Tag: feminism

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Laura Pohl

So. It’s been a hot minute since my last interview for the Staying Awesome series, which is why I’m super happy to feature this edition’s guest today. I met this brilliant woman via Twitter after discovering the online contest she’d organized for Latinxs writers! Thankfully, she agreed to let me poke her brain for a bit (and fangirl her brilliance).

Today’s interview features the one and only Laura Pohl!

 

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What makes Laura awesome?

  • She’s Latina, so yep. I’m biased. 🙂

  • She’s a writer and a Literature grad student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

  • She’s the creator of the Pitch América contest, where Latinx writers can pitch their manuscripts to agents seeking #ownvoices.

  • She works as a freelance beta reader for both manuscripts and query letters.

  • She’s a Slytherin like me! Yep. Biased again. 🙂

 

Okay, folks. Let’s get to know Laura a little more!

 

1) Not only are you a writer, you also offer editing and beta reading services to other writers! In what ways do you think your beta reading/editing experience informs your writing process and vice versa?

Beta reading definitely gives me a new perspective to my own work – it’s great to see how other writers do it, their process, how they craft the story. Writing can’t be done if you don’t read a lot, and sometimes reading manuscripts gives you a new insight on the process of book writing. I really do love editing and CPing, especially because you get to see a good book become a great book.

Sensitivity reading is a bit different – mostly you have to look out for aspects of representation. It’s a lot more tiring because more often than not, people write offensive things without realizing the stereotyping is harmful. Everyone is subject to this when writing about another culture, even myself. Which is why it’s so important to get sensitivity readers who can point those things for you. No one is exempt from writing harmful stereotypes, but the thing that you can do is try to fix this. It’s fascinating to do the work, and it helps me realize the mistakes I make in my own writing.

 

2) I must bow down to you for creating this month’s Pitch América contest! The contest’s website states the following: “With a focus on such a large group of people, we want to diversify and give opportunity to all Latinx writers who are looking to get published.” Can you talk about the decision to grant Latinx writers this amazing opportunity? Was it an aha! moment that hit you all of a sudden or did it develop through time?

It was a bit of an aha! moment, I admit. We had the #DVPit event created by Beth Phelan recently, which I thought was a great opportunity for shortening the gap we see for authors of color, but it was also a very wide event – it included POC, authors of color, authors of disability and LGBT. It’s great, but the feed was moving too fast and I felt like there were a lot of interesting pitches that didn’t get enough attention. LL McKinney created the WCNV contest, and I decided to follow up with #PitchAmérica. Being a Latina myself, I’m close to this project and I really want to see more representation in literature than what we have today. Latinx is also such a diverse group of people, englobing all of south and central America, with such different cultures and influences. I’d love to see more stories told by this people, and I feel like #PitchAmérica gives an extra opportunity to showcase these stories and make them shine.

 

 3) Like me, you identify as a feminist. I always love reaching out to women and girls who embrace the term, especially since it can mean different things to different people. How do you define feminism for yourself? In what ways does it shape the stories you choose to write?

I think the most important thing feminism has done for my writing is to broaden the idea that women can do anything – be heroes and villains, be good or bad. We’re so deeply stuck in the idea that women should be kind and forgiving that we often forget that in books, this doesn’t need to happen either. I can’t not write feminist heroes, women and girls who believe in the same ideals I do. For me, feminism is about intersectionality – if your feminism isn’t for everyone, for WOC, for Trans girls, for genderqueer individuals, for disabled people, then who is it for? Including everyone in my writing comes naturally because I have lived this reality my whole life, and when I write, I want to reflect the reality I live in.

A lot of times I struggled with this, especially because what we see in books is often white heterosexual cis characters, and for a long time in my life, I felt like other stories that featured huge families, LGBT characters just didn’t fit into my writing. It took me a long time until I could deconstruct my own internalized prejudices and finally write people who are more like me. Feminism helped with that – it let me know that I’m important, that my stories are important and there’s a place for them, too.

 


4) You mention in your Twitter bio that you “obsess frequently” about unlikable female characters. What are some of your absolute fave unlikable female characters? What do you think makes them unlikable? 

I read this definition about unlikable female characters that I absolutely agree with – they’re women who are unapologetically themselves. They don’t pretend to like something, they don’t pretend to fit inside the rules. They go after what they want. I guess that’s what makes them unlikable because they don’t fit the expectations of what they should be – they don’t apologize for who they are and what they want. They’re not necessarily kind, or motherly or compassionate, or any of those things that are supposed to “make a woman”.

Of course, defining it is very hard. Sansa Stark can be an unlikable female character, because she’s considered weak when you compare her against her sister. Sansa doesn’t fight, she doesn’t pick up a sword. But she resists, and that’s what I love the most about her. Her resilience, how she refuses to go down. It can be a character who’s too much of an asshole, or not feminine enough, or too much of a feminist, or anything at all. What I would say is this – it’s someone who refuses to apologize for who they are, or to conform to the norms of being just average.

