Episode 39! Conversation with Joanna Marple
Welcome to episode 39 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, Joanna Marple discusses her essay "A School Librarian’s Thoughts on #Kidlitwomen & #Equalityinkidlit" (which can be heard in episode 38) with Shana Targosz.
On today's podcast you will hear:
Joanna Marple is a European transplant in the US who writes books for children and young adults. Also a school librarian, she believes that equity and empathy should be at the core of our all actions and that stories can help us not only navigate our world but can connect us to others, and allow us to inspire and help each other. See more about Joanna at her blog Miss Marple’s Musings at Joannamarple.com
Shana Targosz is an author of middle grade fantasy. She is also an award-winning costume designer for theatre, opera, film, and television, working with companies such as Disney, MGM productions, and ABC Family. You can find out more about her at www.shanatargosz.com, or find her on twitter at @shanatargosz
Shana: I'm Shana [Targos 00:00:01], talking with Joanna Marple about her essay, A School Librarian's Thoughts on Kid Lit Women and Equality in Kid Lit, which has many suggestions on how you can support diverse authors and creators in your school library.
Shana: Joanna, thank you for being here today.
Joanna: Oh, thanks so much for having me on the new podcast.
Shana: Yes, we're very excited to have this running. Can you tell me why you wrote this topic specifically?
Joanna: Yes. While many of the terrific essays written in March to do with what needs to change, and whether deep levels of inequality and under or misrepresentation, an exposure of what is wrong and lacking in the industry. And while we need these posts, when I was considering an area of interest or expertise, I decided to put on my school librarian rather than writer hat. And I wanted to make a kind of more proactive, practical post to complement the inspiration and calls-to-arms ones. A list of simple ideas that any librarian could implement.
Joanna: We all have contributions we can make to rectify the problems we find in our industry, and even in our library communities. I wanted my fellow librarians to feel empowered with the capacity they have to be game changers. I also hope my essay will connect me with other librarians. I'm a huge networker, and maybe there are things that we can do through ALA, or as a group across the nation, as well as in our individual libraries.
Shana: Yeah, I certainly see that. I mean, your essay really has some wonderful suggestions on how you can really bring focus to authors and creators that sometimes just get buried under the pile of, like you said, white male authors.
Joanna: You know, I just think we constantly need to be looking out for those biases. We've all come under them, we're all influenced by that. And it's helpful just to be talking with one another and discussing ways that we can escape those biases and promote these women and non-binary writers and creators.
Shana: And is there anything in your essay you fear people might misunderstand?
Joanna: Misunderstand, no. But I think maybe the real importance of intersectionality can be minimized. We cannot just make this about able-bodied, white, cishet women. We must, must champion the marginalized again and again. We need stories by women of color, the gender fluid, trans women, girls with disabilities, neuro-diverse girls. These are the stories of our shared humanity, of our children and our teens. And it is a passion of mine, and, you know, I hope I've been able to get that across somewhat in the essay.
Shana: Definitely. One thing that you brought up in your essay that I really loved is suggesting speaking with your regular female/gender-questioning borrowers and talking with your students about their reading experiences, and what books are mirrors for them. And that's a direct quote from your essay. I'd like to hear more about that. Like you say, chat up your favorite books featuring complex, diverse, authentic female and non-binary characters. Can you chat us up with what you would recommend?
Joanna: One of the popular books that I've been promoting in the last few months is Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee, which is about a young, bisexual, middle grade girl. Well, she's not aware she's bisexual at the beginning of the story. That's a growing awareness. And there are so, so few books like that out there at the moment. So I was thrilled to read that. Hope there'll be more out there.
Joanna: And, you know, middle school is a time when you are so much questioning your identity and your gender identity, your sexual identity. So those are the sort of books I do like to promote.
Joanna: And recently, a sixth-grader asked for a recommendation, and she's a mature reader, so I gave her a book called Girls Like Us. And I'm sorry, I can't remember the author right now. Which is about some special-needs girls right at the end of their high school career. And it's quite a challenging, mature text, and discusses the, you know, their sexuality. But that's another sort of book that I love to put out there and promote.
Shana: It's wonderful that you have those resources to hand to students, and these are books that are now being written. Because, like you said, it's only recently that these topics have become more in the forefront of awareness.
Joanna: Absolutely. When I was starting my librarian career back in 2001, I had very, very few of these books on my shelves to be able to offer to students. Now, particularly with a strong diversity focus that I have in my acquisitions, I really do ... I'm getting a wider variety for them.
