Interview // Kelly Jensen, Editor of Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World

Brittanny Taylor: First off I want to say how much I enjoyed Here We Are. What inspired you to create this book?

Kelly Jensen: I've been blogging at STACKED for many years now about books, reading, and librarianship, and one of the best things I've done there is put together a variety of blog series that invite those within the book world to write on various topics. One that was particularly close to my heart was on girls and reading -- so often, we worry about the boys and their reading (which isn't without merit, but it needs a far richer discussion than the ones I've heard) and we don't talk about girls and reading. I wanted to talk about the girls. 

It was from there that I realized there was a book in me that allowed me to edit essays on a topic for a teen readership. STACKED reaches more teachers and librarians than teens themselves, but as a former teen librarian, I wanted to reach those kids first hand. 

As far as why feminism, the answer is because it's a rich topic and one that I know doesn't get talked about in real, thoughtful, deep ways in school. I wanted teens to have a place to find these conversations they're eager to be having. And I know they're eager to have them, both from my experiences working with them and from the classrooms I've visited. 

BT: One really interesting thing about this book was I totally forgot it was made for young adults. It is designed to appeal to the younger reader but the stories spoke to this 33-year-old reading them. Was that universal appeal something you had in mind while selecting these stories?

KJ: I let every contributor write what they wanted to write, with the only directive being to "think 12." I used 12 as sort of an age marker because 12-year-olds are the most interesting group: some of those kids are ready to be adults and on their own while others are still fully children who aren't ready to leave the nest and build their wings. I feel like all of the writers were great at thinking about this. Some pieces will work for the very young while others will be far more accessible and powerful to older teen readers. 

I wouldn't say universal appeal was my goal, but when everything came together, I realized that there was a LOT here for those outside the teen age range. And I think a big reason for that is because people like you and me did not have something like this when we were teens. 

One excellent thing about feminism? It's a life-long conversation. So some pieces will not resonate now and some may never resonate, but then other pieces will be like a knife to the gut. That's what I really wanted. 

BT: Your intention on making this book intersectional was very apparent. Can you talk about how intersectionality needs to be at the front of the feminism conversation?

KJ: If your feminism isn't intersectional, it's not feminism. 

My biggest bar for putting this collection came from my own experiences working with teens in semi-urban Wisconsin (semi-urban meaning "bigger town" but with many of the same issues urban areas deal with). I was in a room running a program and looked around. It hit me that I was the only white person in that room of 25 or so kids. Because even in Wisconsin -- "flyover white bread country" -- the fact is that the next generation of young people is even more diverse than previous generations. Their reality is full of shapes, colors, sizes, and backgrounds that need to be represented to be anything close to true to what the world is. 

But more, intersectionality needs to be the only way we look at feminism because feminism is equality for all....not just equality for cishet, able-bodied white women. If my sisters of color, my sisters who are trans, my sisters who are disabled, are not being given the same opportunities that I am, then I need to be helping raise them up using the privileges I have. 

I'd like to think that this book is one way to help elevate their voices, as well as tell readers that they are being seen, heard, and loved. 

BT: Can you share a few of your favorite pieces from Here We Are?

KJ: This is an unfair question! I love all of the pieces for different reasons, and from the editorial perspective, I love them not just for how they ended up in perfect, final form, but I love the way each piece came through the writing/editing process. It's so neat to see a piece in its raw form, finding what the gem is within it, and then working with the writer to really make it shine. 

Perhaps I'll answer this question this way: a few of the pieces that resonated most with me, where I am in my feminism and my own personal life, included Jessica Luther's piece about having a feminist love (this piece made me cry while editing for the last time as I read it aloud), Angie Manfredi's piece about how fat is a feminist issue (as a fat woman, I am so tired of having to defend my humanness and my right to have the body I have and to be SEEN in the body I have as a whole, thriving person -- not someone's anti-fat/you're-going-to-get-diabetes agenda....and that kind of stuff happens in places like the doctor's office further impacting one's actual well-being), and Kayla Whaley's piece that is a love letter to her younger self and how her disability didn't define her as less-than-human then nor now. 

BT: How do we get young women involved with organizations like The Lady Project?

KJ: I think when we share our enthusiasm for the organization through blogging, through Instagram, through Twitter and Snapchat, we're showing off how it's not just cool, but that it's vital, to respect, admire, and encourage other women. That was, perhaps, the thing I needed to learn as a younger girl. It wasn't that I didn't like other girls; I just thought being one of those girls who hung out with boys was cool and that other girls could be catty/bitchy/competition. But those are things society teaches us. It's not reality. Sarah McCarry touches on this in her essay in HERE WE ARE and it's so true: other girls are so damn cool, and when we as women are modeling love for other women, we show younger girls it's cool to support, to encourage, and to get to know other girls. 

On a practical, on the ground level, I think getting to the teens themselves is a big way to get them interested in orgs like The Lady Project. Running after school events, doing library or school programs, getting into those community fairs -- those get the word out there, and the biggest thing I ever learned working with teens is that word of mouth is key. One good experience from one teen becomes ten teens at the next program. 

BT: Can you share what is next for you?

KJ: Yes! I've got another collection of essays coming out from Algonquin Young Readers called (DON'T) Call Me Crazy, which is an anthology about mental health. I'm absolutely over the moon with what I've read so far from my contributors. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression and who couldn't come to terms with it until she was 30, I want to have a book out there for young people who are thinking and talking about these things, even if they don't necessarily have the language to do so. I want this one for the readers who are afraid to talk, too. It's my hope one or two or hundreds of people read this and realize that help is out there and they deserve to feel good.