That said, my favorite of favorites is Amy Dunn from Gone Girl. Talk about problematic. I absolutely love the way she was written, and how insane she is. I love Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass, who’s arrogant and vain. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic, and I want to shout my love for her from rooftops. Even Katniss Everdeen, who’s considered unlikable by so many because she has break downs and thinks of herself first. Even Cersei Lannister, who I have a love/hate relationship with. I love those women who are more than the usual stereotypes, who are allowed to be selfish and vain and arrogant and ruthless.

**Bonus question: Favorite Star Wars character? 

I both hate you and love you for this question! Han Solo was my first love. Anakin Skywalker is my problematic fave. Obi-Wan is the teacher I wish I had. Luke is the light that shines in the world. Leia and Rey are the women I wish I can one day become.

Thanks so much for this interview, Amparo! I really loved answering your questions.

 

Major epic huge THANK YOU to Laura for letting me interview her! Here’s where you can find her online:

Website / Twitter / Tumblr / Pinterest / Instagram / Facebook

 

 

 

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Kelly Jensen

Welcome to another entry in the Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today I’m super pumped to feature a woman I’ve admired for quite some time now, Kelly Jensen!

 

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What makes Kelly awesome?

Kelly Jensen is a former teen librarian who worked in several public libraries before pursuing a full-time career in writing and editing. Her current position is with Book Riot, the largest independent book website in North America, where she focuses on talking about young adult literature in all of its manifestations. Before becoming a fully-fledge adult-like person, she worked in the swanky Texas Legislative Library entering data into a computer while surrounded by important politicians, scooped gelato for hungry college students, and spent hours reading, annotating, and scanning small-town Texas newspapers into a giant searchable database.

Kelly lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three needy-but-awesome cats. In her free time, she does yoga, writes for her personal blog STACKED (stackedbooks.org), drinks a lot of tea, and enjoys disappearing for days reading good books. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, at Rookie Magazine, The Horn Book, BlogHer, School Library Journal. She contributed an essay and a guide to teen sexuality in pop culture for Amber J. Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories of First-Time Sex and is the author of the book It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader from VOYA Press.

Kelly was kind enough to let me pick her (amazing) brain. Check out her brilliance below!

 

1) Many young girls and women identify as feminists, including myself, but I find that others are hesitant when it comes to proclaiming themselves feminists. Some don’t even believe we need feminism and argue that equality has already been achieved. How do you define feminism for yourself? In what ways do you think a greater understanding and acceptance of feminism can be achieved?

You’ve pretty much nailed why I wanted to create a feminism anthology for teenagers in your question! I’m a big believer in the idea feminism is a movement full of facets and that every individual comes to it in their own way and uses feminism in a way that makes sense to them. Your feminism can and does evolve as you do; the more you learn, the more you accept some elements of feminism and the more you reject other notions of “feminism.”

My own definition of feminism is the same one Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so clearly states in “We Should All Be Feminists” — feminism is the social, political, and economic equality of all people. How we achieve that, though, I believe is entirely personal and individual and it’s through following our own paths through feminism we’re able to help the greater good achieve that equality. I reject the idea that there are right ways to be a feminist; some people perform feminism in quiet ways and others do it loudly. I believe that online social justice is as important and powerful as work done on the streets. Everyone comes where they’re comfortable and it makes a difference.

It’s through accepting other people’s ways of feminism I think we can better achieve acceptance of it. We also need to keep talking about feminism and what it looks like. One of my biggest hindrances to calling myself a feminist when I was younger came because I felt like an impostor; this is what I wrote about in my own piece for Feminism for the Real World. When we only ever see a movement as one thing — in feminism’s case, a loud, on-the-streets, vocal-in-all-spaces, marching-for-peace movement that’s popular in the media and in textbooks (if they mention feminism at all!) — we don’t show the spaces where people work behind the scenes or where they’re learning or listening and working to be better in quieter, but equally important, ways. A person marching in a reproductive rights rally on a college campus is as valid a feminist as an individual who stops using gendered slurs or transphobic language in their day-to-day communication and urges others to do the same. All of these things matter. They’re all facets.


 

2) Before you became an associate editor at Book Riot, you were already sharing your awesomeness with the world over at Stacked, a blog dedicated to book reviews, guest posts, and epic link roundups. Your book reviews have always fascinated me for their in-depth analysis on character development, particularly when it comes to books featuring girl narrators and stories of girlhood. What’s the most unapologetically feminist Y.A. book you’ve ever read and why?

Thank you! It’s such a nice compliment to hear this.

Funny story: if you go back into the early posts at STACKED, there are a series of pieces about a program I attended about the importance of getting guys to read. It moved me a lot — so much I did guy-focused programming for an entire summer at my library which was wildly successful and which earned me a little recognition from the local Rotary group.

The thing is, after I finished that program and began seeing more and more “guys only” kinds of programs and professional education movements in libraries, the angrier I got. Why were we not talking about girls? How come it was assumed girls were doing alright and didn’t need any special consideration? Not to mention, all of this falls into a gender binary and I don’t know about you, but my life has granted me a lot of wonderful genderqueer, trans, and questioning individuals who ALSO deserve to be considered as part of a community. The angrier I got, the more I wrote and the more I read. And the more I read and wrote, the more I discovered people who thought about this too. It led me to realizing this was incredibly important to me and I needed to keep talking about it. So I have and I will.

