, who hope she will become a doctor or marry rich to help them escape poverty.
Méndez’s #OwnVoices book is everything I could ever want in a YA Novel. This author tackles feminism, the fragile male ego, domestic and mental abuse, and what life can be like for women and abandoned children in a violent and impoverished country in the Global South. And, not to mention, Méndez’s book has a “friends to lovers” romance, a sports plotline, and involves social commentary on what it means to be a woman in a culture that runs on machismo.
Earning the nickname, “La Furia,” from admirers for her prowess on the soccer field, Camila is sure that she can help save her family if given a chance. When her childhood friend, Diego, comes home from playing pro-soccer overseas, she is forced to choose between her desire to be independent and play the sport she loves or yield to her family and Diego’s wishes for her.
Méndez navigates multiple plot lines and character development with finesse and manages to ask the bigger question of what happens in society if women are not protected and allowed to live full lives? This book has a little something for all readers.
Since I was a child, reading has been one of my favorite past times. When I read a good book, it sits with me for a long time and becomes a part of who I am. The ideas that I have gleaned from reading certain books have helped color my opinion on topics, like respectability politics, social issues, along with many other topics. Since we don’t have anything else to do during this #QuarantineSeason, I decided to share my favorites books with you all!
Tell me if you have read any of these books in the comments below!
1. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples: I remember having to read this book in fifth grade and being so transfixed by Shabanu’s story. Shabanu is a Pakistani girl of about 12 or 13 who lives in the Cholistan desert with her nomadic family. Growing up tending her herd of camels she always knew she’d marry young, but as fate would have it, her betrothal comes muchearlier than she expects. Shabanu is married to a man that is twice her age after a chaotic event takes place when her family visits her actual betrothed. Staple’s book has the type of storyline that sticks with you well beyond you finishing the book. Even though I read the other two books in this series, I would still recommend this book out of the whole series as the one that is most riveting.
2.Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling once said that, “no matter how old you get, the world of Harry Potter will always be waiting for you when you return.” As corny as this sounds, it is the truth. I frequently reread this series from beginning to end and always get emotional even though I know what’s going to happen. Regardless, my emotions always slip away from me when I read the 6th book in the series. I love the back story that Rowling gives to why Lord Voldemort is the way he is and why their is a rivalry between Harry’s father and Professor Snape. If I had to only pick one book from the series as my all-time favorite, this would definitely be the one. I never get tired of this book.
3. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss: The thing you’ll quickly learn about me is that I’m a tad sentimental and a sucker for quotable things or things that give some insight into the human experience. I love this book by Dr. Seuss because it makes me feel like I’m not alone in my journey to that great beyond we all call adulthood. This book is usually something that you give to a person who’s graduating or just moving up another level in their life. I love the simplicity in the Dr.’s rhymes and the overall messages in the books. The artwork in this book also lends itself to the unique wackiness that can only be found in a Dr. Seuss book. This book is good for people of all ages and something that never goes out of style.
4. Friday Nights At Honeybee’s by Andrea Smith: I picked this book up on a whim in undergrad at my university’s bookstore and fell deeply in love with the story during my first reading. The book follows two women as they migrate individually to Harlem in the 1960’s until the point where they meet at Honeybee’s, a home for the Black artistic crowd during this era. The two women, Viola and Forestine are both running from their own personal demons. Viola is a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter who gets ran out of her small town by her Church family and Forestine is a woman who’s only dream is to become a singer. In Smith’s story, the recreation of Harlem in the 1960’s is beyond believable and the storyline immediately sucked me in. I’d recommend to all lovers of Harlem and jazz music or to anyone who loves The Color Purple by Alice Walker or the Sugar duology by Bernice McFadden.
5. The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman: We’ve all been born in skin that we don’t always feel comfortable in. To make matters worse, we may often get told, “oh you would be pretty if…” or “honey, why don’t you do x, y, and z to yourself” by some brainwashed individual who has been sold a one dimensional view on what beauty is.
In the case of Emma Lou, the hue of her skin is what keeps her from being considered beautiful by others in her family and race. Born as a dark-skinned African-American in the Harlem Renaissance period, Emma Lou is frequently told to modify her skin tone to fit in with society’s concept of what beauty.
I personally love this book because of the raw emotions that Thurman lets spill onto the pages of the novel. Growing up as a dark-skinned girl myself, I can understand the feelings that Emma Lou has when it comes to life and her struggle to come of age in an era when blacks were not necessarily as accepting of their skin tone as they should have been. Yet, don’t be detoured from reading this novel if your not that into African-American history, it’s a good read for anybody who enjoys coming of age stories as well.
