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Archive for August 2018

Spotlight on the 2018 Sirens Professional Scholarship Recipients

Librarians, educators, and publishing professionals so often provide exceptional services to book-loving communities—and are, especially at the beginning of their careers or when working for underserved populations, so often paid poorly for their efforts. Their work—and their voices—are critically important to our conversations. In 2018, Sirens awarded its first ever professional scholarships to a bookseller, two educators, and a librarian. They were nice enough to answer a few questions from us; get to know them below!

This year’s recipients:

  • Traci-Anne Canada, Educator, Martin Luther King Jr. High School
  • Nia Davenport, Educator, Mountain View High School
  • Alexandra Pratt, Reference Librarian, Vineyard Haven Public Library
  • Sami Thomason, Bookseller, Square Books Jr.

 

Tell us a little about what you do.

TRACI-ANNE: I am a high school literature teacher. While most of my time is spent teaching American and world literature, I also run the yearbook and teach a journalism course.

NIA: I teach Biology and English at the high school level. In my English classes, I build a curriculum around diverse science fiction and fantasy that allows all young people to see themselves positively reflected in the novels they read in school, which is vital.

ALEXANDRA: For me, being a librarian is all about helping people. I love working in libraries, in a space that is open to all. Libraries are all about building community; through books, events, education and programs and I love what I get to do for and with my community members every day.

SAMI: I wear a lot of hats, but my official titles are social media coordinator, event buyer, and Teen’s First curator. I plan all the social media posts, buy books for any events we hold, and pick and distribute the book for our teen book box we started this year! I also run two advisory boards, one for kids 10–13 and one for 13+, where we read ARCs (advance reader’s copies), discuss upcoming releases and books they’ve read in school, and practice our review writing skills.

 

How do you work with fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors?

TRACI-ANNE: In general, I do whatever I can to get my kids to read at all, but I often try to steer them to books with lesser represented demographics. The majority of my students that read are girls, so I prefer giving them recommendations where they can see themselves as the heroes of stories. This helps promote confidence within themselves.

NIA: Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in The Ashes, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation are all books that I have taught in my classroom. I use these books to engage my students in explorations and discussions on misogyny, racism, and systematic oppression.

ALEXANDRA: I am part of the team that does the collection development at my library, so I am excited to be able to buy and promote works by people of color, women and LGTBQI+ writers. I love sharing my favorite writers and books with others. I am the resident sci-fi/fantasy and graphic novel fan in my library, so I get to give recommendations to patrons, which is always a blast—getting others excited about the books I love.

SAMI: I often use Square Books, Jr.’s social media to promote fantasy titles by women/genderqueer authors, as well as submitting a lot of Edelweiss reviews and IndieNext submissions. I’ve encouraged my advisory boards to pick these titles as well; we just read Claire Legrand’s Furyborn, which was also our inaugural Teen’s First pick. Living in the South can make it difficult to openly support the LGBTQ+ community without backlash, but it’s my personal goal to make a safe space within our store for anyone who wants to read and to encourage our regulars to diversify their reading. My personal social media is basically just more book blurbs and I mostly talk about diverse female driven fantasy since it’s my favorite genre.

 

What are you most excited about for this year’s Sirens?

TRACI-ANNE: As with every year, I am excited to meet various women authors and see what books are for sale in the bookshop. Last year, that bookshop was the foundation of the classroom library I build for my students.

NIA: I am excited about the diverse and prolific line up of authors. I am also excited about attending panels that will further add to my toolbox of topics and themes to engage my students in discussions about when studying our selected novels for the year.

ALEXANDRA: I am so excited to get to hang out with fantasy writers and fans! I can’t wait to learn so much from the writers, presenters and other attendees. I’m always looking for new works and writers so this will be a great way to learn more about the genre and beyond.

SAMI: LEIGH BARDUGO. I was at Parnassus Books when she announced King of Scars and I can’t wait to hear her keynote. I’m also super excited about hearing from Anna-Marie McLemore after reading Blanca & Roja. It’s sincerely a dream come true to be at this conference with people who are passionate about my favorite things.

 

What have you been reading lately?

TRACI-ANNE: I am currently reading Oddity by Sarah Cannon and Court of Fives by Kate Elliott.

NIA: Three really amazing books that I have read this summer are L. Penelope’s Song of Blood and Stone, L.L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black, and Claire Legrand’s Furyborn. They were all phenomenal fantasy reads with lush worlds, nuanced protagonists, and feminine themes.

ALEXANDRA: I just finished An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, so I can’t wait to talk to others about it. I’m currently getting my Master’s in Library Science and one of my classes right now is “Social Justice in Youth Literature,” so I’ve been reading a lot of picture books, early reader and YA books on a wide range of subjects: everything from Growing Up in Mississippi to I Am Jazz to The Hate U Give. I’m also about to start my second reading of N.K. Jemisin’s amazing Broken Earth series.

