On January 28th, 2019 the Youth Media Awards were held in Seattle during the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meeting. One of the awards announced was the Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award. Author Jessica Love won for her picture book Julian is a Mermaid. Jessica was kind enough to answer a few questions about receiving her phone call from the committee and more!
Tell me about getting that phone call. What were you doing?
I was unpacking. My fiancé and I were in the process of moving apartments, and our new place was not in the kind of shape we had hoped. We were having a real cold snap in New York, and the new building hasn’t been particularly well maintained and an icy wind was blowing through the walls. We were trying to figure out how to patch up the walls when I got the call. After that I would have been happy to sleep in a refrigerator.
How did you feel?
I cannot explain with adequate force the feeling you have, as an artist, when you feel you have made something that has found its audience. Julián is a Mermaid is my first book–I’ve been an actor for the last 13 years. And in the theater I had a growing feeling that the work we were doing didn’t actually matter to anyone. Or at least, the people for whom it might matter weren’t coming to the theater. It was a creeping feeling of creative impotence, of writing on water. So to go from that feeling to having Julián actually reaching the people I made it for, and having an impact on them…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s as gratifying a feeling as an artist gets to have.
Why was it important to you to include LGBTQIA issues and/or characters in your book?
I feel like there are many ways to answer this question. Part of it is that I think there is an essential lesson in courage and self-knowledge that we can all take from the LGBTQIA community. I have a profound respect for the strength of character it requires for a member of the LGBTQIA community to just be themselves in this world, especially a young person. On a more personal level, I have a friend, a trans man, who waited longer than he wanted to to transition and start living his life as the man he knew himself to be. I wanted to make a story that provided a little bit of ballast for kids who might be struggling to break out of their own chrysalises. I wanted to leave this book as a kind of comfort station, where they might stop and replenish their spirits, then continue their journey. I made it in the spirit of a small gift to the LGBTQIA community, as a gesture of thanks for all the gifts that community has given to the human race.
What does it mean to you to be recognized for a Stonewall Award? Tell me about your next book? Anything else to add?
To be recognized for a Stonewall Award is a kind of direct gratification I never really expected to get in my life. What it means to me, quite simply, is that my work worked. It reached the people I made it for, and it meant something to them. I don’t think it gets better than that.