Happy Saturday! We took the month of May off to be able to focus on the Instagram collaboration and book recommendation challenge, but we are SO excited to be back! This week is an individual that also took part in the challenge, author Joelle-Elizabeth! We hope you enjoy our chat, and learn as much as we did.
TTA: Introduce yourself!
Joelle-Elizabeth Retener: Hi! I am Joelle-Elizabeth Retener (she/her), a first generation Haitian-American from the DC metro area. I’m a proud graduate of Spelman College and American University, where I studied Spanish and International Studies. In my past life, I was a US diplomat and traveled the world promoting and implementing US foreign policies. I’m now taking a shot at writing kidslit while homeschooling my littles.
TTA: What are you passionate about?
JER: I am passionate about promoting diversity & inclusion, and fighting for gender equality. The day my son wore a dress out in public for the first time was a huge awakening for me. In that moment I felt so much pride. After all, not every 4 year old is brave enough to go against the grain and embrace who they are with confidence. But I was also terrified. I worried so much about my little black boy draped in a multicolored dress about to face a world that could be so cruel and bigoted. In that moment I realized that supporting him meant more than just allowing him to be himself. It meant working tirelessly to ensure that all gender expansive children’s voices are heard, and that they are free to enjoy the same rights, and opportunities as their peers.
TTA: Tell us about a project you’re currently working on!
JER: I just released my debut book Free To Be Incredible Me. This book is so near and dear to me because it was inspired by my son and our family’s efforts to help him learn to be comfortable in his own skin without needing to conform to society’s expectations of how he should behave because of his gender. I truly hope that this book leads to greater discussions about hurtful gender stereotypes and the narrow definition of masculinity and boyhood, especially amongst people of color. I also hope that it helps inspire other children to dare to be themselves, even if it means being different.
TTA: How can people support you on your journey?
JER: I strongly believe that all children deserve to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. Unfortunately, there are very few picture books out there that touch on the topics of gender expression and stereotypes, and even fewer with lead characters that are POC. For all of these reasons, I have been donating copies of my book to non profit organizations, and educators committed to promoting gender diversity and inclusion and/or work with gender diverse children. If you know of any such organizations/people let me know. I am looking to donate a few more books in the next few months.
I would also love some help spreading the word about my book! I am looking for parents, educators, librarians and other who work with children to join my launch team. All you have to do is read it, review it, and of course let me know what you think 🙂. Feel free to DM me on Instagram or email me if you are interested or watch out for more details on my Instagram account.
TTA: What book was your favorite in 2018?
JER: Ack! I hate questions like this, I am the worst at narrowing down my favorites but here goes. I would have to say hands down The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson. The book is so relatable on so many levels. I can remember many instances of feeling like the other during my childhood, especially as a child of an immigrant, so it really resonated with me.
TTA: What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
JER: My book will launch on September 1st. I am looking forward to finally getting my message out. I can’t wait to meet with, and hear from readers, and see how my book is impacting people. I am also really excited about working with my local PFLAG chapter to help increase access to resources and services to gender expansive youth in my area. Finally, I would like to find more opportunities to get involved in advocacy work in support of the gender diverse community.
Stay Connected With Joelle!