While writing this intro for Robin Stevenson I can’t help but hear the song, “Rainbow Connection” in my head. It’s not just because I’m listening to the song while I’m writing. Robin just gives me all the warm feeling I get when I hear the song.
I wish that I had Robin’s books when I was a kid. I also wish that my parents and the world would have been supportive in me reading such books. It’s wonderful knowing that not alone in this world. I love that feeling and I know that Robin’s books will help our and future generations feel this way as well!
Robin’s Website: https://robinstevenson.com/
Hello! Hope you are all doing okay and finding support and ways to cope during this strange pandemic spring. Despite having lots of time due to cancelled tours, launches and events, I’ve been finding writing rather difficult lately…so I was glad to get an email from Dani asking me if I would share something about why I love writing about LGBTQ+ characters and themes in my books.
Over the last few years, I seem to have become known for writing LGBTQ+ books. My first non-fiction book, PRIDE: CELEBRATING DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY (https://robinstevenson.com/books/pride-celebrating-diversity-and-community/), came out in 2016 and was a Stonewall Honor book. Many of my novels include LGBTQ+ characters and several, including INFERNO (https://robinstevenson.com/books/inferno/) and UNDER THREAT (https://robinstevenson.com/books/under-threat-2/), have been selected for the ALA Rainbow List. My board book PRIDE COLORS (https://robinstevenson.com/books/pride-colors/) is currently a Lambda Literary Award finalist, my picture book GHOST’S JOURNEY: A REFUGEE STORY (https://robinstevenson.com/books/ghosts-journey-a-refugee-story/) tells the story of two gay men and their cat, and this spring I launched a second, expanded edition of my original Pride book: It is called PRIDE: THE CELEBRATION AND THE STRUGGLE (https://robinstevenson.com/books/pride-the-celebration-and-the-struggle/).
(I was also going to launch my latest– and very queer– YA novel, WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE (https://robinstevenson.com/books/when-you-get-the-chance/) , co-written with Tom Ryan, but due to the pandemic it will now be delayed until spring 2021).
So…why LGBTQ+ books? Well, when I wrote my first novel fifteen years ago, I drew heavily on my own experiences and memories of being a queer teen. Of course, that was a long time ago—I was in high school in the 1980s. It wasn’t a great time for queer teens: we didn’t talk about LGBTQ+ identities, we didn’t have books about LGBTQ+ characters, and many of us didn’t even have the language that might have made it so much easier to talk about these subjects, to understand our own identities, and to find community.
So my first novel, OUT OF ORDER (https://robinstevenson.com/books/out-of-order/), came from that place and those memories. It is about a bisexual teen, Sophie, who is just beginning to figure out who she is and how she wants to be in the world. After it was published in 2007, I began hearing from readers who related so strongly to Sophie—and I began realizing how important this kind of representation was. The following year, my novel BIG GUY (https://robinstevenson.com/books/big-guy/) came out. It was about a gay teen boy, and again I received emails from readers to whom this novel really mattered. One young gay man told me that he read it over and over– and that it helped him to understand and accept himself.
And of course, it isn’t just important for LGBTQIA+ kids and teens to see LGBTQ+ characters in books: I think all children, parents and teachers need these books. For young people who don’t know a lot about LGBTQ+ people, books can help them learn, have empathy, and hopefully care more about issues of human rights. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still common, and they hurt people—and I think books can be an important part of working to change that.
Although I started out writing for teens, I have begun writing LGBTQ+ books for much younger kids as well. Things are getting better but when I visit schools and talk to students, I still meet many who are afraid that if they come out as gay, or bi, or lesbian, or trans, that their parents won’t support them, or will be angry or disappointed. So I think kids need to hear from the people that love them that it is okay for them to be themselves and to love who they love. Our teens and our older kids need to hear that, of course—but there is no age that is too young to begin giving your kids that message. So I wrote my board book, PRIDE COLORS (https://robinstevenson.com/books/pride-colors/), for the very youngest kids–babies and toddlers. I hope it gives parents an easy way to tell their children that it is okay for them to be who they are, love who they love, and that they will always be accepted and adored.
My picture book, GHOST’S JOURNEY: A REFUGEE STORY (https://robinstevenson.com/books/ghosts-journey-a-refugee-story/) , is for slightly older kids. It tells the story of two gay men, Rainer and Eka, who fled Indonesia and came to Canada as refugees—along with their cat, Ghost. It is based on a true story and the illustrations are created from Rainer’s photographs. I wrote it to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world, and my hope is that it can be used in classrooms as a gentle introduction to human rights issues. All my royalties from this book go to support LGBTQ+ refugees—I am hoping it will raise funds as well as awareness!
Writing about LGBTQ+ history and rights has strengthened my own connections to the queer community. It has led to so many conversations with queer young people, peers and elders; taught me more about my community’s past and its ongoing struggles; made me part of a wonderfully supportive group of queer writers; and connected me with other LGBTQ+ people around the world. And of course, all of that makes it even more likely that my future books will include LGBTQ+ characters…because my writing reflects the world I live in.
I am curious about the stories and books that will come out of this current period in our lives. How will the pandemic and all we are experiencing filter into our writing? For myself, I am returning to a long neglected and half written mystery novel this week and am hoping that the words will start to flow again…wish me luck! For those of you that are also finding writing challenging this spring, I hope you will be gentle with yourselves and do what you need to do to cope. The words will come eventually. They always do.
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