Robin Stevenson is the author of thirty books of fiction and non-fiction for kids and teens. Her book My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights won the BC Book Prizes Sheila A. Egoff award, and her book Pride won a Stonewall Honor. She lives in Victoria.
Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle celebrates the LGBTQ+ community’s diversity and the incredible victories of the past 50 years, shows the challenges faced by queer people here and around the world, and looks at the important role that young people are playing in the continuing fight for freedom and equality.
Interview by Sandra Maxson
Sandra Maxson (SM): You have more than 30 books in print; why was completing a re-issue of Pride important to you?
Robin Stevenson (RS): Non-fiction books tend to get out of date quickly so the original plan was just to revise the book to ensure that it was current and accurate—but I soon realized it wasn’t just small factual details that needed to change. The original book– Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community—had come out in the spring of 2016, when Obama was still president and marriage equality had just become law across the United States. It had felt like a very hopeful, positive time for young LGBTQ+ people and the celebratory tone of the book had reflected that. Fast forward to 2020 and the world looked and felt very different: after four years under Trump, hateful rhetoric was on the rise and LGBTQ+ rights were under attack in North America and in many other countries around the world. So the second edition of the book, released in 2020, needed to acknowledge and address that reality—but I wanted the book to still feel hopeful for young readers. For me, hope lies in action and in the voices of the young people continuing the fight for equality, so I added a new fifth chapter that focussed on youth activism. I also changed the title to Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, to reflect that Pride has always been about both of these, and that fight for LGBTQ+ rights is one that is ongoing.
SM: Pride is a wonderful book, full of the hopeful and inspirational work of the next generation of LGBTQ2S activists. Like you, I admire their tenacity and commitment; as a middle-aged queer, I sometimes wonder how to continue my own activism and advocacy, and get out of the way at the same time. What advice do you have for finding that balance?
RS: I think there’s more than enough work for all of us, unfortunately! I think we all have spheres within which we may be able to influence or educate people, and we all have skills we can use to try to make a difference. I don’t think I have any particular advice on this; mostly I just try to do what I can and boost the efforts of other people as well. One of the cool things about writing this book was that I had so many opportunities to listen and learn from people both older and younger than me.
SM: We – Canadians – seemed to have the moral high ground, pointing to diminishing freedoms and rights south of the border. How alarming is the changing political landscape in Canada? Are the threats new and growing, or simply being revealed?
RS: We are definitely seeing a rapid escalation in anti-LGBTQ+ hate on this side of the border. The weaponizing of the rhetoric of “parental rights” (while completely ignoring the concerns of queer parents, parents of LGBTQ+ kids, and the large number of parents who support inclusive education), the misinformation about public schools and libraries, the attempts to ban books, the targeting of transgender youth—it is all following the same pattern as in the United States. It is definitely alarming, and I worry that the impact on young people will be devastating. I hope that many people will speak up loudly and strongly in support of the LGBTQ+ community and in particular, trans youth and trans rights.
SM: Picture books, early readers, non-fiction, you do it all! Do you have a favourite genre? Anything you haven’t done yet that you’re itching to try?
RS: Yeah, I really do want to do it all! I don’t really have a favorite genre—I read pretty widely, and am interested in all kinds of writing as well. I’d like to try adult fiction—I have a mystery I’ve been working on, and some other possible adult novel ideas percolating—and I’ve just started a weird new sci-fi novel for middle grade kids. I’d like to do another co-written teen novel and am bouncing ideas around with a friend. And I’d like to do some more picture books too: seeing an illustrator bring your words to life is pretty magical.
SM: Tell us a little about your writing process. How do you know when an idea is going to “take” as a project?
RS: My writing process for novels is much messier than my writing process for non-fiction. I usually start with a character, or an image, or a situation, and then feel my way into the story by writing about it. I don’t try to pin it down too hard or outline the novel until I’ve done a fair bit of writing and have a sense of who the characters are. I often write a very rough outline once I am somewhere in the middle of the first draft and have a sense of the shape of the story. I do a lot of rewriting, sorting through the dead ends and false starts and shifting voice, and I try not to feel too committed to anything I am writing in the early stages. My notebooks have lots of scraps of writing, ideas that didn’t take—it’s hard to say what makes some ideas stickier than others, why one image or voice stays with you. If I write more than a few pages of something, I usually finish a first draft at least—though I do have a couple of novels that I have never submitted anywhere. I still might go back to them though!