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Welcome to the Shelf Care Interview, an occasional conversation series where Booklist talks to book people. This Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Gale.
In this episode of the Shelf Care Interview, Susan Maguire talks to to Duchess Harris, author of Being LGBTQ in America: LGBTQ Social Movements in America. Dr. Harris is a professor of American Studies at Macalester College and curator of the Duchess Harris collection of ABDO books. She’s also the co-author of the titles in the collection, which features popular selections such as Hidden Human Computers: the Black Women of NASA, and series including News Literacy and Being Female in America. LGBTQ Social Movements in America is part of the Gale Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice student eBook collection.
You can listen to this Shelf Care Interview here. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
SUSAN MAGUIRE: Thank you so much for joining me, Duchess Harris.
DUCHESS HARRIS: Thank you for having me. I’m so glad to be here today.
Tell us a little bit about your work and what went into writing LGBTQ Social Movements in America.
Before I get into my work, I just have to say, I love this Shelf Care. When I realized, I said, “Oh, it’s self-care, but for your shelf.” So that is clever. And I appreciate that.
The Duchess Harris collection started a few years ago as a body of work that I had been developing as a faculty member at Macalester College in the American Studies department. These are adaptations from my lectures that are turned into books for two different imprints: Core Library, which is for fourth to eighth graders, and Essential Library, which is for sixth to twelfth graders.
I was inspired to do the LGBTQ work because of the students that I teach and people in my community. And I thought that it was a piece of the curriculum that doesn’t have a lot of representation.
I think that folks are really coming to terms with the fact that, gosh, we need to be teaching this stuff. So why do you think it’s so important for young people in middle school and high school to have access to history books that focus more on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice?
Well, I think that people start coming of age in middle school. This is where we have certain rites of passage, and what I find is that if you do not see yourself reflected in material, you end up feeling like you were not a part of the American narrative. So some people say when you are looking at literature as a young person, is it a window you’re looking through into other people’s lives or is it a mirror where yourself is reflected? And so what I wanted to do is create some mirrors for young people, but then also to evoke compassion and empathy, to provide some windows into the life of young LGBTQ people for those who happen to be straight.
The window and mirror concept is something we talk about a lot with helping folks find fiction reading. I think it’s important to remember it’s equally applicable to official curriculum as well.
And not only is it equally applicable, there are certain communities that have been intentionally left out of the narrative. And if you were left out of the narrative, then your experience then feels to you as if you really aren’t legitimately a part of the culture, which, of course, is not true.
We want our students to feel uplifted and important because they are. So let’s talk about digital stuff. Why is it important that this material is available digitally on Gale’s eBook platform?
Well, I mean, I thought that it was important that this work was available digitally before COVID, right? Now that we have COVID, it’s unimaginable to me what our world would look like without digital offerings. We’re in a situation where schools are closed, which means that libraries are not up and running in person. And the only way that people have access to knowledge now is through the internet.
And so I celebrate Gale so much for having the foresight and the vision to already have these materials before we were in the midst of a pandemic so that students can really stay engaged in work that often wasn’t even available in print material.
You mentioned a lot of this information is available, but I think having a curated, source-checked resource is hugely important because there’s a lot of information on the internet.
And I think that it’s important for librarians to go to a place that they would trust for academic excellence—as you’re saying, curated and filtered through—so it’s not just all the things that are floating around in cyberspace, and they are able to guide young people in a direction where not only do they get knowledge, but I also can’t emphasize enough the impact of the social, emotional learning for young people as they’re coming of age. They are figuring out not just who they are, but the people in their communities, because this isn’t just about the personal journey, right? This is about, maybe I see a reflection of my cousin in these texts. Maybe this is who my aunts and uncles are. Maybe I can look toward the fact that I have either two moms or two dads and see that there’s a history of that and I’m not the only one.
And there are some great images in the collection, too, that I think really drive that home.
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. ABDO Publishing gets credit for doing such a fine job with the images.
So let’s go with some takeaways here. What do you want librarians to know about your book or the collection in general? And why it belongs in a library’s digital collection? And what do you hope students take away from your work?
Well, I want librarians to know that there are actually six texts in this collection. And so the collection is called Being LGBTQ in America, but the six categories are transgender, the growing up experience, and then discrimination is one, rights and the law is another, the armed forces is another, and then social movements is the sixth one. And so I think that if we think about the geographical location of some libraries—the armed forces one, for instance, in places where there are military bases, [itâ€™s important] for librarians to be able to disseminate knowledge about what it means to be a pro-military family that also that can support LGBTQ issues. I think that that is invaluable. I think the whole notion of transgender is something that did not exist in books back in the â€™70s and â€™80s, when I was in middle school and high school.
There were such different words for it.
Right. Exactly. And also different words that also might not have been comforting words.
Right? And so this is what I want librarians to know. It’s the role that they can play in young people’s lives and they can do it with this material to help facilitate and foster coming-of-age in a positive way.
I think that speaks to a lot of librarian hearts. So that’s great. Have you gotten feedback from students, or what is your ideal student experience with this material?
I get lots of feedback from first-year college students who tell me that they wish that this material had been in their high schools.
And so it’s wonderful that I stand in these two professional worlds, that I write for middle school and high school students, and then part of my curriculum is fostering college students in their first year, which is really different than college students who’ve been there for a while, because it’s making the transition from high school to college. Last week was National Coming Out Day, and I had students say to me, “The work that you have written, Professor Harris, is something that I can share with people in my family to help them think about how we can have a conversation about who I am.”
I love it. I love it.
It’s so gratifying.
It’s the best job. I know I’m biased, right?
That’s so wonderful. And this is a tough time for a lot of people. And a lot of news doesn’t always support young people the way they should be supported. So I mean, I just want to thank you for this work and I hope you continue to connect with students and young people and be amazing. Continue to be amazing.
It’s exciting. And it’s a privilege. My collection right now has 115 books in it in different subject matters. Most of it related to social justice, where I’m trying to fill a gap about books that might not have existed when I was in middle school and high school. And I just want to say that in January, I have a new series coming out, which is the History of Racism in Modern America, and it will include a title called Justice for George Floyd. And for those of you all who don’t know me, I live in Minneapolisâ€“St. Paul.
Right. So you were on the front lines, unfortunately.
Yes. Yes. It was a long, hot summer.
Yeah, I bet. Well, do you want to mention some of the other collections?
Sure. I have one on media literacy, which I think is really important because of all the debates in the world about fake news. I have one on race and the law, and I used some of that work teaching at my college.
I also have Being Female in America that talks about gender, talks about masculinity as well. And then I have a series called Freedom’s Promise, a collection of, right now, 36 titles, written for fourth to eighth graders, with African-American narratives, some that are very well known, like there’s one about the March on Washington.
And then there’s some that aren’t known at all, like the story of Ona Judge, who was a young woman who was enslaved by President George Washington who escaped and lived the rest of her life free. She was never caught.
That’s a hero.
And that’s stuff that wasn’t taught when I was in school.
And so, like I said, I’m glad that folks are getting access to this. Thank you so much for chatting.
This was wonderful.
This episode of the Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Gale, whose Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice student eBook collection includes Duchess Harris’s LGBTQ Social Movements in America, part of a Being LGBTQ in America series.
To request a trial of the DEI ebook collection, visit www.gale.com/diversitytrial. That’s all one word. Once again, that’s www.gale.com/diversitytrial. Happy reading!.
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