Episode 99! Conversation with Kekla Magoon


Welcome to episode 99 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Every week this podcast will feature an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday). 

In this episode, Kekla Magoon discusses the many layers of #ownvoices with Karen Blumenthal.

Read all the kidlitwomen* essays shared in March

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On today's Podcast you will hear:


Kekla Magoon is the author of nine novels, including The Rock and the RiverHow It Went DownX: A Novel (with ill YA sah      Shuh baazz), and the Robyn Hoodlum Adventure series

She has received an NAACP Image Award, the John Steptoe New Talent Award, two Coretta Scott King Honors, The Walter Award Honor, the In the Margins Award, and been long listed for the National Book Award.  Kekla conducts school and library visits nationwide and holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she now serves on faculty. 


Karen Blumenthal,  a long-time journalist,  writes nonfiction for young people with the belief that nonfiction brings context to a complicated world. She is particularly fascinated by social change, how it happens and why. Her books include the Siebert Honor Book Six Days in October: The Stock Crash of 1929 and Let me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America. Her new book Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend is out now  Learn more about Karen at her website: www.karenblumenthal.com.


karen:                      Hi, this is Karen Blumenthal and this is the Kidlit Women podcast. And today I'm here with Kekla Magoon, and we're going to be talking not about one single essay but about a big idea. #OwnVoices. #OwnVoices is a fairly new hashtag concept. And I'm gonna let Kekla start. Welcome Kekla, let you start by telling us what is it? Can you just give us a little primer on it?

kekla:                       Sure. Own voices actually started as a hashtag. There was an author named [Corrine 00:01:00] [inaudible 00:01:00], speaking of names I'm not sure how to pronounce, who used it first in reference to authors with disability, writing about their own experiences and from their own perspective. And it originated as a way to celebrate when there were books that were written by someone who had a particular identity or a particular experience, and was writing about that identity or that experience.

kekla:                       And over time, it has evolved to be used in a couple of different ways, including being used as a way to determine whether something should or should not be published, based on whether the author shares an identity element with the characters in the book or not. And that is quite an evolution from where the hashtag began, which was about trying to get new voices and marginalized voices into the conversation.

karen:                      So when we go back and look at books with both diverse representation and by diverse authors, we often see that there's just not very many diverse authors in the universe of Kidlit. Although there are more probably diverse characters within that, but that's where there becomes then some conflict sometimes between who should be telling those stories and how. How do you approach the gray area yourself?

kekla:                       Well, I tend to write from my own experiences. And as a biracial black author, I am often writing about characters who are black and biracial. Which is definitely an identity that's underrepresented in children's literature across the board.

kekla:                       The CCBC, which is the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, tracks the number of children's books that are published by and about authors of different identities and characters of different identities. And black characters are represented in about 7% of children's books that are published. And that was our numbers from 2017 I believe.

kekla:                       So there's a long way to go to have the representation in children's books that matches representation of black characters and of black children who are doing the reading.

kekla:                       So I guess your question was how do I approach it in terms of writing about my own experience?

karen:                      No, I think that was really thinking more both as a reader and just as a member of the Kidlit community, though maybe I should rephrase it because I was inelegant. There's a lot of discussion in the Kidlit community about writing the other who can do what, or whether one group is banned from writing about another group. We do tend to make things black and white sometimes, don't we? Or positive or negative, or whatever. How do you approach that as a reader, as a writer, and as a member of the Kidlit community?

kekla:                       I think this is one of those issues that's both very simple and very complicated. There's a lot of nuance to who is writing what and who should be writing what. And the use of the word should in and of itself is complicated, right?

kekla:                       So I at the very basic level, believe that we all have the right to create what we want to, to write what we want to, to express ourselves on the page the way that we want to. And we live in a society which at this point in time, allows us to have that free expression and allows us to use our voices in whatever ways we want and apply them to whatever kinds of characters and stories that we want.

kekla:                       So we have that right. We have that ability, right? So when there is the question then of who should tell the story and who should have a voice in the conversation, that's where it becomes a little trickier because then it's not just about what we have the right to do. It's about what we perceive our responsibility to be to ourselves, to other authors, to the children's literature community as a whole, to the publishing industry. But particularly, to the children who we're writing for.

