As part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I had the honor of getting to interview LaTonya aka Susan of Color Online! Color Online focuses on women writers of color, and is a community organization in Detroit dedicated to empowering young women.
Color Online has the interesting distinction among most of the book blogs I read of having both a physical presence and an online one. So, which came first? How do the two versions of Color Online interact? How did you personally get started blogging?
I founded Color Online as a lit studies group for at-risk youth in September 2005. I approached a local non-profit about working with reluctant and non-readers. One of my goals was to draw a connection between technology and literary studies, to teach the girls how they could use technology to express their own creativity and self-expression through blogs, web pages or other online social networks. (You can find detailed explanation of our history here.)
I’ve been online for more than a decade. Do you remember listserves and message board communities? I was an admin for a few online communities, active in many and even did some online publishing. Blogging was a natural progression. My ultimate goal was to create a formal online space and that’s why we were Color Online before we were actually online. In 2007, I created our blog. I didn’t do much with it until late 2008. The blog didn’t take off until this year. With the population I serve, I don’t have the same group of girls long and I had to make a decision about what I could do serving youth via Color Online. I chose to pursue what I thought could have a significant impact- shoring up our online presence, promoting multicultural literature and advocating for greater diversity in kidlit and YA publishing, and shifting my onsite focus from participants in prevention programs to young women living in the shelter.
Initially, I used the blog and our discussion forum as teaching and social spaces but with limited online access and constant turnover in population, I came to realize my target group was not in a position to grow with Color Online as I had hoped and I accepted that. I refocused on other ways to support those young women - maintaining the library and hosting onsite social activities while building an online community with the same core aims: to promote and celebrate multiculturalism and diversity in literature. Both our onsite group and our blog are communities committed to empowering young women, and reading opens doors to new worlds and knowledge, and knowledge is power. Our online group supports our onsite efforts, including building our library collection, and our online community is a space where members can share information and engage in meaningful dialogue.
What was your favorite book as a kid? Have you re-read it since and, if so, how does it hold up?
I was a sporadic reader as a child. I can’t really name a favorite. I do remember the book that made feel the library was a special place and the book made an incredible impression on me and that was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. No, I haven’t re-read it but I am certain about the magic it held for me. It led to one of my reading streaks.
Do you re-read books?
I don’t re-read many books. I’m too busy playing catch-up. When I joined book social network sites, I discovered what a true late bloomer I was. This wasn’t entirely news to me but, prior to joining book communities, I was unaware how many adult readers were readers since childhood. I was a sporadic reader as a child. Read what I had to for school. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I became an obsessive reader.
What do you think about adults reading YA?
I become annoyed with adult readers who dismiss YA literature including educators who sometimes put an incredible emphasis on the classics and adult literature. While I think these should be required reading, I believe these works alone often aren’t the best way to cultivate a love of reading at least not among non-readers.
I think adults, particularly parents and educators, need to be mindful of how they approach the genre when reviewing it and discussing it with YA readers. Just as with literary works, how you process a work is going to depend partially on the perspective you bring to the read, and your perspective is based partially on the time in your life when you read it. You’re going to see different things, appreciate different elements in a work based on your life experiences. I think adults should be mindful of their adult lens.
I love YA, but I by no means try to process it the way I think teens do. My lens is shaped by my experiences as an adult looking back. The YA literature I enjoy most has to meet the same preferences and expectations I have for adult literature: quality writing, character development, and deft use of devices.
Without going off the deep end, I think there’s an incredible amount of diversity and quality in this genre that many adults would enjoy if they bothered to explore it.
What's your favorite genre to read?
What I enjoy most overlaps. For both YA and adult lit, I prefer realistic fiction. I read a lot of multicultural lit, written by women of color about people of color. While I read a lot of realistic fiction I have to mention sub-genres: historical fiction, speculative, dystopia, science fiction, fantasy and memoirs.
Where do you hope Color Online will be in a year?
In one year, we will be regularly publishing our e-zine at our website.. At the moment, we're thinking a quarterly schedule. I previously had a successful stint doing this so we're not reinventing the wheel with this venture. Publishing provides another opportunity to showcase the talent of teens and women of color.One year from now we will be hosting our second annual poetry and essay contests for teens.
One year from now, I hope we are closer rather than farther from achieving 501.3c status. Ultimately, I want to run Color Online full-time as a non-profit literacy and diversity organization. One year from now, I see Color Online as a recognized, grassroots, multicultural, and diversity in publishing advocacy group.
Any upcoming plans you want to share?
Very soon we will announce our first Colorwheel recipient. The Colorwheel Award recognizes individuals, communities, organizations or companies that demonstrate a clear commitment to diversity in their operations, staff, products or services. A Colorwheel recipient is an exemplary role model among their peers.
Stay tune for our Women of Color Writer Series. This series of profiles will introduce readers to emerging and recently published writers.
Thanks to Susan for allowing me to interview you!
Update: Find Susan's interview with me here: Building Bridges: Chatting With Lorin from Arch Thinking.