Here is another installment in my Who Tells Our Stories photo series highlighting diverse readers and books that they identify with! Today I’m interviewing Jenna to ask her all about diversity in literature and how she is represented in the book she has chosen to be photographed with.
(A full explanation for the photo series is at the bottom of this interview.)
Book title: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
Can you describe your identity? (Ex: race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, mental illness, body type, religion, etc)
Fat white asexual heteroromantic cis woman who’s a Christian and a Hufflepuff
How does Tash Hearts Tolstoy accurately represent yourself? What are certain elements of this novel that you have connected with?
Tash is the first novel I’ve ever read where I felt wholly connected to the character. Not only does she make YouTube videos, like me, but she’s also heteroromantic ace – and her dream is to go to college in Nashville (where I went to college). It was so strange because when I was reading it, the entire time I just kept seeing myself and I don’t think I’d ever felt that before in this way. I’ve seen parts of myself in books, like my introvertedness or my white-girl-ness or even books about empowered women, but none of them have felt as accurate as Tash. A lot of the sections where she talks about her sexuality hit me hard because it felt like they came straight out of my head. (Mainly the scene where she talks about Titanic) And even though Tash’s personality isn’t quite like mine, I also saw a lot of myself in her best friend Jack. So all around I felt super represented in this book.
Are there any other books that you feel represents yourself?
Off the top of my head…I guess We Awaken by Calista Lynn because it does have ace main characters, but those women are (at the very least) homoromantic, so I didn’t connect with it in the same way as Tash. I sort of felt like the Divergent series represented me because Tris has problems with intimacy, but that becomes irrelevant later on and that’s about all I felt represented by in that series. Although, I did heavily connect with The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli because of its fat rep, but the main character is definitely not ace so, again, it was only a portion of me that was represented.
What does diversity in literature (or any other form of media) mean to you?
Even though diversity was important to me for years before reading Tash, it was quite an experience reading this book because it made me rethink diversity. Before I wanted diversity because “Yeah, of course everyone deserves to see themselves represented! It’s common sense!” but now I have truly experienced what it’s like to see yourself (your whole self) in a book and I desperately want that for other people. You can relate to a book, but if you can’t truly see yourself in a book, it makes you feel unimportant. Or, if you do see yourself in a book but that self is portrayed either in a wrong way or in a bad way, you will be hurt either by the book itself or other people who read the book and misinterpret it. Diversity means that everyone sees themselves portrayed in a way that accurately reflects them and makes them feel seen – and because I’ve experienced that firsthand now, I do want it for as many people as possible.
Are there any upcoming diverse novels that you’re excited to read because they might represent you?
At this point I can’t remember a lot of ace books coming out, except for one: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright. This book is sci-fi and it’s supposed to be super diverse, but I’m excited for it because it does have an ace character! That’s all I know about it at this point, but I am excited to read it. It’s really sad because at this point I am excited for any and every ace book that comes out even if the ace character has a different romantic attraction than me. We need more ace books!
Thank you so much Jenna for being apart of my photo series and sharing your thoughts about diversity in literature for others to see. Your thoughts about diversity and your book recommendations are important to the book community, and I hope it positively impacts readers along the way!
PHOTO LOCATION: Flatiron Building, NYC
Who Tells Our Stories: A Photo Series Explanation
Recently, I was inspired to create a photo series on my Instagram that will feature diverse readers holding books that represents their identities (e.g. ethnicities, sexualities, race, gender, body types, MIs, disabilities, religions, etc.) in a positive light. I wanted to create this series in order to highlight the need for diversity in literature. I also wanted to show others how one diverse novel can positively impact someone who finally feels represented, in a way that doesn’t use harmful cliches or stereotypes. Each photo, in this on-going series, will also include an interview with the reader on this blog to discuss the need for diversity in literature and how the reader identifies with the piece of literature they have chosen (if they feel comfortable disclosing that piece of information).
I came up with the title Who Tells Our Stories for the photo series because it is a spin off of the Hamilton lyric “Who tells your story”. Because the play Hamilton is such a diverse form of art, I wanted my photo series to reference that striking lyric because we need diverse authors to tell diverse stories in a respectful and positive way. Marginalized readers should be able to see themselves properly represented in literature, and I hope this photo series highlights that need to others.