Monday, August 12, 2019

Queer Kid Lit Inspiration from #LA19SCBWI

I love the SCBWI Summer Conference, and while I wasn't able to attend the whole event this year (a day-job conflict that I will make every effort to avoid happening again!) I did have some amazing moments.

The two that resonate the most strongly were from the same session, the LGBTQ and Allies Social I hosted on Friday night.

In the course of the discussion, I shared that one of my challenges as a creator of work for children and teens that includes LGBTQ characters and themes are the voices that tell me to make things less gay. Part of that I'm sure is internalized homophobia from my childhood. But part is external, the voices of well-meaning folks who want to see me succeed and think the way to do that is to have my work be not quite so... well, Queer. To pull back. To not stand out so much. And I hear it. Quite a bit.

I shared with the group that what I really need is a community of people who tell me the opposite. That my dream is to have a creative community that tells me, "Make it Gayer, Lee!" A creative community that urges me to take risks. To tell the stories I so deeply need to tell, and to push myself to make them as Queer as possible.

Bruce Coville was there, and in a conversation about defining success, we discussed his including a positive gay role model in The Skull of Truth. Which, I said, was really brave of him as it was such a breakthrough (it was published in 1997.)

And Bruce said, "I wasn't brave, I was cranky." He wasn't seeing positive representations of gay people in middle grade books. And so he decided to do something about it himself. He told us about losing a few school visits over it, but ultimately, "Saying what you want to say is way more important." Bruce said that sometimes, success can be defined in terms of "What barrier can I push?"

And then, at the end of the evening's session, illustrator Mara Williams showed me what she'd been working on in her sketchbook:

Thank you, Mara. And thank you, Bruce!

I'll get back to work pushing those barriers. And I'll make it gayer.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

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