kekla:                       So I believe that there are a couple of different facets to any particular artist's life. There's a very private creative space in which you do have the freedom to do anything you want. Nobody sees it, nobody can judge you for it. It's just your own sphere. Very, very close.

kekla:                       We do at some point make a decision about what to take from our private sphere, from our creative circle out into the world. Whether it's to share it with a critique group, or to try to submit it for publication, or to actually see it published, or to put it in the hands of readers.

kekla:                       So that is the stage at which I think we have a responsibility, or at least I believe we have a responsibility to consider the impact of that work in the world. And what our position as creators, as writers, as illustrators is to the bigger picture of the child readers that we're putting our work in front of.

kekla:                       So for me, that means considering things like am I writing about something that might better be told by someone else? How do I determine that? Is this a story that I had to write for my own self because I wanted to understand this other person's life and experiences better? That's great. That's fine. Is this a story that I need to be the one to bring to the world? And I think that's a question that a lot of writers don't pause to ask themselves. And to draw a distinction between what we create in our own excitement, and what we want to share.

karen:                      That's a big question, isn't it? To ask yourself. It seems to me that should I be the one? It would require some reflection I'm not sure everybody has.

kekla:                       Sure. I think not everybody has that reflection. I think there are a lot of factors to that. I think there are people who believe that if they write something, that they have the right to see it published, to have it shared. And that is a mindset that comes from a fair amount of privilege, I would argue, because there are a lot of people who come from a position of having to fight for their voice to be heard in society, having to fight for a place at the table, having to fight for education, and opportunities, and access. And so to take for granted that if I write it, it will be published, is something that not everybody can even begin to imagine. So I think to people who operate from a place of privilege ... and that could be economic privilege. It could be racial privilege, it could be gender privilege. It can be all sorts of kinds of privilege, right? Location privilege, right? If you happen to live in New York, you can meet editors more easily than if you live in a rural place, right?

kekla:                       There's all kinds of reasons why you might believe that your voice is even, equal to everybody else's and that the opportunities that you have are equal to everybody else's. But there's actually a lot of factors that go into what gives somebody access and what gives somebody an opportunity. So if we take for granted that our stories are going to be told and that our stories deserve to be published, then we're missing an opportunity to think about how we can serve each other in community and how we can get all of the stories that need to be told out into the world.

karen:                      That's great. That's a great explanation for why this is such an important idea and concept, I think. How do you make it happen? How do we make it happen? I'm seeing more people using it as a hashtag in social media, but not everybody's clued into social media. I think publishers are aware of it. Do you feel like this is something that is becoming more of a priority in publishing?

kekla:                       Yes, I do think it's becoming more of a priority in publishing. I think once again, it's a very nuanced question because when we're talking about diversity in publishing broadly speaking, we're talking about two separate issues. One is seeing more characters of color, seeing more queer characters, seeing more gender non-binary characters, seeing characters from different economic backgrounds and different nationalities, etc, etc. Right? There's a whole host of identity elements that we lump together by calling them "diverse," right? and all of that is set against a backdrop of what we don't consider diverse or what we consider mainstream, which is white, straight, cis, upper middle class, right? There's a particular set of identities that are not labeled most often.

kekla:                       So when we talk about diversity in children's literature, we're talking about one, getting characters with all those diverse identity elements onto the page and published. And on the other hand, we're talking about getting the voices of authors from those identities on the page and published.

kekla:                       Those are actually two separate issues that are very, very often conflated and that are falling together under this hashtag and headline of #OwnVoices. So what we see happening in publishing is that for a while there was a push for diverse characters or multicultural literature, right? So let's just see more black characters on the page. Let's see more queer characters on the page. It didn't matter who wrote them, right? Let's try to pull those stories in.

kekla:                       So while that's important, it's not the whole picture. The other part of the picture is actually getting marginalized voices to tell their stories. Because regardless of what I write, I'm writing from the perspective of a biracial woman. Whatever, a cisgendered straight man from an upper middle class background writes, he's writing from that perspective. So even if he's writing about a biracial woman, he's still writing through the lens of a white, straight, upper middle class, cisgendered man. And so what that means is a white, straight, upper middle class, cisgendered man is defining the identity of a black woman potentially, right? That's who that person is and what's believable about a black character on the page is currently being defined by people who are not black for the most part.

