Katie Dersnah Mitchell: Teen/Reference Librarian, Amelia Bloomer Project Chair, All Around Badass

Social media's funny. Hilarious! No, just funny.

There are some people we feel we know well, despite having never met them. Facebook friends can take on the weight of real in-person friends. And some people are just such all around badasses online that we have to get to know them better.

So it's Women's History Month. (What did you all get me?) And I decided I'd interview women I admire. For some, I wanted to get to know them better. For others, I wanted YOU to get to know them better.

And I'm feeling so SMART for choosing to start with Katie Dersnah Mitchell because she is a person you and I both needed to know better. And her description of serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project (AMP) is absolutely delicious. And she's smart. And a total badass. Read on, friends.

How did you come to serve on the Amelia Bloomer Committee?
I first heard about the ABP list when I was in library school. We had to investigate some of the other awards of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards. I was so impressed with the list and started following the ABP Facebook page. I knew Angela Semifero, one of the co-chairs for the 2012 and 2013 lists, from Michigan Library Association committees. I mentioned to her that I was interested in applying for the committee and when applications opened for the 2013 Committee she let me know and I applied. I was thrilled to become a voting member for that year.  

Without giving away any committee secrets, can you talk about what the discussion and selection process was like at the ALA midwinter meeting?
I adore the ABP committee process. We are a committee that works by consensus, not a majority vote. Reaching consensus is an incredible process. Books are nominated throughout the year by voting members. We also solicit field nominations and a reader is assigned to each title. When we get closer to Midwinter, we have a straw poll and are able to vote yes/no/maybe/not read. This is to make sure all books have a majority number of readers and to take a pulse of where we are as a committee. When we do our first vote at Midwinter, titles that have gotten all yes votes are automatically in consideration for the Top Ten and we do not discuss them. This means we often don’t discuss the most explicitly feminist books, which is kind of funny. (Believe me, we do talk about them at dinner and on breaks!) Then we have to reach a consensus of the whole group (of dedicated readers) on the remaining titles.  
One of the most fascinating and empowering things about our committee is the care with which we nominate books and our discussions. We know that any nominated title was nominated by a valued committee member, so discussions are always respectful. But we also discuss topics that can be very challenging and personally difficult to discuss. I am always amazed at the integrity, empathy, and depth of our discussions.

Books are nominated by committee members.  We ask publishing houses to send us titles, both nominated and ones that they think may fit our criteria. Members also actively look for books that have a strong feminist message. We utilize ARCs, egalleys, and visiting bookstores to search for titles. Our criteria is very specific that the book must have feminist content, which means there needs to be personal or global agency or empowerment or a clean example of how a situation/topic does not promote gender equality.

Who are some of your favorite female fictional characters and why?
I have two go-to characters for this question. My most favorite book series in the world is the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. The books follow Betsy Ray (who is a thinly fictionalized version of young Maud) from kindergarten through her first years of marriage. Although these books might not seem overtly feminist, Betsy is a smart, intrepid, and wholly relatable young woman at the turn of the last century. Her personal development, at such a pivotal point in our nation’s history, has always inspired me.

Betsy cover.jpg

The other is Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Kit is such a complex character, on the surface a young woman of privilege who is concerned with finery and her personal agenda. However, Kit is also escaping the potential of a forced marriage, a young woman who enjoys learning and personal independence, and a female caught in the circumstances of her time and place in history. Her friendships with outsiders, her desire to help Prudence learn to read, and her growing understanding of her extended family are all so wonderfully executed and developed. Add in that the book was published in 1958 and you have one remarkable piece of literature!

If you were told you could write about the woman of your choice, whom would you choose?
Susanna Madora Salter. She was elected as the first female mayor in the United States.  There remains the history/myth that she was put on the ballot as a joke. She was a locally known leader in the temperance movement and lived in town, making her eligible for nomination.  It appears that several male non-temperance citizens had her name put on the ballot without her knowledge. When this occurred, she was visited by a delegation that asked if she would be willing to serve her community if elected. She won by a ⅔ majority and served for a year.  She held her head up when she was the aim of misogynist “pranksters” (read: jerks!) and paved the way for many women in our nation’s history.  

If you could boss someone into writing a nonfiction book about the woman of your choice, whom would you choose?
Billie Jean King and Hedy Lamarr.  Billie Jean, because she is a living hero who has never been given her due as one of America’s greatest athletes and feminists (undoubtedly due to the fact that she is a lesbian).
Hedy Lamarr because she is primarily remembered as a “sexy” actress. Her acting career was great, but even more importantly, she was one of the foremost pioneers of wireless communication.  Use a cell phone?  You better be thanking Hedy!!

What book and library publications/happenings are you excited about in the year ahead?
Ok, I shouldn’t give away any titles that I am considering, but haven’t yet read; but let me just say that I am THRILLED with the feminist content I have seen coming from our publishing houses.  I am also very excited about the intersectionality of feminism and race and gender identification that is getting published.  Trans experiences with feminism are very important to me. I truly support the #weneeddiversebooks movement and I love how that is bringing feminist stories from many different experiences.

Personally, I am super excited about The Rose and the Dagger, the sequel to the compulsively readable The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh.

Isn't she the best? Thank you so much, Katie, for taking the time to stop by the blog.