Kate Schatz’s recent release, Rad American Women A-Z, is an artistic-historic compilation of leftist women whose accomplishments have sometimes been forgotten but who paved the way for women of all kinds to have the rights we have today. What rad women have been role models for you? What rad women of today do you think will be remembered–or forgotten–by history? I’d love to hear from readers! In the meantime, I heard from Kate….
1. I read somewhere that your daughter was the inspiration for this project. Can you tell me a little bit about how that happened? How old is your daughter now and what does she think of the finished product?
Kate Schatz: I initially decided to write this book for my daughter, so that she’d have a fun, empowering, and informative book to read. She was two when the idea came to me during one of her naps—I figured there must already be something like this, but Google yielded few results. Once I began mentioning the idea to friends and fellow parents and educators, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t the only one craving some inspiring, diverse, cool-looking kid lit—pretty much everyone who heard about said “Yes! I would buy 10 copies! Please do this!” The response was overwhelming, so I vowed to Make It Happen. This was when my daughter was two—fast forward a few years to 2014 and I have a new baby, a full-time job, and a New Year’s Resolution: to write and publish Rad American Women A-Z. I reached out to Miriam, whose work I knew and loved, and she said yes right away. We had instant collaborative chemistry, and Miriam is a no-nonsense, get-it-done, hardworking artist.
My daughter is now 5.5 and she is absolutely thrilled with the book. Honestly, her joyful response to it beats any great review. Her teacher tells me that she talks about it all the time, and she regularly says ridiculously sweet things like “Mommy, I’m not proud of this book…I’m proud of YOU for writing it!” Swoon. Even better is that she loves when I read it to her! Mission accomplished.
2. I heard that you crowd-sourced suggestions to compile the names of women you’d include in the project. I found this extremely appropriate for a project about “radical” women–a sort of anarchist approach to figuring out who’s most important. Was this a deliberate part of your philosophy or a happy accident?
Kate Schatz: I began with my own brainstorm of people I’d include, but I wanted to go way beyond my own favorites, and to move past just people I was familiar with, so yes, I crowdsourced! I know a lot of smart and awesome people, so I reached out to a wide swath of friends, colleagues, fellow mamas/teachers/writers, and asked who they’d include. A truly rad and invigorating Facebook message thread ensued, and many of those initial suggestions made it into the book! Shout out to Stefanie for suggesting Nellie Bly, and to Jen for the X idea!
3. Do you have a favorite female featured in the book?
Kate Schatz: Nope! I truly love em all. My favorite entry is probably X, which in our alphabet stands for all the women whose names we don’t know. I cried when I wrote it, and it remains very powerful to me.
4. Can you tell us about one (or two?) women who you weren’t able to include in the book but it broke your heart not to be able to? Do you have a listing of all the women who didn’t quite make the list?
Kate Schatz: From the start I intended to include Jane Addams, a real hero of mine. I’ve been to the Hull House museum! I have a Jane Addams t-shirt! I love her, and felt that J is for Jane. But then during my research I read about Jovita Idar, a badass Mexican-American journalist/activist/educational reformer who was working on the Texas/Mexico border at the end of the 19th century. Her story was amazing to me, and I’d never heard it. I decided to replace Jane with Jovita—and I like to think that Jane would support that move 😉 I also wanted to include Mae Jamison, the first African American woman in space, but we went with “Queen” Bessie Coleman as the woman-who-flew-something-in-the-sky entry. And of course there are countless other women who didn’t end up in the book—Gertrude Stein (we had a lot of writers already!), Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich (see, lots of writers), Octavia Butler (I’m a writer, I gravitate toward them!), Fannie Lou Hamer (we definitely wanted E to be Ella Baker, and since they were working in the same field at the same time we went with Ella).
5. How did you cull through and decide which ones were most “important” to include?
Kate Schatz: It was obviously incredibly daunting and tough, but it was simultaneously thrilling and fascinating. To narrow it down, we established some criteria: diversity of race and ethnicity was a top priority, and we also wanted to represent a wide range of time periods and fields/movements that the women worked/were involved in. We wanted to focus on less-familiar figures, like Yuri Kochiyama and Jovita Idar, but also wanted to include familiar-yet-unexpected ones as well, like Carol Burnett and Angela Davis. And we intentionally did not the “heavy hitters” of women’s history, as we wanted to move beyond the super-familiar names. When it came down to it, we selected people who had great stories of adversity and triumph that would be relatable to young people.
6. What was the most surprising fact or biography that you came across while writing this book?
Kate Schatz: I had no idea that Isadora Duncan lived in Oakland, where I am, and that she spend much of her childhood at the Oakland Public Library, where I did much of my research! I was also surprised that I’d never heard of Hazel Scott before doing the research, because she is fantastic and her story is amazing.
7. What’s one thing you’d like your readers to take away from reading your book?
Kate Schatz: Whether the reader is a girl or a boy, a kid or a grown-up, I’d like the reader to come away inspired to and motivated—to pursue dreams, better the world, work hard, be tolerant, and to learn about more rad women from history.