kekla:                       And so what we need to see, I believe, is both things happening. We need to see more diverse characters, and we need to see more diverse voices. Very often, those new diverse voices, those new diverse authors are going to bring those characters. But in a sense, it doesn't matter what we choose to write about. Our viewpoint is then going to be represented on the page.

kekla:                       So what happens when ... I'm going to stick with the black white dichotomy because that's what I face most often. When white authors decide that it's very, very important that we see black characters, and they decide that they're going to be the ones to publish it, publishing, the industry is satisfied by seeing an increase in black characters.

karen:                      Is there a concern or a reality? For instance, I write nonfiction. If a white author is writing about certain issues in the civil rights movement, is there a concern then that will mean there'll be fewer opportunities for someone who has a more direct link to that experience to write those stories? Is there a fear of one pushing out the other?

kekla:                       Yes, I would say that that's one piece of the fear. And my way of thinking about this is very nuanced, which is one of the reasons why it's hard to make it sound succinct. I see multiple layers to that question, right?

kekla:                       So does a white author publishing a book about the civil rights movement take the place or prevent potentially another black author from writing that same story? I think the simple answer is yes. The reasons for the yes are a couple of fold.

kekla:                       So what I was just talking about in terms of a white author bringing a white perspective to a story about black characters. Is I think rather insidious piece of this. Because what happens is we see black authors writing stories about, for example, the civil rights movement, bringing those stories to publishing, a largely white dominated industry. We're constantly told, "It's a great story. It's really interesting material, but it's just not quite there yet, or it's just not quite right, or it's just not quite capturing the story the way we want it to capture it." It's these nebulous positive rejections, right?

kekla:                       At the same time, an author from a white background, from a white identity can write that story and have it be accepted, lauded, and celebrated for what it's doing to bring awareness to an issue.

kekla:                       I believe that some of that what's happening very subtly is it's a story about black characters and about a black experience that's being written from a white perspective through a white viewpoint. And that speaks to the powers that be in publishing in very, very subtle, perhaps even unconscious ways.

kekla:                       So a story that I might write about the civil rights movement might be emotionally resident with black readers. It might be emotionally resonant with white readers, but in a way that expands their thinking, not in a way that already fits with their thinking. Whereas when a white writer tells that same story, they're telling it through a lens that matches say a white editor's view.

kekla:                       So what happens is that book is more likely to be published than my book. So it's not that the editor is out to get black authors. It's not that the editor doesn't care about diversity. It's that the editor is moved by this other text, and therefore feels like this other text is stronger.

kekla:                       That may not be empirically true, but we're not operating in an empirical space. We're operating in a space where everybody brings their own perspective, and their own bias, and their own viewpoint to bear on the industry.

kekla:                       So what one thing that black authors and other marginalized authors are suggesting is that if white authors would be willing to step aside from telling some of those stories, it might give us the opportunity to tell our stories in the way that actually means something to people from our identity. And that's been really, really difficult to communicate with white authors, with straight authors, with cisgendered authors, etc. Because we all believe that we can achieve an empirical truth, right? Especially with nonfiction, and especially with stories that aren't necessarily about the identity. Right?

karen:                      Right. Plus my art.

kekla:                       Well right, exactly. Exactly. And there is an element of we don't want to be told what we can and can't write. And that's a fair thing to be frustrated about. It really is. It's also not necessarily a fair world. Right? So the experience of black authors is I try, and I try, and I try, I have many excellent books, right? And still I put projects forward that are met with, "I don't know if this is real," and then I see it come from someone else not that long after that.

karen:                      Wow, that must be really frustrating.

