About NoNieqa Ramos

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So far NoNieqa Ramos has created 12 blog entries.

CRAFT INSIGHT: Mental Health Webinar and Writing Workshop with Live Q&A; Part 2 of a Mental Health Series

Mental Health in Our Books, Our Communities, and Ourselves PART 2: Rocky Callen, debut author of A BREATH TOO LATE and NoNieqa Ramos, author of THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY will be in conversation about mental health representation in our books, helping youth with mental health challenges in our schools and our communities, and maintaining our mental health as writers. Participants  will have access to creative exercises to help develop the psyche of their characters.

​​​​​​​Authors Note:  The purpose of this webinar for creative discussion. NoNieqa is not a mental health professional. While Rocky was a behavioral therapist, she will not be functioning in that capacity for our webinar. We are not qualified to give medical advice of any kind. If you need professional help, we encourage you to see a qualified medical professional. 

Content warning of our books: depression, suicide, sex work, sexual assault, mass shooting

CRAFT INSIGHT: LGBTQIA+Mental Health Webinar and Writing Workshop with Live Q&A. Part 1 in a Mental Health Series

CRAFT INSIGHT: LGBTQIA+Mental Health Webinar and Writing Workshop with Live Q&A. Part 1 in a Mental Health Series

Author of THE GRIEF KEEPER Alexandra Villasante and author of THE TRUTH IS NoNieqa Ramos will be in conversation about LGBTQIA+ mental health issues in our books, ourselves, and our community. We will talk about how to nurture our youth and ourselves as writers.

Note:  We are not mental health professionals. We are not qualified to give medical advice of any kind. If you need professional help, we encourage you to see a qualified medical professional. 

Content Warning for Our Books: depression, suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, homophobia, mass shooting

CRAFT INSIGHT: Not Just Re-telling; TELLING IT FRESH Picture Book Workshop and Q&A

CRAFT INSIGHT: Not Just Re-telling; TELLING IT FRESH
Picture Book Workshop and Q&A

Karla Valenti, debut author of MY SUPER SCIENCE picture book series that includes MARIE CURIE AND the POWER of RESISTANCE and ALAN TURING and the POWER of CURIOSITY (Source Books) and NoNieqa Ramos, debut picture book author of forthcoming YOUR MAMA, BEAUTY WOKE (Versify) and HAIRSTORY (Carolrhoda Lab) will read from their work, share writing resources, and teach a writing workshop on rhythmic verse, reinventing ideas, and story structure.

CRAFT INSIGHT: Identity, Privilege, Acceptance and Love, LIVE Writing Workshop with Q&A

CRAFT INSIGHT: Identity, Privilege, Acceptance and Love, LIVE Writing Workshop with Q&A
Natasha Diaz, author of COLOR ME IN, and NoNieqa Ramos, author of THE TRUTH IS, will read poetry from their YA novels (virtual snapping welcomed), NoNieqa will lead an anti-racism writer’s meditation, and both will converse about the art of writing intersectional characters and share craft exercises for your writer’s tool kit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAtK8WliNN8&feature=youtu.be

DECOLONIZING YA LITERATURE

DECOLONIZING YA LITERATURE

Today, we have a guest post from NoNieqa Ramos.

Authors from marginalized groups often talk about the fine line between speaking the truth of one’s experience and being tasked with the emotional labor of enlightening or educating people outside that group. How do you navigate that line?

To speak plain: White people relying on people of color to do the emotional labor of educating and enlightening them is generally unacceptable. I say generally, because it depends on the setting. Por ejemplo, a school or job providing equity training is the time and the place for white people to seek edification. But what about my character Verdad, a queer person of color whose school has not decolonized their syllabi or their culture? What about Verdad, who is being raised by homophobic and transphobic people like I was? We have all been drinking from the poisoned well of hegemony, and tragically, in many cases, if children don’t drink from that well, they ain’t getting any water at all.

I open my book by showing that the school Verdad attends is toxic. Verdad starts her own edification after hearing from Nelly, an Afro-Latinx girl who takes a stand against hegemony—and faces the consequences for it. She’s also forced to rely on her new family of friends, queer people of color, to wake her up. And I equip Verdad to edify herself. This girl ends up carrying around a backpack of reference books about her culture.

Of course, she already knows that white supremacy is real and deadly; she lost her best friend to a racist mass shooter. But it takes her time to get that we all have internalized racism and homophobia.

Queer people of color like Verdad—even with all the pain we’ve suffered—need to examine how we may perpetuate unconscious bias against other queer people of color. We have been taught to hate each other, to hate ourselves, by the society we live in. It goes back to the poisoned well. I wrote The Truth Is to reflect that journey.

So, no, queer people of color do not exist for the edification of cishet white people. But paradoxically, without us, without our work and our activism, what would our world look like?

