Just 5 Things with e.E. Charlton-Trujillo: Author of Fat Angie, When We Was Fierce, and more

Friday, June 24th! 5:45 to 6:30! At the PopTop Stage! Meet us for “It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature.” In the hopes of getting you super-pumped for this panel, I’ve mini-interviewed the authors you’ll be hearing: Alex Gino, E.M. Kokie, and Robin Stevenson.Today, I’ll be taking to author, filmmaker, really-strong bear-hugger, and juggler of about a million other projjects, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo.

I had read Fat Angie while I was serving on the Rainbow List, and then, not long after, was lucky enough to hear e.E.’s acceptance speech at the Stonewall Book Awards Brunch. I think we were all blown away by her. She had the ability to totally captivate the room and connect with all of us so quickly. Really, I recommend listening to the whole thing. She’s just so warm, and funny, and completely inspiring. I think it was there, at the brunch, that e.E. kindly offered to show her new movie, At-Risk Summer, at my library in Brooklyn, for free.

To ensure a large enough audience, we contacted two schools to view the movie. Due to the large population we served, I had never seen any of the tweens and teens before, nor do I think I ever saw them again. Yet, in the short time it took to show the movie and have a Q+A with e.E., the students were talking about their concerns and fears about their lives in the most frank and honest manner. This is the effect e.E. has on people: You feel like you can tell her anything and your secrets will be safe, free from judgement, with her.

In addition, e.E. has two websites: Never Counted Out: A Creative Revolution to Empower At-Risk Youth, and Big Dreams Write, because apparently she never sleeps.

Here you go, everyone, the last of the mini-interviews:

Ingrid Abrams: When it comes to public speaking, you are a total powerhouse. Your speech at the 2014 Stonewall Brunch made everyone feel motivated, validated, and just totally inspired. Then, when you talked to the kids at my last library, after a showing of your movie At-Risk Summer, you had them opening up and participating in very honest and open conversations. What’s your secret to connecting so well with your audiences?

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo: I think the secret is seeing the value in every person I connect with, with a sincere desire to hear and understand each person’s story. It’s incredibly important not to be dismissive of someone else’s journey, and that requires actively listening. And of course, I have no shortage of enthusiasm. If I’m excited about what I do, audiences will be excited too.

IA: YA literature is becoming more inclusive with every new book, but, when it comes to protagonists, there’s a patent lack of body diversity. Fat/plus-sized characters are few and far between. Why was writing about a girl named Fat Angie important to you?

e.E.: It’s important in the way that any incarnation of a character who is struggling to be seen in the world and struggling with self-acceptance is important. And because there is no one like Fat Angie in teen lit, and young people needed someone like her. And because we all have things we struggle with, that we hurt from, that we have to fight to overcome. That’s what’s important – those are the universal truths that any reader can relate to. Angie’s story transcends race, gender, even sexual orientation.

IA:  Like the title of your movie suggests, you are juggling what seems like a thousand projects devoted to at-risk youth. What do you think is the biggest misconception about this group of kids and teens?

e.E.: The theory seems to be that these kids are uneducated, that they’re problem children, or criminals, or that they’re worthless, that they have no voice and what they have to say doesn’t matter. We lose sight of the fact that these are kids. Kids who face a behemoth of challenges, when what they really need is someone to say “I believe in you” – and mean it. They need to see their value mirrored back to them. So many of these kids have the richest, most exciting ideas. We just have to meet them where they are so they can access it.

IA: What do you do to relax? Do you relax?

e.E.: This is a tough one because I am always thinking about story or empowerment and the brains stays busy. I do meditate and often. It really clears out the noise. Anyone following my Instagram knows I document the world around me. Um, what else? Oh, I’m a music fiend … the full spectrum. And I film this little web-show on occasion called The Taste Buds with author CG Watson. We do it for fun, just because it’s goofy and people seem to enjoy some of our antics.

IA: If you could pick one fictional world to magically insert yourself into, what would it be?

e.E.: You know, if I were going to pick a fictional world it would be for my teen self. It would probably The Outsiders or The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Both are stories about stepping into your own voice and accepting and/or finding your tribe.

Just for funsies, I’m including two affectionately glitter-bombed pictures of e.E., just because I can:


e.E. reminded me of this picture from my This is What a Librarian Looks Like days, and, if you’ve seen her aforementioned Instagram, you know this is her patented default face:


Oh, hey, e.E.’s upcoming book is called When We Was Fierce. It’s gotten crazy good reviews and you can look for it in August of this year.

Lastly, once again I kindly ask you to donate to the following:

e.E. also mentioned that she has been involved with an LGBTQ Book Donation Drive. Click through to donate books to the Orlando Youth Alliance.

I hope to see you all in Orlando. If you come to the panel, please come say hi.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Just 5 Things With Robin Stevenson: Author of “Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community”

Add it to your ALA schedulers: Friday, June 24, 5:45-6:30 at the PopTop Stage for “It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature.” I’ll be moderating a panel of can’t miss authors: Alex Gino, E.M. Kokie, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, and Robin Stevenson, who I’ll be interviewing here. Come for an unscripted discussion about representation in LGBTQ middle grade and YA literature.