kekla:                       Right. It's a process that's frustrating. So I've been analyzing it for a long time and trying to see how these different threads fit together and what there is to be done about it. Because again, going back to the beginning, there is a sense that we all do have this creative freedom. It's just a question of what are we going to do with that creative freedom? We all have the power to tell the stories we want to tell. What are we going to do with that power? How are we going to choose to use our voices? Are we going to choose to use them to take the space of somebody else? Are we going to choose to use them to lift somebody else up? Are we going to choose to use them to expand our own view, or continue to perpetuate exclusion?

karen:                      Beyond the hashtag, how is this communicated to gatekeepers and librarians? Do you feel like it's well known, or do you feel like there's still a way to go in terms of helping other people know and understand what OwnVoices is?

kekla:                       I do think there's a long way to go. I think it's an extremely nuanced topic. And I think that in this moment in time, we're very, very interested in soundbites. We're interested in tweets, we're interested in brief posts, we're interested in things that can be boiled down very quickly. The fact that it's a hashtag can't possibly include every facet of the way that this term can be used and all of the different layers of meaning. So I would like to see us slow down and really think about it a little bit. And I would love to see people understand and recognize that criticism of a system, which is to say systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic homophobia, etc. Criticism of a system that perpetuates privilege for certain identities is not the same as criticizing individuals that bear those identities.

kekla:                       In other words, to say we need more black books to be published and it would be great if white writers would take a step back from writing those books so that black writers can have a voice, is not in any way an attack against any individual white writer who might be interested in writing a story about a black character.

kekla:                       I would love for us to be able to have that conversation about the big picture, overarching systemic need for diverse books without it immediately coming back to me, me, me. Let's look at the system, let's look at the process, let's look at how it works overall. And then personally, individually, we can make decisions about how we want to engage with that. But it so often goes so quickly to we need diverse books, but you're telling me what I can and can't write. It's not about an individual, it's not about a single book. It's not about saying that something should be banned or blocked, or shouldn't exist in the world. It's about saying we need to be able to have children walk into a library and look in a bookshelf, and see all kinds of stories, and all kinds of names, and all kinds of voices represented. And what do we have to do as a community to see that happen?

karen:                      I think also it's sometimes perceived as a zero sum game, as though if you do one thing, the other thing doesn't happen. And yet, there's room for all kinds of books, and all kinds of illustrators, and all kinds of authors. It reminds me when women came into sports and men said, "We're not going to have sports then." It didn't work out that way. But for a long time, women playing sports was blamed as a reason why men didn't get new uniforms or something. I don't think it's a zero sum game, but I, I understand that sometimes people see it that way.

kekla:                       Right. I think it's the ... I'm going to botch this quote, but it's basically, it boils down to if you've lived your whole life experiencing privilege, equality feels like oppression. Right? So it's ... for most people I think who are writing from a marginalized identity in one way or another. When you say, "We need more diverse books, we need OwnVoices, we need to be able to acknowledge and celebrate and point to the books that are representing our experiences from our own voices." We all can nod and say, "Yes, we need to do that. That's important."

kekla:                       It was never meant to be negative against people who hold mainstream identities, right? White, cis, straight, etc. And yet it's received that way. Which I don't think reflects on anyone from a marginalized identity. It reflects on the constant centering of whiteness, of straightness, of cisgendered identity. It constantly comes back to centering those individuals, right? It was, "We need diverse books." "Okay. White people can write them." "Actually, how about white people step aside for a few minutes?" "Wait, but now you're denying us freedom."

kekla:                       So there was a process at every stage in the process and every stage in this conversation, which has been going on for decades, it always comes back to the role of white straight cis identity people in seeing diversity unfold in the industry. And we need to find a way to actually un-center those individuals. And it's not to say that they can't be part of the conversation, because diversity means everybody. Diversity means everybody. Right?

karen:                      Right.

kekla:                       So it's never been about exclusion, it's been about inclusion. So the inclusion of new voices does not imply exclusion of the voices who've always had power. So it's frustrating to not be able to communicate that clearly.

karen:                      Right. Right. It's also frustrating that people just tend to take everything personally, as opposed to thinking broadly.

kekla:                       Right.

karen:                      Yeah, go ahead.