Is there tension between the urge to present the image of a “model minority” and the inclusion of flaws within your characters?

I’m trying to picture what a “model minority” is like. Probably brilliant, because marginalized people have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Probably an activist. My character Verdad has PTSD, and the idea that she has to be an activist overwhelms her. She shrinks—hides—from the implicit responsibility. While my book celebrates the sacrifices of activists, it also calls into question the idea that every POC has to be one.

Maybe a “model minority” must be woke at the outset. Verdad isn’t. Her ignorance is harmful to Nelly and to her homeless friends. Layer by layer, she realizes that the lens she views the world with is warped.

As I wrote the book, the pressure to make Verdad into that “model minority” was overwhelming. I could have simply focused on the racism against her and her friends. But I wanted to represent the complex world we live in, where children like Verdad are besieged by white supremacism yet also breathing its air.

I knew I took a risk writing her. What I wanted was to start discussions about important truths. The truth that queer people of color live in a dangerous world founded on oppressing them. The truth that we, the victims of that oppression, have been conditioned to perpetuate it. And the truth that once we understand systems of oppression, we can dismantle them. Kids are at the forefront of this revolution, and books are the greatest tools we can give them.

What does decolonization mean to you?

Decolonization means deconstructing the dominant narrative of white European men. Hegemony has tried to brainwash people of color into believing their truths are folklore and fairy stories, while the white man’s narrative, the narrative of the colonizer, is fact. History is enriched with the accomplishments of POC and stained with how these accomplishments have been appropriated. Decolonizing literature means that the books on the shelves represent empowered persons of color telling their own stories from their own perspectives and own cultures.

Decolonization means no more romanticized, whitewashed narratives that conceal how racism is born from economic greed. No more imbalances where books only represent the pain of POC and not the joy and complexity and nuances of family and culture. No more using the idea of multiculturalism against POC to pretend their contributions were freely given. It means an America that comes to terms with its painful past to give our children an equitable future.

Do you have any tips for helping readers experience discomfort?

In The Truth Is, just when issues of equity and justice are about to be discussed in class, the teacher steps out of the room. I wrote this scenario intentionally. So often, educators are not present. School boards and administrators may place limitations on what educators can teach. Maybe, as I’ve experienced as an educator, they can have LGBTQIA+ books on the shelf but not actively use and discuss them in the classroom. Maybe their school board is arguing against LGBTQIA+ protections altogether. Maybe there isn’t equity training at a school, so educators don’t know that POC rights and LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights and nonnegotiable.

I advocate for educators to be in the room and at the forefront of these uncomfortable discussions. Schools need to provide equity training and support, and teachers need the tools to respect and nurture their students with crucial conversations, informed by a wide range of diverse #ownvoices literary fiction and nonfiction texts.

But back to all readers, with or without educators guiding them. We ALL need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Any of y’all exercise? Are you ever going to get anywhere physically if you never get uncomfortable? To expand our minds, we have to stretch, and that’s gonna hurt, but it makes us healthier. It means we can take the stairs—maybe to the top floor—and catch a view we never imagined.

My advice is to take a deep breath and to know you are not lost in the wilderness. Follow the leaders behind the movements for equity, like Dr. Debbie Reese, David Bowles, and Las Musas. Read books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson, How to Be an Anti-Racist by by Ibram X. Kendi, and An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Develop self-reliance in your edification. And if you still mess up? Apologize without expecting forgiveness.

If you’re asking yourself why do all this? The kids are the answer.

 

https://lernerbooks.blog/2019/08/nonieqa-ramos-on-decolonizing-ya-literature.html

CICELY LEWIS, KAO KALIA YANG, MELANIE GILLMAN, AND NONIEQA RAMOS ON #READWOKE, #OWNVOICES AND DIVERSIFYING LIBRARY COLLECTIONS

CICELY LEWIS, KAO KALIA YANG, MELANIE GILLMAN, AND NONIEQA RAMOS ON #READWOKE, #OWNVOICES AND DIVERSIFYING LIBRARY COLLECTIONS

by Lois Wallentine, School & Library Marketing Director

In mid-October, Lerner and SLJ hosted an enlightening #ReadWoke webinar with librarian, SLJ columnist, and #ReadWoke founder Cicely Lewis and three #OwnVoices authors:

 

  • Kao Kalia Yang, author of A Map into the World, the first picture book about a Hmong-American child written by a Hmong-American writer
  • Melanie Gillman, author/artist of the graphic novel Stage Dreams, a rollicking queer adventure full of robbery and romance
  • NoNieqa Ramos, author of The Truth Is, a powerful YA novel about love, identity, and self-worth through the eyes of a fierce, questioning Puerto Rican teen

Following Cicely’s interviews of each author, the panelists answered some of the audience’s questions, but we ran out of time for others. In today’s blog post, Cicely and the authors tackle questions about #ReadWoke, #OwnVoices, and diversifying library collections.