I am not going to name all of Robin’s books, because they are plentifulI will talk a bit about her latest book, Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which is an essential-to-your-collection non-fiction title that deals with the origin and the history of the Pride parade. The reviews are glowing: Canadian Materials says, “While many books on sexual minorities fail to recognize non-normative gender identities, Stevenson dives right into the complexities of intersex and transgender individuals and their struggles to fit into gay and lesbian movements.” Pride comes “Highly Recommended” from CM Magazine who calls it, “A fantastic achievement, a book that gives serious attention to often ignored groups within LGBT history…This is an incredibly detailed account, considering the short page count, and Pride should be shelved in school libraries and classrooms alike as a more contemporary companion to Ken Setterington’s Branded by the Pink Triangle.” If your library doesn’t own Pride, you need to rectify that quickly. For more info, see the trailer here.

And now, without further ado, here are Just 5 Things With Robin Stevenson:

Ingrid Abrams: In your book Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Communityyou
thoroughly examine a part of our collective history that is often ignored.
What is your favorite piece of queer history or trivia?

Robin Stevenson: It is SO hard to pick just one! I’ve been part of the LGBTQ community for more that 25 years, but when I did the research for this book, I  was amazed at how much of our community’s history I didn’t know. For example, I had never heard of bisexual activist Brenda Howard, who has been called the Mother of Pride. Brenda Howard was there at the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and she was one of the organizers of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March to mark Stonewall’s anniversary– the event that is generally recognized as the very first Pride parade. Brenda Howard was one of the first people to promote the use of the word Pride. She was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front through the 1970s, and she fought for the inclusion of bisexuality at a time when bi people were routinely excluded.

Another piece of history that I loved learning about (see, I really can’t pick just one!) was about the beginnings of LGBTQ high school activism. The first high school group was formed in the early 70s, at NYC’s George Washington High. Called the Gay International Youth Society, this group of mostly queer young people of color is probably the earliest forerunner of today’s high school Gay-Straight Alliances (and Queer Straight Alliances,
Gender-Sexuality Alliances, and Rainbow Clubs, and so on).

IA: Pride required a great deal of painstaking research. What was that
process like for you?

RS: It was incredibly interesting. Pride is my 20th book, but my first work of
non-fiction, and the writing process was completely different. Fiction,
for me, is fairly solitary (me, coffee, computer) but Pride was a very
collaborative effort. I read a lot, of course, but I also had the opportunity to talk to so many people- kids, teens and adults, both local and around the world- about what Pride meant to them. People- from age 10 to 80- shared stories, thoughts, memories and photographs. They offered to read drafts and gave me critical feedback and pointed out things I’d left out. They helped me make the book better, more engaging, and more
inclusive. I found it a very thought-provoking, moving experience and I learned a lot. As a result of writing Pride, I feel more connected with the LGBTQ community- our history, our youth, our victories and ongoing battles for freedom and equality.

IA: Are there any current authors of YA literature you’re excited about?

RS: So many! I am thrilled that there is a new book coming from Benjamin Alire
Saenz– I adored Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets Of The Universe,
and can’t wait to read The Inexplicable Logic of my Life (and the cover is
gorgeous!) Other recent books I have loved include Saving Montgomery Sole
by Mariko Tamaki, Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz, The Last Falling Leaves by
Fox Benwell (formerly published as Sarah Benwell), and The Scorpion Rules 
by Erin Bow. I am so looking forward to Erin Bow’s next book, Swan Riders,
and the new one from Fox Benwell, Kaleidoscope Song.

IA: What’s your favorite guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasure?

RS: Binge-watching Netflix shows while baking cookies and muffins. Currently hooked on The Fosters– queer moms and teen angst!

IA: What’s your favorite question a reader has ever asked you?

RS: At a writing workshop a few weeks ago, an eleven year old asked me “How do
you feel when you are writing?” No one had ever asked me that before and it is a pretty awesome question. I’ve thought about it a lot, since then. I think it’s a good thing to pay attention to.

Robin, like Alex and Emily, is not safe from getting lovingly glitter-bombed. Sorry about it:

She really has great hair.

Because we’ll be in Orlando and talking Queer books, it’s important to remember how privileged we are to be doing so. Let’s be aware of each other, check in with each other, and take care of ourselves.

In that vein, please consider donating to the following:

I did so myself and encourage you to do the same. They take donations of any size. In addition, you can donate directly to The Center in Orlando (you can find their donation button on the top right-hand corner).

I hope to see you at our panel in Orlando! Come say hi!

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie: Author of “Personal Effects” and more

Welcome to my second in a series of mini-interviews with authors I’ll be paneling with at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando. The panel is called It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, and I really hope you can make it for what I am 100% sure is going to be brimming with some compelling discussion about representation in YA and middle grade titles.

To get you totally hyped up about this all-star panel, I’m conducting mini-interviews with the participants. I’ve already interviewed the lovely Alex Gino and am now super pumped to share this talk with E.M. Kokie.