Shana: Was there anything difficult about writing this essay?
Joanna: As a member of a marginalized group myself, I do have a vested interest in diversity and intersectionality. And I long for this to become mainstream among all publishers, and especially reflected in whom they employ. So I truly believe, personally, a great chunk of my adolescent and adult life could've been different if I had had access to a plethora of books that reflected my teen lesbian experience and other teen queers very different to myself.
Joanna: So that's always challenging to put yourself out there and write about that and go through those emotions of what you wish you'd had. But, you know, I'm just so thrilled now that there's so much more out there to offer my students.
Shana: Absolutely. And were there any other ideas you'd considered writing about instead?
Joanna: Actually, I had two other essays planned. And I chose a date at the end of the month of March to give myself time to write. And changed my topic twice as other women had picked my two subjects, and did such an amazing job with their posts.
Joanna: So one was on LGBTQI representation in YA and Children's Literature, and the other on intersectionality. These are two topics, you know, really on my heart. And you will notice, I still manage to address them in my essay, but just more briefly.
Shana: Yes. I'm trying to think of who the other two authors were of those essays.
Joanna: You know, one is a friend of mine, Tracey Baptiste. And then the queer one, I can't remember. Yeah.
Shana: How do you hope the world of children's publishing will change in the future?
Joanna: You know, in a way, there are no gatekeepers when it comes to things like movies and TV programs. But there are gatekeepers for literature. And they're called teachers and librarians. And I think we need to trust and respect their instincts. They play a key role in selecting books for children. I also hope we'll see changes in the Master of Science Library programs around the world, as we are learning to reflect these truths. I hope the ALA Awards committees, which also, obviously, includes a lot of librarians, are taking note.
Joanna: But as librarians, we must also make sure we're part of the solution, and not the problem. We must avoid gushing and fangirling over popular young male authors, you know, which is a temptation. If we're on award committees, at any level, or book festival committees, as best we can, we must check our biases at the door and make sure that we have really diverse committees and panels, and we're thinking about that when we're offering awards.
Joanna: I also think we need humility always, across the board. I believe all of us will have been challenged by the Kid Lit Women posts during the month of March, and we'll only see change if we're willing to recognize our own blind spots and where we've been part of the inequality. You know, like my need to really look at the gender of authors in my acquisitions more.
Joanna: One of my commitments since March has been to try to embrace different pronouns to honor the gender-fluid members of the Children's Literature community as well, you know, which is a challenge. But one I'm really committed to.
Shana: Yes, definitely. That is something that I have really appreciated reading more posts about. Yeah, authors and creators of non-binary and gender-fluid ... it's been really wonderful to have their perspective, as well.
Joanna: Absolutely. You know, I've definitely been challenged by that. And I'm really appreciating what I'm learning from them.
Shana: And what are you working on now? What projects are you working on now?
Joanna: Yes, a couple. But right now, I'm presently submitting a manuscript to agents that's very close to my heart. It's called Camp Out, has three protagonists. A lesbian missionary kid, a bisexual, non-religious Jew with an Evangelical mum, and a gender-fluid Hispanic. And they all meet up in an isolated conversion therapy camp in Nevada. And the story's loosely based on my own conversion therapy experiences as a young adult. So it's an own-voice, this manuscript.
Shana: Oh, my goodness. That sounds very, very powerful.
Joanna: I hope so.
Shana: And I wish you luck. I wish you luck with submitting.
Joanna: Thank you, thank you.
Shana: And what is your biggest publishing dream?
Joanna: You know, I would love to do a big bus promo tour around the U.S. for one of my novels with some author friends. I can't wait to do presentations in schools, and I'm a huge road trip fan. As you can hear, I'm a Brit, and I've lived in the U.S. for five years now, and I've done two big road trips down the East Coast the last two summers, staying with authors and illustrators. And I'm planning a northwest trip for this July and August.
Joanna: These trips are great writing time, too, and I often find myself choosing the next setting for my novel on route. So I would love to kind of combine promoting my book with a big bus road trip, you know? And I'm trying to think of the best logo to put on the side of the bus.
Shana: Mm-hmm (affirmative), a logo. So what are some of the ideas for your logo?
Joanna: I haven't got one yet, so if anybody listening to this comes up with something, please let me know.
Shana: That's a wonderful, wonderful publishing dream. It sounds very productive, too.
Shana: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.
Joanna: Thank you very much, indeed. And I'm really looking forward to continuing to listen to these podcasts.
Shana: Great. Thank you.