What is the first “read woke” book you read that inspired you?

Cicely LewisBlack Boy, by Richard Wright, and Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural Southby Anne Moody.

Kao Kalia Yang: My first truly “read woke” book was A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman, by David A. Adler. I saw a small woman, cast to the undersides of possibility, make a stand for herself and her people, and I thought, “If only…”—for that thought is imperative for all the others to begin.

Melanie Gillman: Some early comics I read that inspired me when I was first getting into graphic novels were Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel, and Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

NoNieqa Ramos: My first #ReadWoke book was A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez, which carried me through a portal to Love in the Time of CholeraOf Love and Other DemonsOne Hundred Years of Solitude... His worlds, no matter how fantastical, were the first ones that made me want to toss off my shoes and press my bare feet into the terrain. I must also mention the profound experience of reading Shadowshaperby Daniel José Older, because that was the first time I read a book that was a door straight into my childhood.

How do you balance the need for “woke” books with parent concerns in an elementary school?

Cicely: I work in a high school, so I am not as familiar with elementary schools. However, I have a media committee; I email committee members a list of my recommended books with a short synopsis. They can add their input. If no one objects, then the book is approved. Be brave, but also be smart. Assess your community’s needs and start small if you have to do so.

Kalia: When I was younger, I was so hungry to see my world reflected [in books.]…Shortly after I got to America, my sister and I discovered the bookmobile that used to come to the housing projects where we lived. I have a very clear memory [of asking the librarian] if there were books about people like me, children like me. The librarian went to the shelves and looked. She found a book about the Vietnamese, and the Chinese, and one about the Koreans, and she said, “I’m so sorry, my dear, there are no books about the Hmong on these shelves.” Underneath my breath I said, “One day a little girl is going to come here, and she’s going to find a book about the people who love her most.” Of course, I didn’t think then that I would be the author…. It was my first librarians who showed me a bigger world via the books on the shelves. This tiny light that was in me flowered up, and here I am a part of this world….Success for me is if I can offer [friendship] to a child who’s lonely, a child who’s looking to belong, to offer them a place where they can know belonging, know love, know what a beautiful world this is.

Melanie: Queer and trans books face a disproportionate amount of banning from school and public libraries. A lot of times it’s because there are concerned gatekeepers among parents, or for political reasons. Mainly it’s going to be a question of bravery and what you value. Do you value the lives of the children who are going to be looking for books like this in your collection? And do you value the responsibility of libraries to have a book for everyone who walks through that door? If that is something you’re willing to fight for, I would encourage you to look at books depicting queer and trans young people in a positive light, especially ones written by queer and trans authors themselves.

NoNieqa: We have a shortage of the kinds of books that can support kids through their struggles. But we can do better. Not just by putting #OwnVoices books on the shelves, but putting them in our curriculums. And not just putting them in our curriculums, but networking with each other—as authors, writers, and librarians—all across the country and the world. We can support each other in this good fight. It’s not just the lonely librarian saying, I value these children. I know that when I leave this book off the shelf, I’m leaving that kid out. I’m abandoning kids when I leave holes in the shelf where they can’t access what they need. It’s scary to take risks, because librarians and educators need to put food on the table. But there is less risk when we band together. Maybe we can’t all go to the streets, maybe we can’t all hold up signs. But we can hold up the books. The books we’re holding up are that massive protest. We’re protesting together. We’re amplifying each other, finding each other, chain-linking arms. That makes it so much safer to put those books on the shelves.

Cicely, do you read the books before you recommend them as #ReadWoke books?

Cicely: Yes, all of my recommendations that are featured in School Library Journal are books that I have read.

What free resource did Melanie Gillman reference during their talk about doing research on the historical lives of queer and trans people?

Melanie: The Digital Transgender Archive

Does Stage Dreams have a bibliography in the back so readers have a further jump point to help find more information about themselves? Or links on the author’s website?

Melanie: Not currently, but I definitely recommend resources like the Digital Transgender Archive or local LGBTQ resource centers and libraries for readers who are looking to do their own research. Also, if you listen to podcasts, I love Morgan M. Page’s One from the Vaults.

Melanie, since you are purposely leaving some questions unanswered in your books, do you find that readers are responding with fan fiction?

Melanie: Ha ha, nobody’s sent me any yet! Purposely-unanswered-questions is a pretty common storytelling practice, though 🙂

The majority of YA novels published are still written by cis white authors. When they include characters from marginalized groups they may not be able to fully realize, do you feel editors are responsible to push many changes in manuscripts when those from those groups would find the characters lacking?