It would be impossible to name a single unapologetically feminist YA book. I’ve read so many, and I’ve been impressed and blown away not just by the stories themselves, but the reactions to them. People dislike feminism, or rather, they dislike female characters who step outside the box. Who aren’t willing to bend. Who don’t submit or fit within a neat label. In other words: readers dislike female characters that refuse to be one-dimensional.

A few of the most feminist YA titles I’ve read and would heartily recommend include: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann, All The Rage by Courtney Summers, Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty (criminally underrated science fiction dystopian satire), Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian, all of Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphosis trilogy (especially About A Girl, my favorite of the series), Pointe by Brandy Colbert. This is such a white list and part of that is purposeful — we have a real hole in intersectional feminism in YA. A big reason isn’t that the books aren’t being written but that the books about girls of color that sell so rarely look beyond their race as key to the story. That’s a weakness in publishing, not the books. Have you tried to find YA light reads featuring girls of color? Sit on that for a bit. The answer is that it’ll take you a long time to think of some. I keep meaning to read Love is the Drug and The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which I keep being told are radically and amazingly feminist.


 

3) I can’t begin to tell you how desperate I am to read Feminism for the Real World, the anthology you edited that’s coming out in 2017! Tell me about your decision to make this anthology happen. Was there a specific aha! moment that led you to the anthology’s creation? Or have you always wanted to work on a project like this?

I don’t remember learning anything about feminism growing up. There weren’t any lessons in class, there weren’t any real books out there for teenagers, and the internet age wasn’t then what it is now.

When I got to college and met these incredibly outspoken feminists, I found myself turned off to the movement, in part because I didn’t understand it. But as I went through college and found myself writing and exploring very feminist issues in all of my work, I realized that feminism is wide, dynamic, and accommodating.

With the growth of feminist talk in the mainstream — from TIME Magazine’s attempt to “ban” the word in 2014 to the popular question “are you a feminist?” journalists ask of famous women — it felt like the right time to bring together a variety of voices, perspectives, and insights into what feminism means, what it looks like, and why it’s a movement that teenagers want to know and be involved in because it truly impacts their lives now and will impact it throughout their futures.

This is very much the book I would have wanted as a teenager to help me make sense of the idea and make me feel like my own feminism was not wrong.

I remember growing up and grappling with a lot of really big issues and finding my place in books. There was a nice guide to figuring out your religious beliefs or how you could mix and match them. There was a guide for how to handle your changing body. There were all kinds of useful books for teens on topics that mattered; this, I like to think, will fit into that realm — and hopefully it’ll reach teens in ways that I can’t even anticipate.

 

4) You mention in your Twitter bio that you’re a “reformed librarian.” What was the best part about working as a librarian? What was the worst?

I worked with teenagers, who are the BEST. I love teenagers, their energy, their enthusiasm, their attitudes. Deep down inside, even the most annoying teen who walks into the library wants to be accepted for who they are, right where they are. I always felt like it was a privilege to be a trusted adult in their lives and accept them right where they are. I had teens who’d come to book club so they could play with LEGOs and teens who’d come to those same book clubs to talk books. I let them do both, and both were so happy to be able to do that. I loved being an advocate and voice for those who are so rarely seen as worthy of that. Especially in a public space. We limit teens everywhere; my goal was — and still is through so many other ways — to give them space to grow and learn and have fun. They have the whole rest of their lives to be adults.

The worst part of librarianship was bureaucracy. Getting things done takes a long time in libraries, if it happens at all. Actually, the thing I disliked most was being a young woman in a public space where many felt they were able to comment on me to me. I had a man make a really inappropriate sex joke at me, had men inappropriately touch me without my permission, and men who would literally comment on my appearance to tell me if I looked better or worse one way or the other. It was always awkward and uncomfortable and I learned a lot about myself. I know some people would respond and react quickly, but as someone who feels like I always have to be a good kid, I never said what I wanted to, and I rarely reported their behavior. I wish, of course, I had. But I didn’t know. I just wanted to do well at my job, and part of that was dealing with that.


5) Do you see yourself writing fiction for teen girls down the line? (I personally think this needs to happen, Kelly. It just does).

Yep — I’m actually in the midst of working on a novel right now that I’m revising for my agent. I’ve been working on various novels for many years, but nothing quite stuck because I didn’t invest seriously in myself as a person with a career in writing and publishing for teens. But now I’m seeing it and wanting it. I’m lucky to have both critique partners, friends, and an agent who are encouraging it in ways that make me want to bring an A game.

If you’re curious, my work in progress is a novel about small towns, two girls who love one another madly, ghosts, and how we judge ourselves and others.

 

A huge thank you to Kelly for participating in this series!! Make sure to pick up Feminism for the Real World when it hits bookshelves in Spring 2017, and while you wait, go get It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. You can find Kelly online over at the following links:

Twitter / Tumblr / Pinterest / Instagram / Goodreads