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July 12, 2021

Ad Astra Interview / Olivia and Fiona Discuss Banned Books and Intersectional Feminism

 

I am so happy to welcome Olivia and Fiona of ad astra to Write with Fey. Ad Astara is an Instagram account I discovered this year, but they also have a website and a newsletter. I love their posts about social justice and the topics and current events that they bring awareness to. For that reason, I wanted to spotlight them here to help share these important subjects with more readers and writers.

Welcome, Olivia and Fiona!

Ad Astara Interview. Olivia and Fiona Discuss Banned Books and Intersectional Feminism. www.WriteWithFey.com

1. Hi, Olivia and Fiona! I am thrilled to be able to chat with the both of you and to share what you do on Instagram and your website with the readers of my blog. First, can you tell us about your journey as bookstagrammers?

We’ve known each other for a long time now—the two of us met through a singing program we participated in from elementary school through high school (picture: various iterations of black, sparkling dresses that never really fit either of us). Somewhere along the way, we realized we shared a passion for books.

Olivia’s long-term goal has always been some iteration of starting a publishing house rooted in intersectional feminism. In 2019, she began wondering how she could start building that supportive, engaging community, even if she wasn’t at the point in her career to be able to launch a company. Olivia roped Fiona in to help with the ad astra logo, and quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to (and didn’t want to) launch the project without Fiona.

We have so many hopes for what ad astra might turn into and how we can continuously support the book community. We don’t consider ad astra a bookstagram account, rather a platform that provides tools and resources for book lovers, whether that be through asking critical questions and starting conversations, sharing free downloads and light-hearted comics about our love for books, or our monthly newsletter. One of our short-term goals is to drive more people to the website to further those conversations, and one of our long-term goals is to start a literary magazine. We have a multitude of ideas swirling around in our heads...it’s just a matter of having the bandwidth to start them!

2. What does the name ad astra mean?

“Ad astra” translates to “to the stars,” a snippet of the Latin expression “per aspera ad astra,” or “through hardships to the stars.” The name was inspired by a present and letter Olivia’s grandpa gave to her, knowing her passion for reading. We chose to focus on the latter half of this expression in part because of our platform’s roots in intersectional feminism. It is our hope that through the conversations occurring with our community members that we can further equity, advocating for everyone’s ability to “reach the stars” (as cheesy as that is).


3. I love that! You did an Instagram post that highlighted exactly which types of books are banned or have been challenged. Can you tell us about your findings and share why you created this post to bring awareness to this?

One of Olivia’s favorite parts of her current job is the work she does with the American Library Association around Banned Books Week, which takes place every fall. Through this, she’s spoken with many librarians, learning quite a bit about what books are being censored and how they are being censored.

This post was important for us to share for a few reasons. Many members of the book community—in particular white women—have been promoting false, harmful claims about “cancel culture’s” impact. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) tracks censorship and book challenges in libraries and schools across the country. While the majority of challenged titles go unreported, the data OIF has collected clearly demonstrates that titles by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals, particularly stories that focus on inequities and/or underrepresented identities, are the most banned.

We used OIF’s data to shed light on who censorship actually impacts and the harmful rhetoric being used in schools and libraries across the U.S. to justify censorship of these important titles—titles that are often necessary for students to help explore and understand who they are.

Image by ad astra

4. Those false claims about "cancel culture" and the banning of BIPOC and LGBQTIA+ books is very harmful. I like that you brought awareness to both of those issues. A big part of your Instagram platform is about intersectional feminism. What is intersectional feminism and why is it important?

Coined and put forward by Black women, intersectional feminism is, at its core, about equity. While the idea of intersectionality has been championed by women of color for decades (at least), scholar and lawyer KimberlĂ© Crenshaw coined the term in her 1989 paper Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.”

Intersectional feminism accounts for the different ways individuals experience the world based on their overlapping identities—meaning is not just for white women (which mainstream feminism too often enables). Intersectional feminism accounts for how a Black, queer woman experiences racism, homophobia, and sexism. It accounts for how a Brown, disabled, nonbinary individual might experience misgendering and ableism. We cannot understand oppression and actively advocate for equity without understanding where inequities exist and their impact. 

Image by ad astra

5. What are your favorite books on intersectional feminism?

We have a page of resources on our site to help individuals learn more about intersectional feminism, including some of our favorite books:

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

Fairest by Meredith Talusan

● Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde


6. So far, I've read Hood Feminism and and Sister Outsider. I'm looking forward to reading the rest. How else can we support intersectional feminism?