6.Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree: This particular book falls under my top picks not only because it is a good book, but because of the way it came to me. Tyree’s book was a staple read amongst middle school girls when I was in 6th grade. Flyy Girl was secretly passed back and fourth between us girls like it was the ultimate study guide and each girl in turn would read it and pass it on to the next girl in line. As an adult, this book doesn’t hold nearly as much magic for me, but I still keep it in my list of faves because it reminds me of a much more innocent time. The book itself isn’t exactly child friendly because of certain scenes where the main character partakes in adult “cardio” exercises yet, the novel itself is about the main character, Tracy’s coming of age and learning who she is on her own terms. While I did read this book at a fairly young age, I would caution other young girls to do so under the pretense of being an observer of Tracy’s story opposed to using it as an all out manual for living life in the fast lane. If you love this book, you need to read The Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah.
7. The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee: Action, racial commentary, fight scenes, wise cracking, and an urban setting are all a part of Greenlee’s masterpiece. I read this book this semester for my seminar on African-American Fiction after growing up hearing my parents discuss it frequently. Greenlee’s novel has a tumultuous back story. Turned down by American publishers and eventually having to go to Britain to publish this book due to its graphic and raw nature, Greenlee’s book was lost in the shuffle of great African-American fiction. This book is a fictional account of Dan Freeman, an ex-CIA African-American operative as he fights to exact guerrilla warfare on his oppressors. The novel takes place in the 60’s and follows Freeman as he seeks to educate a gang of urban teens on having love for themselves and their race. It was eventually turned into a movie and then, banned by the government upon its release. It has only recently been reintroduced into print and DVD (If you want to watch it, also check out the movie on YouTube).This novel is not for the faint of heart or for those who are easily offended by racial slurs. I would recommend it as a serious read or just as a thriller selection for any and everyone.
8. Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee: One of my ultimate guilty pleasures is the Indian culture. I truly enjoy reading novels that are based around Indian or Indian American women’s experiences. Here, Banerjee writes about Lina, a woman who loses her fiancee in an accident and works as a matchmaker. On a trip home to India, Lina’s Auntie tries to set her up with some random Indian man at her cousin’s wedding and she panics blurting out to her aunt that she is already engaged. This sends her family into a tizzy and Lina is stuck trying to find a man to fill the spot of her fictional fiancee. Enter in Raja, an Indian prince who hires Lina to find his brother a wife and sparks start to fly from there. Since buying it, I reread this book at least once a year. Even though it’s predictable, I love the mushy romance and the way that Banerjee deals with grieving. If you love chick-lit I’d definitely recommend you read this book.
9. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen: I was a HUGE fan of Sarah Dessen growing up. (Don’t make that face at me…I know, I know 😑). To fill this final spot, I had to delve back into my bookshelf and weigh the pros and cons of each of her novels to decide which book is my top fave of all time. For me, this position would have to go to The Truth About Forever due to it’s ability to draw me in every time I reread it. This novel follows Macy, a girl seeking perfection to hold her life together after her father dies. On a whim, Macy takes a summer job with Wish, a catering company. Here, she befriends Wes, a boy who has also lost a parent and they play an endless game of Questions where each person has to answer the others question truthfully until someone forfeits. Dessen’s books have been called cheesy and repetitive by some however, I find them to be comforting. I especially love the Question Game and can’t wait to play it with some willing person in the future.
What are your favorite books? Tell me in the comments below.
“I think, more than anything, people like to feel superior to others… And when people feel superior, it makes it harder for them to see the problems just beneath the surface. They don’t want to believe them, to face them, because if they did, can they really claim to be superior anymore?”― Rebecca Schaeffer
We are in the middle of a global health pandemic. It would be nice if this moment of fear made us all more empathetic & understanding of those who differ from ourselves, but to say this, would be a lie. For, there are always people that will take any excuse to succumb to fear. When this happens, xenophobia runs rampant with little prompting.
In WWII, the choice to confine Japanese citizens into internment camps came after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This Executive Order authorized the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and communities within the United States. In response to this removal, the court case, Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), was filed to contest the removal of these citizens by Fred Korematsu, 23, a Japanese-American citizen that was arrested for not complying with the order. Korematsu later became a national civil rights hero appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the U.S. government intelligence agencies had hid key documents from the Court causing Korematsu’s conviction to bee overturned.
Similar to Korematsu, John Okada uses his novel to tell the story of Ichiro, a nisei or second-generation Japanese American man, who gets drafted to serve in WWII. This character resist on the principle of not wanting to renounce his Japanese heritage or his American citizenship. The story progresses from here and readers are able to see WWII through the eyes of a Japanese-American.
The title of Okada’s book stems from Question 27 of the “loyalty questionnaire.” Okada shows how the act of “othering,” or placing a minority in a position where they feel as if they must choose between their ethnic culture & “American” culture can create a fracturing of the person’s psyche causing emotionally, mentally, & physically duress.
Okada’s novel asks readers, specifically white readers, to place themselves in the role of a minority person and to think, “how would I feel if my existence were seen as a threat?” While this book isn’t about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is about how Asian people are often perceived as a danger to America. Thanks to continued feelings of Yellow Peril, we are now seeing people shroud their fear of getting sick with racist comments & acts toward Asians.