SAMI: I’m currently reading a bound manuscript of Emily Duncan’s Wicked Saints and it is everything. She’s created the most brutal and beautiful world of blood mages and gods blessed saints and I’m obsessed with Nadya and Malachiasz.

 


Traci-Anne Canada

Traci-Anne Canada teaches literature and journalism at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia, GA, and is also a young adult fantasy writer. She loves reading and writing books where young black girls get to go on magical adventures and fall in love; and seeing her students reflected in the literature around them to help foster a love of reading.

 
 

Nia Davenport

Nia Davenport has always harbored a love of both science and crafting stories. After college, Nia studied and worked in the public health sector before discovering a passion for teaching. As an English and Biology teacher, Nia strives to make a difference in the lives of young people, minimize disparities in education for youths of color, and help students realize their dreams and unlimited potential. As a Black writer, her goals are much the same.

 

Alexandra Pratt

Alexandra Pratt graduated from Smith College in 2009 and is a reference librarian at Vineyard Haven Public Library in Massachusetts. Having grown up in a small, rural town on a steady diet of J. R. R. Tolkien, Patricia C. Wrede and Ursula K. LeGuin, she has travelled to five continents and has worked as a bartender, landscaper, ski instructor, and farm worker before becoming a librarian. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in library science.

 

Sami Thomason

Sami Thomason has been a bookseller at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi for two years. Before that, she got a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Millsaps College and worked briefly at Walt Disney World (she’s seen some stuff). Her lifelong love of books was encouraged by the staff at Jr. as a child, and she now runs the book club she used to attend. You can find her on twitter at @SamiSaysRead and instagram as @samirella8.

 

Sirens Review Squad: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Casey Blair on Somaiya Daud’s Mirage.

Mirage

I love stories about bold girls who forge their own paths and throw off conventions. I love stories full of action, with space battles and magic duels and sword fights. I love stories about talented, skilled women, shining at what they do best.

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel Mirage isn’t one of them.

There is so much to love in Mirage. (The lone exception, ironically, being the romance, which for me was the least interesting part.) I love its rich setting, a fantasy Morocco-inspired culture in a world with intergalactic travel. I love how deeply that culture suffuses every part of the story: the prose woven through with poetry, the complicated female friendships and family relationships, the structural use of mimicry to examine appropriation, the allusions to female historical figures as symbols of inspiration—not just the warrior queen, but also the prophetess whose power endures in words—and the incisive critique of the long-reaching effects of colonialism across multiple axes.

But here’s what’s truly remarkable about what Daud has accomplished with Mirage and why I will be yelling at everyone (I do mean literally everyone) to read this book forever:

This is a story that poses the question, who are you when your oppressors can erase your face, your family, your history, your language, your culture? What can you do that matters?

And Mirage’s emphatic answer is that you do not have to be a uniquely talented bold girl who bucks tradition in order to deserve to be at the center of stories.

Early on, our protagonist Amani tells her captor that aside from speaking both the language of the oppressors and the language of the oppressed, she has no other skills. As far as her captors are concerned, this is absolutely true, though they don’t understand why that should give them pause. They don’t understand why they should fear a girl who can bridge understanding between people from different worlds. A girl who can make her culture and her people real and seen and valued to those who participate in its erasure, and who can understand her oppressors well enough to change their course. Her greatest asset is not her hidden knowledge of poetry, or the incredible attention to detail she’s forced to develop to imitate the princess, or the sharp-tongued court cleverness she learns to deploy on her own behalf.

It’s her capacity for empathy.

For Amani, finding joy in objectively terrible circumstances is worthwhile in its own right, not something to be ashamed of; happiness is rebellion, too. Although Daud is careful not to excuse those responsible for victimizing others, Amani doesn’t limit that desire for happiness to just herself or her people. And while she is a dreamer, she’s not exempt from the realities of living under conquest, which makes her bravery in trying to make her dreams reality all the more powerful.

Amani chooses to embrace tradition when the world shaped by her oppressors belittles her into discarding it. She clings fast to caring about other people rather than closing herself off. She doesn’t take the expected path, be it revolution or assimilation. She considers what she can, in fact, do, given her many but unique constraints, and she resolves to do what she can.

I will tell anyone and everyone to read Somaiya Daud’s quiet, powerful story for its beautifully wrought characters, its resonant worldbuilding and prose, its centering of the representation of women (including mothers and old women, be still my beating heart—they can exist in fantasy worlds and matter) and people of color, and its profound rendering of colonization and its complexities. Any of those would be enough to make Mirage one of the best books I’ve read.

But more than that, what makes Amani special is her compassion coupled with action. Mirage is a story in which that alone is not only special enough—it’s more important than anything.


Casey Blair is an indie bookseller who writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens, and her weekly serial fantasy novel Tea Princess Chronicles is available online for free. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through forests, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

New Fantasy Books: August 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of August 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!

 

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, feel free to leave a comment below!
 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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