Melanie: If I had my druthers, the real thing I’d like editors to do more of is publish books by people who aren’t cis and white. In particular, I’ve been noticing a depressing trend where publishers will hire my trans author colleagues to do sensitivity reads on cis authors’ manuscripts, but those same publishers won’t touch the trans authors’ own book pitches. While I certainly agree editors should push their authors to take feedback from marginalized readers if they’re writing outside their own experience, I think the much more important, effective way to make change in the publishing industry is to let underrepresented authors write their own books.

NoNieqa Ramos: I think it’s important for cishet writers NOT to write marginalized characters as their protagonists. Those are not their stories to tell. When I wrote The Truth Is, I could not have—and should not have—written the protagonist as my trans boy Danny. To represent the diverse world we live in however, we need to include characters who may be different from ourselves in culture and/or sexual and gender identity. Imagine how weird it would be to have a book where every character in it was only a cishet male. I think editors and writers are on TEAM Whatever Book You Are Writing. You both have a responsibility to do research and get sensitivity readers to make sure you are honoring the dignity and integrity of marginalized characters that aren’t #OwnVoices. My editor Amy Fitzgerald was there to support and challenge me every step of the way.

What has inspired your courage when there have been days when you didn’t think you could write the words for others?

Melanie: What inspires me is knowing there are children out there reading these works who will be affected in a positive way. That’s the benefit of writing books you wished that you had as a kid; you know firsthand the effect it is going to have on young readers. You know you’re making a positive difference. That bulwark can sustain you through a lot of trials and tribulations as an author.

Kalia: When I was seven, my family went to Kmart to buy some lightbulbs. My mother, who was only 25, didn’t know English. Instead of just asking for lightbulbs, she said, “I’m looking for the things that make the world shiny.” My mother was struggling with the words, while the clerk was tapping on the desk. The faster the tapping, the harder it was for my mother to get the words out. Finally when she managed, the clerk walked away and didn’t come back. We waited 15 minutes and then my mother looked down. Although I was just a child, I knew my mother was ashamed. I decided then that if we lived in a world that didn’t need to hear my mother or my father, then surely the world that I lived in didn’t need to hear me. I became a selective mute. All of my public school files say that I was a selective mute. When I published my first book, I got up to speak, and I couldn’t do it. I stood there shaking. My father walked all the way from the back of the audience to the front. He put out his hands, the rough hands of a machinist, because when human flesh is cut by steel, the flesh suffers. He held my hands and said to me, “From hardness you give birth to gentleness,” because I have the soft hands of a writer. My mother said, “If all Hmong tears can be incarnate, we would rain the world with our sorrow, but because they cannot, they can only green the mountains. If you speak, maybe the winds of humanity will blow, and maybe our lives are not lost.” For every Hmong person that I meet, two other persons died so that I could be here. I have to speak in hope that the winds of humanity will blow. It isn’t a question of fear, but in the words of my grandmother, who was a shaman, “I will build my life because of my faith, not my fears.”

NoNieqa: The publishing world is a roller coaster. Sometimes I feel like I was supposed to be “this tall” to get on the ride and somehow I snuck in. But my answer to how I deal is in the photo at the top of this page: THE KIDS! I don’t ever want a kid to feel isolated or abandoned. When all eslse fails, I want them to be able to reach for a book and find answers, respine, their truth. At my recent school visit in D.C., kids said things like, “This book changed my perspective,” and “Thank you for talking to us and not at us,” and “How did you get the voice to sound like us?” They said things like “Verdad, what’s she’s going through, I feel that too.” That is why I will take breaks, get a funnel cake, and then get back in the line and ride.

Do you know of any Farsi (Iranian) authors for kids K-grade 7? We have Persepolisby Marjane Satrapi, and Saffron Ice Creamby Rashin Kheiriyeh, but that is about it.

NoNieqa: Here is a source for Iranian authors: Read Globally: Books to Introduce Kids and Teens to the History and Culture of Iran. And great news, Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram, is going to be a movie!

Lerner:  Also try the resource unearthed in the group chat: diversebookfinder.org

I was wondering if anyone had a resource for finding elementary books with Asian, particularly Korean, characters.

Kalia: There’s a great professor at St. Catherine’s University named Sarah Park Dahlen. She is one of the preeminent scholars in diverse books and she’s Korean American, so if there are good ones, she would know. She has a wonderful website with a blog and other resources.

Can you recommend some LGBTQ+ picture books and novels for young kids 8-12 yrs old?

NoNieqa: Here is a great list of LGBTQIA+ picture books. I also personally recommend Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders, which was an Amazon Book-of-the-Year Selection. And here is a great list of Middle Grade LGBTQIA books. I also highly recommend Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within, a stunning four-star earning MG book from Scholastic on the beauty of menstruation that celebrates Latinx and LGBTQIA+ identity.

