Sunday, December 28, 2014

2nd Annual Diversity Month Day 28: Author Interview w/ Maya Gonzalez + Kindle Fire 6" and Book Giveaway!

There are some people that you meet in life that are just completely forgettable and then others that leave a mark on you. This next author we had the pleasure of meeting @Kidlitcon and allow us to say that she was just...a person you dream your whole lifetime of meeting.

As a writer of children's books she dares go where no one will: exploring gender in children. Maybe you're conservative maybe you're a little liberal but truth be told, more and more people are seeing a shift in identity roles. Whether you're a parent or sister or questioning your own identity, she books are an excellent resource to start.
 Let's make a toast to the lovely Maya Gonzalez(and did we mention she's Latina? Big Plus!)

*Us with Maya Gonzalez. She was totally amazing!*
So we met you earlier this year @Kidlitcon and you were like a bright star in a sky of
darkness. You just had this energy around you and stood out of the sea of conformity.
What is there to be known about Maya Gonzalez, the writer, the illustrator, the activist?

First off I have to say that I love how you opened this conversation… like a star in the dark! I LOVE THE DARK! The unknown, the depth, the beauty.  Quite perfectly you invoked something that is at the essence of what I teach and what I hope I bring into the world, a brilliant sky of darkness! I believe it’s vital that we begin seeing the world, ourselves and EVERYTHING-outside of the standard western perspective. It’s time to return to darkness and the great wisdom there. It’s time to understand how to engage the unknown with a deep sense of self and our inherent value.
This is embedded in all of my work. I have spent a lifetime sitting at the foot of creativity like a devotee listening, learning, healing. And if there’s one thing creativity loves to teach, it is how to engage the unknown. 

As a child I wanted to be Michelangelo. The Agony and the Ecstasy. Then I fell in love with Emily Dickinson and became the night. In university my writing began to devastate me with its honesty about what I hadn’t dealt with within so I began painting. I coded my experience into my imagery and with this nonverbal distance I could come to terms with my personal experiences. I learned the power of symbol and the underbelly of a story and I healed. Then I could write again. My voice clarified. My self reclaimed. 

There is no separation between life, art, Maya, spirit, work. It is all one breath. So as I heal myself, I naturally extend that out through my work. Sometimes my work is fine art; sometimes children’s books; often it is curriculum and teaching. 

Because I have negotiated a number of challenging experiences of power-over (me), I have learned that equality must rise. We must always go to the most disowned, judged, hurt position and heal there, whether it is within ourselves, our community or our society.

By the way, I just gottta say, I LOVE the Twinjas! I had the same feeling about you two, what a relief! Brilliant work, strong voice!  And thank you so much for sharing my work. I always look forward to sharing yours! You so heavily rock!

You're a children's writer and you tackle issues people haven't yet seen in children's
books: Sexual Identity. Has it been a journey for you to get your works off the ground and
published?! Well, I’m a big fan of the unknown, so my partner and I started our own press! It began as an opportunity for me to publish my creativity curriculum. So our first book was  Claiming Face: Self Empowerment Through Self Portraiture, An Educator’s Guide to Building the Powerful Link Between Creativity and a Sense of Self. This was developed through many years of work in the classroom basically teaching kids how to use art the way I used art to heal myself. I created this book I understood I had a venue in which I could do anything! So we published our next book! My Gender Now Coloring and Activity Book! This book deals with multiple gender expression, beyond the binary through nature, culture, history and the concept of the GENDER WHEEL. 

There is a home version and a school version. The home version includes kids in their natural state and in the school version everyone is clothed. I’ll be honest, I never for a minute thought I could find a traditional publisher to take this book on at this time in history. For one, many folks don’t understand gender so no one talks to kids about it and there are nearly NO BOOKS that show kids in their natural state. So this book was radical up one side and down the other, for grownups and kids! But when you have your own press!!!! You can do what you know in your heart is good work.

What inspired you to include this issues in your books?
A couple few things inspired the creation of Gender Now and my latest picture book (published through Lee and Low) called Call Me Tree, which is GENDER FREEEE! 