kekla:                       Oh no, I was just going to say it's natural, right? If you write something and somebody critiques it or suggests that maybe you're not the person to tell that story. That hurts, right? There's nothing wrong with admitting, that maybe we did something that was upsetting to someone else, or we've hurt somebody's feelings, or we've included a micro aggression in our text. We are human. We make these mistakes, we make these choices. It doesn't mean that we're bad people. It doesn't mean we're bad writers. It doesn't mean that anything negative about the individual. Right? It's all a growth process. It's all a learning process. I want us to be open to hearing from each other about how to do better.

karen:                      Yeah. Right. Absolutely. The other question I had was just from the other side. Well, actually a couple more questions. But one is from the perspective of marginalized writers. Is there also a concern or a worry about being pigeonholed to say you should only write about or through your experience as opposed to a story that you may want to write? I had asked this on a panel with illustrators who because they tend to have work brought to them more than I think writers sometimes do. If they worried about being limited in the work that they could do.

kekla:                       Yeah. I do think that it's a danger of the OwnVoices conversation that authors will be pigeonholed into writing their identity elements, or their perceived identity elements. And that's where I think it gets slippery, because we don't always know what someone's whole experience is, right? There are so many layers to identity. We're talking about socioeconomic, we're talking about gender, we're talking about sexuality, we're talking about race, and culture. And all different kinds of things. Religion. Not all of these are visible things.

kekla:                       So if somebody publishes a text starring a queer character but isn't publicly, demonstratively, constantly on social media proclaiming themselves to also be queer, is that text OwnVoices or not? Because you're not out proclaiming that it is Ownvoices. Can other people apply OwnVoices? Can you assume that it's not OwnVoices? There's a slippery kind of thing when it comes to defining each other's identity, and especially if we're going to use OwnVoices as a litmus test for what is appropriate to publish and what is not, and what is appropriate to purchase and what is not, or to read, or to find "authentic." Right?

kekla:                       So it's very slippery because identity is very self defined, and it's also something that we seem to be willing to apply to each. There are a lot of invisible identities. Socioeconomic status, gender identity in many cases, racial identity in many cases. Every identity element has a way of not being visible depending on who the person is. So unless we're all going to create profiles that include every possible ... we're talking dozens and hundreds of aspects of identity. Unless we're all going to have all those things right front and center on our website so that everybody can go do a checklist ... I'm writing about a black character, but they're actually fro an urban community, and I grew up in a suburban community. Does that mean that it's not OwnVoices? It's a much more nuanced thing, right?

kekla:                       Some people would argue that if you share even one identity element with the character that it's OwnVoices, but that's really slippery because if you want to write about an OwnVoices character with a disability who's of a different race than you, what is that? It's a very rich stew of possibilities.

kekla:                       And I do believe that authors should be stretching ourselves and trying to understand different viewpoints, and experiencing empathy, and all of that. But I also think we should be doing it with care for the voices that we're representing. Empathy is not just, "I'm going to put myself in your shoes and tell your story so that I can understand it." It's also, "I'm going to listen to you speak from within your shoes, and that's how I'm going to learn more about you." It's got to be all of these things at the same time. And there's space for all of these things to fit in publishing if we can do it in a balanced way.

karen:                      Interesting. That's fascinating. So how could it be best continued to be brought to light and to life? Should books be marked? You just hit on some real sensitivities within it. So how do you both promote OwnVoices without making it into something too rigid, I suppose?

kekla:                       I think where it originally started was doing that. It was saying, "Hey, here are some texts that really spoke to me based on my own experience." I don't think there's anything wrong with doing that. I think we want to celebrate voices that are coming from the margins. We want to celebrate voice that are connecting with readers of different identities. I actually think there's a way to do that without having it become the be all end all of publishing. And I think there's a way to do that without pigeonholing people. And I think there's a way to do that without shaming anybody for writing something else.

