Interview with Stonewall Honor Kelly Loy Gilbert

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 Kelly Loy Gilbert received an honor for her book Picture Us in the Light. Kelly 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? How did you feel?

Well, it was a Sunday evening and I’d been sick for a while and so there I was in bed, reading (because I had been sick long enough to have already read everything on the internet) an article about hagfish slime, when my phone rang … !  I was absolutely stunned to get the call–I started crying and don’t think I said more than four coherent words to the committee. 

Why was it important to you to include LGBTQIA issues and characters in your book?

One thing I think we’ve been seeing more and more of lately in kid’s lit (although still not enough!) is intersectionality–stories about queer POC, stories about queer disabled people, stories about nonbinary POC, etc. I remember there was a picture book that was published semi-recently about a boy who identified with multiple marginalized identities and there was a review that (very grossly) scoffed at how the book was so PC and trying to cram too many ‘issues’ into itself. I think many of us reacted to viscerally to that, because facets that make up a person’s identity aren’t ‘issues,’ and you can’t have ‘too many,’ and it’s so dehumanizing to reduce a character that way.  People are not, say, POCs because they want to make a statement; they are POC because they are, and their existence does not require any sort of explanation or justification. In PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT, Danny is queer, and also Asian American and many other things, and I think to me he simply reflects reality.

Beyond that, I think we’re at a time in history (like every other time in history) where queer rights are constantly under attack, and I think stories are so powerful in shaping both public narratives and also our own private internal lives. Queer kids everywhere deserve to see themselves in every role in every book they could possibly imagine.

What does it mean to you to be recognized for a Stonewall Award Honor?

It’s such a tremendous honor to have a book recognized by the ALA and Stonewall Committee.  The award has such an important and storied history and I hope that its existence and the work the committees do each year help young queer readers everywhere feel seen and feel that their stories are crucial and necessary and celebrated. 

Tell me about your next book?

I’m currently working on two stories–one about a young violinist, and one about the daughter of a conservative pastor who becomes pregnant her senior year in high school.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I hope, especially in this political moment, that libraries everywhere are able to focus on making so much of the great queer kids’ lit out there available to their patrons, in every genre, and especially ownvoices stories.  Some books coming out soon that I’m really excited about include Julian Winters’ HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON, Kosoko Jackson’s A PLACE FOR WOLVES, Mason Deaver’s I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST, Sabina Khan’s THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, Adam Silver’s INFINITY SON, Alex Bertie’s TRANS MISSION: MY QUEST TO A BEARD, Claire Kann’s IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY among others.  Dahlia Adler’s LGBTQ Reads does excellent work highlighting and exploring queer kid’s lit (Dahlia also has an excellent queer backlist!).


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