Hopefully you know E.M. (or Emily, as I’ll be sometimes calling her in this interview), from her novel Personal Effects, which is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and a 2013 IRA Young Adult Honor Book. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. School Library Journal said that, “Kokie beautifully crafts a story about the troubled relationships between an emotionally stunted father and his two sons,” and that it’s “a strong choice for reluctant readers and lovers of realistic fiction alike.” In addition, Emily is passionate about social justice issues, especially in the context of y0uth literature, and blogs about it over at The Pirate Tree. In fact you can read about fellow panelists e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Alex Gino over there. Check it out. It’s a great resource.

Oh, and did you know that she’s also a lawyer?

Now, if you please, here are Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie:

Ingrid Abrams:  How has your background as a lawyer helped you as a writer?

Emily Kokie: I suppose my training as a lawyer helps with my writing, at least in terms of training the way I think and forcing me to become disciplined about writing and revision.  But I think it is more that I have natural tendencies that have helped me become both a lawyer and a writer. I think there is a reason we see so many writers for kids and teens who are also lawyers.  Effective lawyers are very good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, figuring out what that other person thinks, wants, needs, and will compromise. Effective lawyers are natural storytellers — whether that story is persuading a client to imagine a future scenario, advocating for a client’s goals, examining the what-ifs of the application of laws, or, perhaps the height of storytelling, persuading a jury or court to accept your client’s version of events.  We are often called on to look at competing explanations, look at documents, and figure out what really happened. And so much of that is also what goes into making a good novel — being able to effectively tell someone else’s story, to know how they would feel and what they would want. To understand that people don’t always say what they mean or show who they really are, and so often the greatest truths of a story are hidden between bits of dialogue and action.

IA: Is there a current YA novel that you wish you had when you were a teen?

EK: Oh, there are many. I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t really find books about queer kids — few about queer adults, either — when I was an adolescent. And I didn’t know any out queer people, and the ones I suspected were queer were also people for whom the suspicion meant they were made fun of or ridiculed behind their backs. I didn’t want to be laughed at or worse. And I’d never even heard the term bisexual. So, I spent my teens and a good chunk of my twenties totally confused about my sexuality and worried something was wrong with me, or that I wouldn’t be able to have a good life if I was queer. If I had had books with queer teens then I might have understood myself sooner, and might have felt more able to be who I was. Books like Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, Ask The Passengers by A.S. King, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Ash by Malinda Lo — books that explored friendship and love and showed me queer girls living, loving, questioning, growing, etc. And books that would have expanded my world view beyond the heart of middle-class, predominantly-white suburbia, like How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, The Boy In The Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

IA: On The Pirate Tree, you talk a lot about social justice issues. The term “social justice” can be really loaded. What does it mean to you?

EK: I think of social justice in terms of social conscience. To me it means being aware of and interested in the ways in which societies restrict the rights, opportunities, and lives of people without social or political power — whether those restrictions are issues like systemic racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia, constructs like toxic masculinity or imbalances of economic power, and even violence and war.

IA: What literary character, of any genre, would you least like to spend time with?

EK: Well, there are many. I read a lot. But probably the one with whom I would least like to spend time would be Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King.

IA: You’re a huge Buffy fan. Who is your favorite Buffy-verse couple? Fanfic pairings totally count.

EK: And here is where I admit that fandom/fanfiction questions make me anxious, like admitting to deepest secrets and desires. But, I digress… None of the cannon pairings were my end-all-be-all pairings. Willow and Tara felt incredibly important and empowering to me at the time that relationship was first developing on the TV, but it also always felt very sweet to me. Not enough heat. I wish we had had longer to see where Giles/Jenny would have gone. Jenny had potential to be interesting. I wanted more  Faith (though I found the Faith/Wood cannon pairing boring and uninspired). I will admit to being intrigued by a lot of the Buffy/Spike dynamic, as highly problematic as it was (and we could talk for hours about that, and some of the later plot moments I wish had been handled differently).  But in fanfic I’ll read almost any pairing if well done. I am incredibly interested in layered stories that explore these characters as full-fledged adults (though not necessarily as portrayed in the post-series comics). Especially well-done Willow and Faith stories. I wish for a post-series Faith exploring her sexuality. And I was always fascinated with Giles, and the layers of that character — straight-laced facade, a lot of darkness, but good intentions, underneath.  And Giles’ practically-cannon pansexuality has made for a lot of interesting Giles-centric fanfiction. When I first found Buffy-verse fanfiction, I read a lot of Giles/Xander post-series stories and I hunted for Faith/Willow. But since I see almost all of the characters as having fluid sexuality, at least in fanfiction, there is almost no one I wouldn’t ship, if written well.

Since Alex’s post ended with a picture of them being lovingly glitter-bombed, I figured it was only fair that I did the same for Emily:

This is how I show people I like them.

Did I mention Emily has a new book coming out in September of this year? Stay tuned for Radical and pre-order it here!

As I mentioned in the previous post, since we’ll be meeting in Orlando, I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again ask you to donate to the following:

I did so myself and encourage you to do the same. They take donations of any size. In addition, you can donate directly to The Center in Orlando (you can find their donation button on the top right-hand corner).

Check back in on Monday, when I’ll be talking with author Robin Stevenson.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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