kekla:                       I just don't think that we are there yet as a community because we're struggling with all of these issues which are really personal and hit very close to home. They are about our most valued. And in some cases, undervalued qualities. There are things that people have suffered through, there are things that have caused people trauma, right? This is very, very fraught material. And in order to engage with very, very fraught material in such a public way, we have to become gentler in how we talk to one another in all sides of this. And we have to become thicker skinned at the same time in terms of how people respond to our own work. And we have to recognize that we are all muddling through together, and that we're going to make mistakes. We're going to offend each other. We have to as part of the process of getting to a more equitable place is having those conversations when we hurt each other, when we make mistakes. When we do a book that people are really upset by, we have to learn how to engage with that dialogue that's really, really difficult and really, really painful at times without going to a super defensive place. Because we'll never, ever, ever get to a more equitable place if we just rely on this argument of artistic freedom, and don't think anything about the consequences of what happens with your texts.

kekla:                       What happens with your book when it goes out into the world? I don't believe any argument that says that an author really doesn't care about the impact that their book has on a reader. Because why would we do this if we didn't want to affect people? If we didn't want to move people, if we didn't want them to have a reaction and a feeling as a result of this. It would be pointless, I would argue. So to say that, "I'm going to write anything I want and I'm just going to put it out there, and I don't care what anybody thinks." That doesn't feel genuine to me. It feels defensive. I think we do care what people think, but we want them to think well of us. And that's not always going to be the case because it's such a huge risk to put an artistic piece out into the world. Not everybody's going to like it. That's inevitable.

kekla:                       So it's part of our work as individual authors, I think too, to be able to recognize that if you're going to make these creative choices that you have the right to make in terms of representing another identity, that you are opening yourself to criticism, which is naturally going to come from readers. If you want to avoid that, it's very easy. Just write from your own experience. You're still going to get criticism, but it won't be on these fraught, fraught topics. So I think we have to keep having these conversations and have to keep challenging each other in positive ways, in gentle ways, to see the world a little bit differently, to see ourselves a little bit differently, to see each other a little bit differently.

karen:                      Right. That's very insightful. I think we all have a lot of work to do, but I think this is a great start and it definitely is a way to focus and shed light on some of these questions. So thank you for that.

karen:                      I have a couple of questions that we are asking at the end of each of these podcasts, which you can choose to answer or not. The first one is just an elevator pitch on either your latest book or something that you're working on. Would you like to share with us?

kekla:                       Sure. I just finished the copy edits on the companion to How It Went Down, which was my novel from 2014 about a controversial shooting of a black teen by a white man. And it's a multiple viewpoint novel in which different characters from the community respond to this tragedy in their midst. So that book came out in 2014, and this is a companion, it's called light It Up. And it's also a multiple viewpoint novel about another shooting of a young girl that happened in the community, about two years later. So it's a lot of the same characters but a few new characters, and they're having a conversation about police brutality. In this case, it was a police shooting of a 13 year old girl. And it is about the relationships between the teens and young adults in the community who are impacted by this shooting and still carry the scars of what happened two years before.

kekla:                       So it's a different spin on a lot of the same material, but I keep seeing new elements of the stories, stories like this unfolding in the real world. And so for me, it's a topic that continues to be worthy of study in my fiction.

karen:                      Fantastic. When is it out?

kekla:                       It comes out in the fall, fall '19.

karen:                      Awesome. And it's called Light It Up?

kekla:                       Light It Up.

karen:                      Great. I will be looking for it. And the other question is, what is your biggest publishing dream?

kekla:                       I find this question so interesting, because it just sends my mind in so many different directions. The first impulse being that I want to reject the premise of the question, which is that women don't dream big. I feel like I do dream big. I have huge dreams for what I want to do with my career, what I want to happen. But those things aren't necessarily tangible. I want to have a really powerful impact on a particular readership. I want to be remembered. I want there to be something that changes about the world because of the work that I did, because of the life that I lived. And that to me is bigger than any specific tangible goal. I feel like the question wants me to say I want to win the Newbery. I want to win the Pulitzer. I want to be on New York Times bestseller, or something that's really specific like that, that tends happen to men more than women. And we know this, right?

kekla:                       Sure, I hope for cool awards, and accolades, and things like that. But all of that is so out of my control, that to call it a dream is accurate. Because yes, I hope that really cool, amazing moments will come to me personally in my career. But my bigger hope is that my work itself, will do cool and powerful work in the world that I don't necessarily see and don't necessarily feel the return of directly.