Are there any graphic novels that feature LGBTQ characters that you would recommend? I recently read Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, and would like to have other titles to share with my patrons, colleagues, etc.

Melanie: Definitely! Here’s a handful of recommendations: The Prince and the Dressmakerby Jen Wang; Cucumber Questby Gigi D.G.; Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu; Super Late Bloomerby Julia Kaye; Transposes, by Dylan Edwards; Curveball, by Jeremy Sorese; and Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu.

I LOVED (Melanie’s book) As the Crow Flies. Are we getting a sequel?

Melanie: Yes! I’m currently working on a second volume, though it won’t be out for a few years—colored pencil is a slow process!

What are you working on next?

Kalia: This spring, I have another children’s picture book coming out titled The Shared Room (University of Minnesota Press). It is a story inspired once again by real people and actual events, in this case the drowning of a Hmong girl a couple of years ago. This story, with the permission of the family, is dedicated the girl’s remaining siblings. The story deals very directly with the grief of a family, the loss of a child, the love that remains. Also, my second book with Carolrhoda Books/Lerner, The Most Beautiful Thing, releases in Fall 2020.

NoNieqa: I am working on final edits for my forthcoming picture books being published by HMH/Versify, Beauty Woke and Your Mama. On the YA front, I’m working on my first horror/magic realism project!

https://lernerbooks.blog/2019/11/cicely-lewis-kao-kalia-yang-melanie-gillman-and-nonieqa-ramos-on-readwoke-ownvoices-and-diversifying-library-collections.html

NONIEQA RAMOS ON COMING OUT IN YA LITERATURE

NONIEQA RAMOS ON COMING OUT IN YA LITERATURE

by Amy Fitzgerald, Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Books

In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11, I talked to author NoNieqa Ramos about LGBTQA+ advocacy and representation in YA literature.

In your new novel, The Truth Is, no character has a smooth or joyous coming-out experience. The Underdogs have been outright rejected by their families. Verdad’s mother is furious that Verdad is dating a trans guy, because she thinks it means Verdad is a lesbian. (Verdad eventually realizes that she is, in fact, pansexual—attracted to people of all genders.) Yet the kids do encounter understanding, accepting adults. What led you to include Mrs. Joung, Mr. and Mrs. Maheshwari, and even that priest in the story?

I wanted to acknowledge—and combat—the struggles of LGBTQIA+ youth, but also present hope. Hope is real. Rejection by some or even many doesn’t mean rejection by all. There are family members, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders, librarians, and people in the community—or outside of it—who can offer support and understanding. I truly believe every queer kid has a queer family out there.

I also wanted to present a nuanced representation of Korean-American and Indian-American culture, particularly when it comes to LGBTQIA+ issues. That’s why Mrs. Joung and the Maheshwaris approach the Underdogs with compassion and acceptance. The priest who speaks to Verdad shows up because while religious institutions have been problematic, allies and refuge can exist there too. I myself have seen great love, respect, and support of LGBTQIA+ youth in the Unitarian Universalist church. LGBTQIA+ youth deserve to have access to religion and spirituality and just like everyone else.

One of my favorite characters is Verdad’s aunt Sujei. Tia Sujei doesn’t really understand LGBTQA+ identities or issues, so she says plenty of ignorant and hurtful things. But unlike Verdad’s mother, Sujei is willing to have a conversation—and she doesn’t threaten to withhold her love from Verdad because of who she is. That’s a different kind of challenge for Verdad than, say, being disowned would be. What would you say to teens who want to come out and know they’ll receive a loving but imperfect, perhaps still painful, response from adults in their lives?

To Whomever Needs to Hear This:

It’s complicated. You’ve got people accepting you in fractions. Maybe someone you care about doesn’t understand your queer identity. You might be having tough conversations. You’re hurt and disappointed. But you don’t want to give up on the relationship yet. They don’t want to give up on you. There’s a lot of confusion.

If that’s happening, I hope you can find another trusted person to give you counsel and support to get through it. If you can’t, please remember that anyone accepting you for anything less than 100 percent you is coming from a place of ignorance or weakness, and ultimately they will be in the minority of people you meet in your life. Hold on. The world gets so much bigger.

If you want to forgive someone because they have overcome their ignorance, do it. You are amazing! I would forgive my father in a heartbeat.

That being said, know for a fact that no adult’s beliefs or biases invalidate your personhood. I’m sorry you have to tolerate anything less than unconditional respect and love. You have every right to end a relationship with anyone—including a relative—who doesn’t accept your identity.

