Welcome to our #WinterRead2022 “Read for a Better World” Author Spotlight Series! We’re thrilled to be featuring 6 incredibly talented authors from our 2022 sponsor Lerner Publishing Group as a part of our 5th Annual Winter Reading Challenge.
This week, we’ve interviewed Lee Wind. He is the author of the middle grade nonfiction book NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY? Hidden Lives and Secret Loves, which was honored as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection and was selected for the Chicago Public Library’s 2021 Best of the Best Books list. Check out our interview with him below, and learn more about his work here. Follow him on social media on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished listening to the audiobook of The Samosa Rebellion by Shanthi Sekaran (read beautifully by Vikas Adam.) What a great book - moving and fascinating and the kind of story you finish and you feel like maybe having read it, having spent time with those characters, made you (me) a better human being.
Where is your favorite place to read?
I listen to audiobooks in the car, and I read print books in a cozy chair in my study.
What is your favorite thing you've written? Book or otherwise!
I'm very proud of NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY? If I could send it back in a time machine to my 11, or 13, or 15 year old self, it would have changed my entire life. (Okay, and maybe messed up the space-time continuum.) But really, I wish I would have known any of the real stories of these men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender boundaries!
What’s your favorite book by someone other than yourself?
I adored the superhero origin story graphic novel You Brought Me The Ocean by Alex Sanchez, illustrated by Julie Maroh. I'd slip that in the time machine, too, just to let myself as a teen know that gay kids like me could be heroes, too.
What is your favorite word and why?
"Light." I end most of my blog posts with the words "the light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you." I think about making our world a place filled with light, and how books can add to the light, one heart at a time.
How does reading help us create a better world?
At the top of my current work in progress, I have this amazing quote by James Baldwin, one of our Black Queer Icons. Here's what he said that inspires me every day: “Literature is indispensable to the world…The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin, from a 1979 interview published in the New York Times.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And/or how did you become a writer?
I seriously thought about being a writer when I was 15. I spent the summer trying to write a novel, but only got about 60 pages into it before I got distracted. I sometimes think about those characters, still stuck in a satellite orbiting the Earth...but I've always written. It took me a pretty long time from when I started writing seriously for kids and teens to get published, so it's very gratifying to finally have books coming out from publishers I really admire!
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
The author Linda Sue Park shared some writing advice with me that changed my whole approach to writing. I used to think I needed a big chunk of time to be productive writing - like two or three hours. Linda Sue recommends these 12 minute writing sprints. You set a timer for 12 minutes, and tell yourself that's all you need to focus for. When the timer goes off, if it's flowing, you can do another 12 minutes, and repeat as you want.
Or, if you have something else you have to go do, at least you've done 12 minutes. I try to do at least 12 minutes of writing every day. Being consistent keeps my head in the manuscript and it's really easy to get back into it each time I'm at the computer. I've been more productive with 12 minutes every day than I ever was with 2 or 3 hours on the weekends once a week. And, the bonus is that it makes me feel like a writer, even when I'm doing all these other things, too. I'm a writer first.
How does your work encourage conversations around diversity, inclusion, or other social and emotional concepts with parents, educators, and young readers?
There's this false facade (like a fake wall) that what we (and our parents) have been taught is history - the stories of rich, straight, white, able-bodied, rich men from Europe. Taking down that false facade with the primary source materials that show us Abraham Lincoln loved another guy (Joshua Fry Speed) and Eleanor Roosevelt loved another woman (Lorena Hickok) and the Pharaoh Hatshepsut changed how they presented their gender over 22 years of ruling ancient Egypt opens up history for everyone.
With that false facade gone, we can hear more than the Queer stories from history – we can hear the stories of women, of people of color, of Indigenous people, of disabled people, of poor people, of people from all over the world! And really, knowing we have a place in history lets each one of us know that we deserve a place at the table today. And if young people (and everyone else) knows they deserve a place at the table today, their vision of what's possible in the future expands into infinite possibilities!
Any additional information or fun facts?
I have a really fun Queer History Quiz that I invite readers to take. (There's a gay secret to Michelangelo's famous statue of David that you'll discover, plus a bunch more fun facts!) Thanks for this opportunity, and for those reading, I hope you'll enjoyNO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?
Stay tuned for future Lerner author spotlights throughout #WinterRead2022, and encourage your community to keep reading!