We're literally two days away from the New Year, and we just have two interviews left!
Today's guest highlights something totally different than most our guests this month.
If you're looking for more diverse content, comics has been way more inclusive than the traditional book publishing industry, so it's great to see so many communities highlighting and bringing awareness to those who want to see themselves in literature.
She also blogs for Fantasy Book Critic and ComiConverse!
Twinja Book Reviews Annual Diversity Month Event Twenty-Five:
Blogger Lydia Roberts
Thank you for stopping by the blog! Why don't you introduce yourself to readers!
Hi! My name is Lydia!
What can you tell us about your journey becoming a blogger?
I am relatively new to blogging. My day job is teaching English to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, and it's vitally important for me to expose them to works that are well-written and expose them to diverse voices. Representation matters, and I am always on the lookout for new writers and artists to share with my students. I'd always provide reviews of books and recommendations for comics to students and friends, and a couple of years ago, I decided to try writing for a wider audience. I started with writing a few book reviews for Fantasy Book Critic, and this summer I joined the ranks of ComiConverse. Both of those gigs have allowed me to combine my love of comics, fantasy, various fandoms, and writing.
What draws you into a book or comic? What themes do you look for? What makes a book an amazing read?
In terms of fiction and non-fiction, really strong writing draws me into a book. There has been a tendency of late toward writing in fragments, poor punctuation, and limited depth in a lot of books that are popular - especially in the world of YA. Give me a book that not only gets the mechanics right, but also makes good use of figurative language and literary devices, believable and multi-layered character development, and an interesting plot any day.
For comic books and graphic novels, the art has to be aesthetically pleasing to me. If the art is not to my liking, I have a really hard time being drawn into a comic, even if I have read great reviews or have been told by friends that I'd like it. I tend to gravitate toward books that have strong heroines, tight-knit families or friend groups, and underdogs. I also am a sucker for a good dystopian novel, although there are more and more popping up that aren't that great.
I'd describe a book, comic, or graphic novel as an amazing read if I have fallen in love with the characters, if the story offers something totally new and/or unexpected, and if I cannot wait to read it again.
What can you tell us about your experience growing up?
Growing up we had a full house of people. My maternal grandmother had died of breast cancer in her 40s, and my parents raised my aunt and three uncles along with my four siblings and me as we arrived. Having that kind of blended family with such a range in ages provides exposure to an array of different perspectives. My father had grown up in Alabama during Jim Crow, and while he had obtained a good job working in a Pennsylvania steel mill after leaving Tuskeegee Institute after only a year, he and my mother impressed on us the importance of education. "Get your education; that's something no one can EVER take away from you" was a commonly heard mantra in our house. My mother loved to read, and she instilled the same trait in us, taking us on weekly trips to the library to get a basket of books each. Reading enabled us to travel beyond where we were able to go physically, sometimes to new worlds entirely.
While my dad worked in the steel mill, we were able to live a somewhat middle class life even with such a large family, and my older sister and I attended a local Catholic school. Our school was racially mixed, but our neighborhoods and - to an extent - social groups were not. There was a clear divide between the black and white students and it was more than the fact that the white students were Catholic and the black students were not.
We always had Ebony and Jet magazines in our house, showing positive examples of successful and beautiful brown people. We watched shows like Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Fat Albert. It was comfortable and comforting to see people who looked like me in those appearances, but I was always struck that there were few brown people in the books that I pored over from the library. From Little Women to Little House on the Prairie to The Outsiders, it was almost as if brown people didn't exist in literature. When I was a kid, I was drawn to what would become my all-time favorite book, Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre, because one of the main characters was described as having dusky brown skin. That resonated with me!
How can we make the conversation about diversity where it needs to be?
One of the things that I am very concerned about is that as more people become aware of and active in increasing equity, inclusion, and social justice there seem to be an equal number of people who are becoming more active and vocal in spreading prejudice, intolerance, and hate. There is a lot of fear and a lot of ignorance. To ensure that this does not lead to suppression of the conversation, we need to live the role of diversity activists. It's not just about the presentations that are done at conferences or the blog posts analyzing the topic du jour.
It's a matter of having courageous conversations when we encounter or express micro-aggressions. There's a great Harvey Fierstein quote that truly shapes the way I live my life. “The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently.”
I know it can be annoying to the people who have to listen to me sometimes. (Just ask my kids about the perils of ordering a Happy Meal when they were younger, as it would inevitably lead to a conversation with the manager after being asked, "Do you want the boy toy or the girl toy?" More recently, at Jet City Comicon, my younger daughter started asking up front as soon as we encountered an unknown creator if his or her book had any brown people in it. She knew it was going to be one of my follow-up questions after listening to the description of the plot, and she didn't want to waste time if the answer was no.) We have to think about and consciously try to improve cultural competency and social justice all of the time on all levels and encourage others to do the same.
Finally, we have to support the writers, artists, shows, etc. that get it right. "Vote" with your dollars. No matter how awesome a book or movie or show seems, if it does not reflect inclusion (white-washed "Pan" I'm looking at you) or the diverse world in which we live - at least to some degree, it shouldn't be an option.
Finally, where can folks go for updates, and to learn more about your projects going on?
Official Comiconverse Page
Fantasy Book Critic Review Index
Lydia K. Roberts is a mom, educator, activist, avid reader, proud Blerd, poet, and blogger. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest (Tacoma, Wa to be specific), though she hails from Aliquippa, PA (outside of Pittsburgh) and will always be a Quip in her heart.
She's currently obsessed with the comics Rat Queens, Saga, Welcome Back, Mythic, and Zodiac Starforce, the tv/internet shows Killjoys, Steven Universe, How to Get Away with Murder, and Jessica Jones, all things Kate Daniels, and her two rescued puppies despite the fact that they have eaten a mattress, rocking chair, and part of the wall. She is still heartbroken that the comic The Empty (by Jimmie Robinson) and the show Firefly were cancelled.