My biggest message is not to reject yourself. Take care of your body, mind, heart, soul. It may take time, but surround yourself with people who will do the same. You deserve it, we are out there, and we accept you as the whole, dynamic person that you are.

You’ve been a teacher for a long time. What have you noticed about how your students express their identities and respond to one another’s identities? What challenges do you see teens facing when it comes to seeing and being seen among their peers?

I can answer this with a story. Trigger warning: bullying and self-harm.

Last year, a group of students and I organized Pride Week activities at our school. Each day we’d wear a different color on the rainbow. My classroom was a Pride Pit Stop where kids could meet, grab snacks, get flags and stickers, and take pics.

At a middle school in the same district, my friend’s trans child, let’s call them Marta, was enduring relentless bullying in the halls, whenever they went to the bathroom, at gym class, and on the bus home. They weren’t sleeping. Marta’s mom tried to talk to the bully’s mom but got a hostile response.

That week kids all over my school wore the color of the day, sported student-made pronoun labels, and waved flags. At one point, a student came up to me and said, “Kids are saying I’m gay because I’m wearing the colors.” I said that the color can mean you’re gay, or it can mean you’re ally to gay people. It’s cool if you’re gay. It’s cool if you’re not. Does it bother you if someone thinks you’re gay?

He shrugged, smiled, said I guess not, and went to class. I alerted some of my student organizers that this student may need some emotional support. The next day, I was thrilled to see that he dressed out again. In another incident I’ll never forget, a student I’d never met walked into my class, took a sticker, and said, “I’m autistic and bisexual. I just wanted to tell someone that. You are the someone.” Even as I reveled in moments like this, some members of my team said they were getting bullied. I offered to escort kids to classes.

Back to Marta. Their mom connected them with LGBTQIA+ allies in the community and a counselor who specialized in LGBTQIA+ issues. But when Marta finally lashed out at the abuse from the bully, they and the bully got suspended.

That Thursday, I was escorting one of my LGBTQIA+ students through the hall when I was told over the PA to report to the principal’s office. “It’s because of us,” the student said. Pride Week was shut down.

Shortly afterward, one of my fellow teachers—a lesbian who had gotten married the week before—told me she loved Pride Week and had come out to one of her students. So why did she only come out to only one student? Why hadn’t she done what EVERY straight (or straight-presenting) teacher does after a wedding—fill her PowerPoints and her desk with photos and mementos?

She and her spouse were afraid of the reaction of our conservative community. They were afraid of losing their jobs.

Progress is happening, but it’s inconsistent and uneven. Which means safety for kids—and adults—is inconsistent and uneven.

Again, there is hope, but we cannot be complacent. There is still so much work we need to do on behalf of our kids. That’s why it’s so important to give all kids access to LGBTQIA+ resources and easily identifiable allies, so that if and when they identify, they have support right away.

When I was a YA reader ten or fifteen years ago, I never came across a coming-out story. Now, I can think of quite a few—some harrowing, some sweet, most ultimately empowering. (I think The Truth Is is all three, though I’m biased.) But many people don’t feel safe or comfortable coming out to everyone in their lives, and it’s worth noting that there’s nothing cowardly or inauthentic about this. What are your thoughts on how YA literature can support and validate teens who are fully or partially “in the closet”?

We need to do for queer children’s literature what we’ve started to do for literature by people of color: analyze it statistically on a yearly basis to establish how far we’ve come and how far we need to go to accurately represent the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ experience. Let’s gauge it by the numbers. Exactly how many stories are we giving kids that are fraught but ultimately hopeful, that are fun and exuberant, or that rep kids who are partially in the closet? Kids need them all. When we give them a balanced representation of the queer experience, we’re giving them an array of possibilities that they can consider from the safety of a book.

I also think more nonfiction needs to be produced by #ownvoices LGBTQA+ writers, who can help guide kids through safely making decisions about being in, completely out, or partially out of the closet. And more nonfiction needs to represent successful and openly gay persons who are happy and living their best lives. So the answer is a balanced diet, larger portions, and always dessert when it comes to rep in lit.

 

 

https://lernerbooks.blog/2019/10/nonieqa-ramos-on-coming-out-in-ya-literature.html

NONIEQA RAMOS ON WRITING DIVERSE CHARACTERS AND RESISTING THE STATUS QUO

Photo Credit: Nina Arroyo Santiago and Pen Faulkner Foundation

NONIEQA RAMOS ON WRITING DIVERSE CHARACTERS AND RESISTING THE STATUS QUO

Last month at an ALA Annual librarian dinner, author NoNieqa Ramos talked about her YA novels, diversity, and resisting the status quo. Here she shares a version of her speech. 