One is my community. As a parent, it was impossible to find books for young kids that addressed multiple gender expression, let alone ones that were multicultural. It was important to me that my kids understood and appreciated their community and the people in their lives and what better place for us to come together and be able to talk than through a book?! I knew if I had this need, other folks in my community must also. 

Two is the importance of seeing ourselves. I love the saying ‘a people should not long for their own image.’ My first book Claiming Face is all about how important it is to see ourselves reflected in our books as kids, especially for children of color. This kind of reflection communicates in one of the deepest ways possible that we belong. We are here!

I wanted this for gender creative and transgender kids too! They are our most at risk kids.
Another piece is pure education. As a member of the lgbtqi community I have a deep respect for our history and the strength and courage of our ancestors. I wanted to come forward with a sane, extensive, nature based perspective that dismantles the compulsory trans-phobia so prevalent in Western culture.

What do you think is missing books about the queer identity?

When I present at the Gender Spectrum conferences, invariably folks come up to me and ask if there are any multicultural books for gender creative and transgender kids, including books in Spanish. And there aren’t. I know of one book about a gender creative boy in a multicultural family that is being made, but so often these books are about white transgender girls. I am currently working on a book about a trans boy in a Mexican family. I hope to be able to include the text in both Spanish and English.

Do you have a favorite memory of your books making a difference in someone’s life?

Historically I have worked almost exclusively with children of color, so I’ve gotten to play with thousands of amazing kids and have been blessed with many many experiences that touch my heart like mad. Kids are incredibly generous! But I always remember this one very small girl. I walked into an assembly and she kept staring at me and following close by. Finally she walked up and said incredulously, you look like me!!! It was so direct. So clear. So exactly what it’s all about. Yes! I look exactly like you. My word and look how amazed you are! It’s still surprising to small Latina girl that an author-artist could look exactly like her. I understand completely! We all have more work to do until everyone knows that we all have stories to tell and everyone is an artist!

Name 2 of your books you think the world should know more about!

I love my children’s books and there are many many more to come, and I love my curriculum books! This is how I do a lot of my work in my communities, but now we’re beginning to do something we’re calling ‘mentor-ship publishing. ‘ This connects our press with our online teaching environment called School of the Free Mind.

Did I mention we opened our own online school? One of the classes I teach is called The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books That Matter. Folks have the opportunity to learn everything this radical queer Chicana knows about creating children’s books. 

At the end of the course, everyone is invited to submit one spread to be included in a picture book that I write and illustrate to highlight student work and then we all send it out into the world to support our children and to help transform the possibilities available in the children’s book industry! first book is called WHALEHEART and features 23 artist-authors who took my first class. I’m beyond thrilled. We have queers, people of color, elders, disabled folks, creatives and nature based folk!

The other book I love connects our press and school too. It’s called I See Peace and is the basis for a class called Believing Is Seeing about opening up to the peace that is all around us and our true inner nature. This class unites everything I love: peace, art, writing, self-awareness and how to strengthen ourselves from the inside out in these rocky times. The stronger and deeper we are in ourselves the stronger and deeper the revolution. It deals a lot with the unknown and I think you know how I feel about the unknown!

Where can we find updates on all things Maya Gonzalez, including updates on new
releases or just your personal musings? 
You can go to one place to access all things maya: Conveniently this serves as a hub to access Reflection Press, School of the Free Mind as well as my blog, my fine art website, resources for educators and all of my children’s books.
Thank you so much for all the work you do TWINJAS!!! And again, thank you for sharing my work. The revolution is always NOW. Rock on darlings! Rock ON!

About the Author:
In 1994, at Maya’s first art opening in San Francisco, she met Harriet Rohmer, the original founder of Children’s Book Press (now an imprint of Lee&Low Books). When Harriet asked her if she was interested in making art for a children’s book, she felt as though she had come home. But home to a place she never knew existed. Since then she has created art for over 20 children’s books and written 3 of those including her latest book, CALL ME TREE, listed as one of the Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity by Kirkus. Here children’s book creations also led her to work in schools throughout the country and eventually co-found her own press with her partner, Matthew. She also loves to teach others everything she knows about creating children’s books through her online school and her e-course, The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter

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