kekla:                       So I think that in some ways perhaps, women are at least a woman like me isn't necessarily driven by the kinds of goals that men are driven by. Isn't necessarily tied to the structures that society would tell me equals success for a writer. How much money you make, or how many books you sell, or how big of a household name you are. Right? I look for something other than being famous. I look for really changing people's minds and hearts, really opening up people's thinking around the issues that I care about, and the topics that I write about, and the types of characters that I try to bring to life. And to me, that's a harder dream to put into a tangible form. It's a harder thing to quantify. So I think if people were to ask me what is my biggest dream? Which is being asked of me. It's very, very hard to explain because I think that for me to live into the biggest dreams that I have, it's going to look like something I don't understand. It's going to look like something different than what I expect it to look like.

kekla:                       So to me, if I limit myself to wanting a specific achievement, right? A specific achievement is too narrow. I want bigger things. And so for me, the question itself feels limiting. No, I do have huge dreams. But I also recognize that there are structures in society that may be barriers to me achieving some of the things that are traditionally celebrated, right? If I hang my hat on wanting to win a certain award or wanting to achieve a certain number of sales, etc., there are very real things going on in the world that don't make it easy for a black woman to achieve those things. And to ignore that I think is setting myself up for disappointment over, and over, and over again.

kekla:                       So I have to have a different benchmark. I have to have a different understanding of what success looks like. I have to be able to shape my destiny, so to speak, in a way that speaks to me, and in a way that feels achievable to me, in a way that feels like a goal. Something that I know I can achieve. A dream feels like something that's out of my control, something that might happen, something that I fantasize about but isn't necessarily achievable for a variety of reasons. And I think that's great, right? You got to aim huge. But at the same time, you have to have goals that are things that you are pursuing specifically that are within your control. What type of story you want to tell. How many books you're trying to publish, what types of stories you're going to put out in the world. That work to me feels like it's within my control, and that makes it something that I want to aim for.

kekla:                       I think when your experience because of your community, because of your identity, because of the way the world receives you. When your experience is one of active marginalization, wishing for equality is also a dream. It sounds so small to say that I want some of the same things that people are talking about in this conversation. I would like to write whatever I want. I would like to have that kind of artistic freedom, and not have to worry about the impact of my specific words. But it's not that simple in the world. You can't necessarily retreat from the responsibility of being part of a community, the responsibility of saying what needs to be said. And for me, that desire to have an impact requires me to think about how I write and the stories I tell.

kekla:                       So some of the things that I hear even in this OwnVoices conversation make me want to just say, "Yeah sure, I get that. I get wanting to write whatever you want and not caring how it hurts anybody or what anybody else thinks about it. Or how anybody else feels about it. Just hide in your room, write your stories, put it out in the world, and be done and not care." That sounds appealing to me. Right? But it sounds like a dream. It sounds like a fantasy. It sounds like something that's not really going to happen in this lifetime. And it is something that's within my control. It's something that I can make choices about, and I want to make good choices. I want to make responsible choices, and that makes me feel good about the work that I'm doing. It feels like a different kind of dream, the dream to change some of these structures so that maybe someday, we don't have to keep having this conversation over and over again about whose voices matter, and who's allowed to speak, and who's not allowed to speak.

kekla:                       So to me, the dream of being able to have my voice be equal to others in the industry, the ability to have the opportunities that other people have in the industry. It doesn't sound maybe like a big dream because, "She's just saying she wants to be part of the industry. She's just saying she wants to be able to successfully publish books." But all of those things involve climbing uphill for somebody like me. And so to say that that's not a big dream, to say that just continuing to pursue these goals is not a big deal, to me is not fair. It is a big deal to just be doing the work, to just show up every day at the computer and write. To just keep putting out these stories that may or may not be well received. That work to me is really important. It may not look to the world like a big dream, but I think we have to recalibrate what is big. We have to recalibrate what is a dream and what is a goal. And we have to figure out how we want to be in the world as writers. And doing that work every day is both an honor and a privilege, and an exciting challenge. And it is part of the dream that I have.

karen:                      Great. I hope that happens for you. I really do. You're doing amazing work. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about this important subject.

kekla:                       Thank you.

Grace Lin