NoNieqa Ramos’s message to librarians

NoNieqa Ramos
NoNieqa Ramos

In The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, my protagonist Macy is defined by society as poor. She’s defined in her school by her ADHD and emotional disturbance. I’ve been asked, why do I write characters like Macy? Macy, who has a father in prison, a mother who invites a revolving door of men into the house, and has mental health issues that are defiantly unsexy.

I write characters like Macy because maybe characters like her need to be defined by other words. Like resilient, like brave, like blazing with undying loyalty to those she loves.

But is she disturbed? I know adult hypocrisy, systemic injustice, and inequity, disturb her. Maybe more of us need to get disturbed.

We should all be disturbed by the data from Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and David Huyck and their updated infographic using the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s publishing stats on diversity in children’s literature.

Still revealing that despite the so-called “diversity wave,” 50 percent of children’s books are white, 27 percent of books are about animals and vehicles, and the rest? Of the 23 percent that are Native American, Latinx, African American? How many of those are actually #ownvoices? Even as we provide a scant few windows and mirrors, how many of those are warped? Broken?

The truth is, our paradigms need to get disturbed, decolonized, dismantled, and queered up. But the truth also is, pointing the finger at everyone else is a helluva lot easier than pointing to our own hearts and minds and self-preserving agendas. Confronting our flaws like my character Verdad has to do in my latest novel, The Truth Is.

The Truth Is is about a 15-year-old Verdad, who’s survived a shooting by a white supremacist. She’s dealing with the anniversary of her best friend’s death when she meets and falls for trans boy Danny and discovers some ugly truths about herself, like her anti-black racism and homophobia. And the horrifying number of LGBTQIA homeless youth.

The truth is even with the “wave” of incredible lit out there from writers like David Bowles, Meg Medina, Tami Charles, and Kwame Alexander, it’s NOT enough to have diverse books in our classrooms and libraries. We need to get them in our curricula, into all-school inclusive auditoriums.

Truth is powerful. Like light, even if it’s deflected, our souls reach for it.

Right before I finished the school year, I got called into the principal’s office.

My previous school district is big on “project based learning.” Several students approached me to do a Pride-based project involving literature, dressing in Pride colors, and discussing social justice and identity.

When the summoning blared over the intercom, one of my LGBTQIA+ students was walking beside me. “It’s because of us isn’t it?” they said.

Apparently, I was told by an administrator, our project made other kids, (so the parent phone calls said), feel excluded.

I asked if any parent had complained that their children felt excluded when we celebrated Native American history month, or “Hispanic” history month, or African American history month . . . He stopped me at Breast Cancer Awareness week.

I was then told our project needed “more eyes” on it. A comparison was made between our project and the P.E. project of another school where kids were asked to simulate being runaway slaves.

And whose “eyes” did this administrator need if an educator of over 15 years whose mission is diverse representation in literature wasn’t enough?

The administrator next suggested my project wasn’t appropriate for middle school. I suggested making children who start identifying who they are and who they are not in elementary school wait until high school to receive love and validation and dignity was developmentally inappropriate.

After the meeting, the administrator sent me an email with an attachment. Eureka! He had finally found a district policy that could shut down my project, and I might add, the future projects of other teachers during Pride month. The attachment basically stated teachers were not allowed to be political. Because LGBTQIA+ rights are not human rights–it’s just politics, right? By the way, the administrator had completely misread the district document, which applied to elections and not LGBTQIA+ people at all.

The truth is, the books I used and the concepts inside were OK for the shelf but not OK for the curriculum. The truth is educators are on the front lines and we have the power to uphold the status quo that continues to oppress the marginalized or rise against it.

But it’s painful. The truth is, we want to feel enlightened when we read the words of Martin Luther King Jr. but we don’t get Dr. King would have been at the front of the Black Lives Matter movement. The truth is we teach about World War II and the Holocaust and bow our heads at the horrors, but turn away from the horrors happening inside this country at the borders right now in the internment camps of migrant families and children.

I conclude with this: We the librarians and educators and writers and publishers hold this truth to be self-evident. We are the resistance. And when we procure, promote, and openly discuss diverse books written by #ownvoices, we obliterate the status quo. We arm the next generations of students against racism, hegemony, and patriarchy, give them the arsenal they need for a future of peace.

Interview with Alamo Heights High School Writer Hanah Shields

Bound for Greatness!

NoNieqa: After reading Hanah Shield’s review of my novel THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY in the San Antonio Express-News,  I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to discover her age. https://www.expressnews.com/entertainment/arts-culture/books/article/The-very-definition-of-an-emotionally-unstable-12713300.php. If the year 2018 has shown us anything, it’s that teenagers can be eloquent, articulate, knowledgeable and powerful instigators of social change. Hanah’s writing inspired my literary agent Emily Keyes to say, “Hire that Kid. I would represent her book.” I am honored that she agreed to be interviewed on my blog!

