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 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 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 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 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.