Tag Archives: social justice

Interview with a Librarian for Incarcerated Youth

Amy CheneyAmy Cheney is a librarian and advocate who currently runs the Write to Read Juvenile Hall Literacy Program in Alameda County, CA. She has over 20 years experience with outreach, program design, and creation to serve the underserved, including middle school non-readers, adult literacy students, adult inmates in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color.

Cheney was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal, has won two National awards for her work, the I Love My Librarian award from the Carnegie Institution and New York Times, and was honored at the White House with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Her six word memoir: Navigator of insanity, instigator of enlightenment. Her theme song is Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake. 

Thank you for being with us, Amy! Let’s start with the basics: how would you describe your job, for someone who has no idea what you do?

Entrepreneur, innovator and relationship builder. But my overall job title would be Schlepper.

How did you become a librarian for incarcerated youth? Was it something you always knew you wanted to focus on, or did you begin your career with a different focus?

When I was a teen, a neighbor was friends with Maya Angelou, and they invited me to hear her speak in a church basement.  I remember clearly not wanting to be there, and then as Maya Angelou spoke with such passion and intensity, I felt the hard armor around my heart begin to crack. I remember the struggle to hold onto what I thought was me, or at least my I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away.protection: the rage, indifference and sullenness. I recognized that if I was struggling with it, then I wasn’t a fundamentally hateful person. That was life changing for me.  I felt such a deep connection with her as a result of this inner experience, I read every book she wrote as it was published.

It took me a long time to realize that this experience is the basis of my passion for bringing in speakers and activities to stimulate the minds and hearts of those incarcerated. From Shakespeare to Cupcake Brown to Ishmael Beah to MK Asante (wonderfully, one of Maya Angelou’s protege’s), I see kids feel encouraged, enthusiastic and interested in a place that tends to dampen all of that.

In the 80’s I was a part of the anti-nuclear protests – when my friends were released from jail I was horrified to hear there were no books where they had been housed. I immediately started a book drive for the jail and that ultimately led to employment at the library serving those incarcerated in Alameda County.

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Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? 85 Years of the Academy Awards

Note: This infographic was updated to reflect winners through 2015.

The Academy Awards will soon unveil the very best in filmmaking in 2014. As the prediction chatter ricochets around the web, our curiosity about the level of racial and gender representation of the Academy Awards is the focus of our next Diversity Gap study. We reviewed the Academy’s entire 85-year history and the results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of The Tony AwardsThe Emmy Awardsthe children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, US politics, and Silicon Valley where we analyzed yearly/multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity. Continue reading

Where’s the Diversity? 5 Reasons Why the US Government Isn’t More Diverse

In our previous diversity studies on the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book field, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, the Tony Awards, and Silicon Valley we interviewed people who actively work in television, publishing, and the theater. We attempted to duplicate this approach for our diversity study on US politics, but with the government shutdown, none of the twelve Congresspeople we contacted responded to our efforts to reach out to them. However, we think the numbers speak for themselves: Continue reading

Where’s the Diversity? A Look at the Emmy Awards and TV

Publishing diverse children’s books for more than two decades has given us a unique perspective when it comes to diversity. While our mission is to bring more diverse books to children, we hope our efforts as activists keep the wider conversation on race and inequality in the spotlight. Our other Diversity Gap studies on the Tony Awards, the children’s book industryUS politics, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller listSci-Fi and Fantasy Films, Silicon Valley and the Academy Awards revealed a disturbing trend in ethnic and gender representation. We decided to focus on the television industry next. Continue reading

Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?

Note: This post was originally posted in June 2013. An updated study with new statistics can be found here. The infographic below has also been updated.

Since LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 we have monitored the number of multicultural children’s books published each year through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics. Our hope has always been that with all of our efforts and dedication to publishing multicultural books for more than twenty years, we must have made a difference. Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. We asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased. Continue reading

Where’s the Diversity? The Tony Awards Looks in the Mirror

Though we are a publisher of children’s books, part of our mission is to look at diversity issues with a critical eye and see whose stories are not being told. As part of that mission, over the next several months we will be looking at several different arenas and talking to experts to see if patterns of inequality repeat themselves in different places. We hope our research will cast a light on the challenges – and opportunities – facing women and people of color today.

The Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards infographic
The Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards infographic (click for larger image)

Since the Tony Awards will be presented on June 9, 2013, we decided to collect some data to see if a diversity gap exists in the theater. See our infographic above. While we cannot claim expertise in other fields outside of children’s books, we were fortunate to receive valuable insight from playwright/actor Christine Toy Johnson, who has spent the last fifteen years conducting dialogue with the entertainment industry to increase diversity in the theater and beyond.

Christine Toy JohnsonCHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, filmmaker, and advocate for inclusion. Member: BMI Workshop, Dramatists Guild, ASCAP, AEA, SAG-AFTRA, Asian guest blogger iconAmerican Composers and Lyricists Project (founder), executive board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, elected leadership of Actors’ Equity Association (and co-chair of the union’s EEOC), founding steering committee member of AAPAC. {Read  more}

How old were you when you knew you wanted to perform onstage?
I can’t remember an age when I didn’t want to perform onstage. I was the kind of kid who made my parents’ holiday guests watch my dramatization of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” every year. I started working professionally (and joined Actors’ Equity Association) the summer I graduated from high school, and against all odds, I have made my living in the arts ever since, as both an actor and a writer.

Since you have been involved in the theater for so long, how have you seen the theater world change? Do you feel that the number of roles available to people of color has increased over the years?

Things have gotten better for people of color, for sure, but there is obviously a lot of room for improvement.

I want to preface all of this by saying that I can only really speak from the perspective of being an Asian American actor and writer. I can’t presume to know what it’s like to be African American, Latina, Native American, etc., but the stats I’ve included from AAPAC (see below) will be able to address this question from a more objective point of view.

Back in 1991, I got a chance to play Julie Jordan in a production of CAROUSEL at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, no asian american female playwright has ever been produced on Broadway. Ever.New York, which was a watershed moment for me. Not only was I shocked that I was being given the opportunity to audition (back then, a rare occurrence), but after I booked the job, working with a director and company of actors that supported me and believed in my ability to transform into a non-Asian character in a classic golden age musical gave me the confidence to go for and go on to play many, many more classic non-Asian leading lady roles. The power of encouragement and affirmation from your peers cannot be underestimated.

As a playwright/librettist/lyricist, I am also acutely aware of the number of writers of color that are being produced, which is a key part of this puzzle. (More on that in a later question.) Personally, I am conscious of always either including an Asian American actor in my written work or telling an aspect of an Asian American character’s story. I believe that the only way we’ll see our roles increase is if more of our stories are produced (written by and/or about us), and/or if more playwrights/directors/producers are open to having people of color play non-race specific roles they write/direct/produce.

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