Hanah: I am so flattered to hear that both you and Ms. Keyes enjoyed my writing! I do believe that we live in the perfect era for teens to start speaking their minds and expressing their opinions in an intelligent and thought-provoking way. Recently I’ve been seeing so many of my peers (both online and in real life) stand up for what they believe in, especially since the events in Parkland, and it’s been incredibly inspiring to see the effect young voices can have on today’s social issues.

NoNieqa: Hanah, do your primarily write nonfiction? Have you explored writing fiction?

Hanah:   While I do mostly nonfiction for the Express-News, fiction and poetry are actually my favorite genres to write. I find it easier to write poems, but recently I’ve been trying out more short stories with my school’s literary magazine and hope to someday move on to novel-writing.

NoNieqa: Tell us about your background and family. What are your passions? What are your goals? What is a message you want to project into the world?

Hanah:  My dad is retired military and my mom is from Japan, so I’ve had the opportunity to live in and see a lot of different places. I’ve loved reading since day one, but recently I’ve really gotten into foreign languages and linguistics. (I’ve been trying to teach myself Norwegian for a few months now just for fun, and it’s been . . . interesting. And kind of hard.) Aside from academics, I’ve been a synchronized swimmer for the past eight years, which is how I’ve made most of my closest friends.

As a biracial Asian American woman, I’m really passionate about diversity and representation of all kinds in popular media and the entertainment industry, which was one of the reasons that The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary really spoke to me. I think it’s so important for kids from all walks of life to be able to see characters and role models they can relate to whenever they step into a bookstore or movie theater.

NoNieqa: Please describe your writing journey. When did you start writing for pleasure? How have you honed your craft? How did you become connected with the San Antonio Express- News? Are there any other places we can find your publications? To where do you aspire to publish in the future?

Hanah:  While I’ve always, always loved reading, it was not the same case with writing. I despised writing at school until the fourth grade, when state standardized testing required us to start exploring new forms like personal narratives. After a few reluctant essays, I realized I was actually quite good at writing. Once I reached middle school, I started to really enjoy the creative     prompts given to me by my English teachers, and then a family friend of mine helped me get my first review with the San Antonio Express-News.

My high school’s Creative Writing/Literary Magazine program has definitely had the greatest positive influence on my writing. My amazing classmates and teacher are constantly pushing me and inspiring me to make my writing the best it can possibly be. Some of my poems are in our print and online literary magazines, The Jabberwocky and The JubJub (where I recently did another interview as featured writer with fellow staff member Carrie Mullins). You can find the latest JubJub issue at: https://ahlitmag.wixsite.com/ahlitmag/the-jubjub. I hope to keep writing frequently and would love to do personal or nonfiction pieces for an outlet like The New York Times (I recently applied to their new student newsletter, The Edit), but I also want to eventually publish a novel of my own.

NoNieqa: What are two words that define you?

Hanah:  If I were to describe myself in two words, they would probably be “curious” and “obsessive.” They really go hand in hand to show that in any aspect of my life, I am always looking to discover new things, and as soon as I become interested in something, I dive in headfirst to learn everything I can about it.

THANK YOU Hanah Shields for this interview. You are an inspiration!

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: INTRODUCING SCHOLAR and POET TAMIA

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I am honored to present seventh grade scholar and poet TAMIA from the Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson school in Baltimore.                                                       

“Behind These Hazel Eyes”

Here I am, once again.

I’m torn into pieces.

Can’t pretend.

Just thought you were the one

broken up.

Deep inside

I can’t deny it–

but you won’t get to see the tears I cry.

Behind These Hazel Eyes…

You might call them fair and beautiful,

But do you know the lies

these hazel eyes have kept?

All I see is pain and sorrow.

Behind these hazel eyes

I hide the truth.

Behind these hazel eyes

I can’t deny–

But I keep a small smile

With my head held high.

BEHIND THESE HAZEL EYES.

When I met TAMIA, she held several notebooks of her works against her heart. I look forward to the beauty she brings to the world in her journey as a writer. Below, her responses will serve as inspiration to her peers and all writers who struggle to make time for their craft.

Our Interview:

TAMIA, what are some of your triumphs?

My triumphs include finishing any story I have written.

What are your struggles?

Some struggles I have are thinking of the plot for a story. I also struggle with not having enough time to write and thinking of what to write.

What are some of your goals?

Some of my goals are to make a mini book of poems or stories to give to my school or to at least have my work shown to the world.

What advice would you give to other scholars your age?

Some advice I’d give to other scholars my age is to always chase after something you want to do in the future and if someone doubts you, prove them wrong. If someone believes in you, make them proud. And don’t ever doubt yourself.

Great advice for us all to follow. Thank you TAMIA for your words of wisdom.