There are many ways to be an intersectional feminist, and intersectional feminism is for all gender identities to support. In addition to reading, our activism must manifest in concrete ways. This can include (but is definitely not limited to):

● Having conversations with loved ones on current events or societal factors that result in oppression

● Voting for, advocating for, and volunteering for political candidates that seek to advance equity for all individuals

● Partaking in marches and protests that support underrepresented communities

● Donating to or volunteering for organizations such as the Trans Women of Color Collective, Black Women Lead, and Justice for Migrant Women

Image by ad astra

7. You support reading as a part of activism. Why do you believe reading is an important part of being an activist?

Reading is a critical first step in activism, as it can be a window for individuals who may not ever experience oppression themselves—whether that be because of their gender, sexual, racial identity, etc. Supporting underrepresented authors is critical for showing the publishing industry the necessity of diversity, both in who they hire and what they publish. Just as important are activism and advocacy. We must take what we learn from these stories and put that into action.


8. What are a few books on social justice that you recommend to others?

In addition to the aforementioned titles on intersectional feminism, we also recommend:

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Image by ad astra

9. I've added all three to my TBR list. What message would you like to share with others to bring more awareness to it?

We’d like to shout-out a few book community members that are doing critical work:

● Swati (@booksnailmail): Does routine book drops, raising money for various organizations. Plus, she’s a beautiful writer!

● Sarah (@booksnextdoor_): Provides resources for the community to learn more about and advocate for Palestine’s freedom.

● Maya (@mnmbooks): Constantly shines a light on issues in the publishing industry, especially with regards to whitewashing and gatekeeping.


Chrys: I was really happy to see that I'm already following all three of those accounts. I want to spotlight bookstagrammers on my blog, hopefully once a month, and Swati, Sarah, and Maya are all on my list. :)


10.  Share a little about yourselves.

Olivia (She/Her/Hers):

Olivia manages the conversations for ad astra, writes the site’s copy, and oversees social media. Currently working in communications for an academic publishing house, Olivia has always loved reading and talking about her latest reads.

As a child, her parents would take away her books, upset by how much time she spent with her nose in their pages.

Olivia currently lives in Los Angeles, but dreams of the day she can move back to the Bay, her hometown and one of her favorite places in the world. When she’s not under a tree flipping through her latest read, you can find her hiking, drinking matcha lattes and trying LA’s best baked goods, or creatively writing. She also loves long walks through quiet neighborhoods, where she enjoys frequent “walk and talks” with ad astra co-founder Fiona. She graduated as an English major with a creative writing focus from Scripps College in 2018.


Fiona (She/Her/Hers):

Fiona likes connecting people with books. She worked at the Mill Valley Public Library for five years, shelving books and running the Children’s Room on Sundays. She doesn’t have a formal degree in library science but will probably pursue one when she’s 70 years old.

Fiona studied Marketing at the University of San Francisco, graduated over zoom, and moved to Portland where she works remotely for a psychiatry firm and as a freelance designer. She creates all of ad astra’s graphics and oversees the website’s design. To see more of her work, visit fionabransgrove.com 


Thank you, Olivia and Fiona, for discussing these important topics and for your interest in this interview.

Everyone, please leave Olivia and Fiona a comment to show them some love.

Also, feel free to answer the reader question in this graphic they made.

What kind of reader are you?  A. The armchair balancer  B. The Always on the go (audiobooks)  C. The nature lover  D. The tub soaker
Image by ad astra

QUESTION: What kind of reader are you?

A. The armchair balancer

B. The Always on the go (audiobooks)

C. The nature lover

D. The tub soaker


Chrys: I used to be the armchair balancer, but now I'm the tub soaker. :)


13 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to interview us, Chrys! You're amazing and we are so honored!

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    1. You’re very welcome! The two of you are doing great things. It is my pleasure to help you spread your message. The honor is all mine. Thank you for your interest in doing this interview and for giving great answers that I hope will inspire and motivate others to read and learn/unlearn.

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  2. Such cool concepts. Thanks for sharing in the interview:)

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  3. Very interesting. I'm none of those readers. I read in bed.

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    1. I am a huge pre-bedtime reader...helps me fall asleep! - Olivia

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  4. Great interview! And now I have so many more books to add my to TBR list!

    I am either the armchair balancer or the nature lover...so long as that nature involves reading on the beach. I won't be laying in any grass in Florida for any reason. Ever.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, M.J.!

      From following Bookstagrammers on Instagram, my TBR list is often destroyed. No, that’s not right…improved and made longer. :)

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    2. I hope you enjoy the books if you end up picking them up, M.J.!

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  5. Everyday, I become more and more The Always on the go (audiobooks), but sometimes on the weekend I get to be The armchair balancer. Great post. Will definitely have to check these wonderful people out on instagram.

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    Replies
    1. Audiobooks are so great and useful for many readers.

      Thank you so much for commenting, Toi! Ad Astra is definitely an IG account worth following.

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