Interview: Sara-Jayne Poletti
Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself?
Hello, readers! My name is Sara-Jayne, and I'm an ex-publishing marketer and an ex-ex-English as a Second Language teacher. I currently work in marketing at a major university in Pittsburgh, where I live with my husband. When I'm not reading books and/or slaying the patriarchy, I like to practice yoga, cook, and try to convince myself to learn Italian.
This year you've been reading books by only women, correct? Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to do this?
Yes! The idea for the #ReadWomen2017 project came after the 2016 election. Like a lot of people, I was feeling helpless and hopeless and extremely frustrated. My husband and I set up monthly donations to Planned Parenthood, Earth Justice, and the ACLU. I resolved to attend more political events and be an active citizen, making sure my representatives hear me on a regular basis. But I still felt like I needed to do more in the face of an administration bent on drowning out the voices of women and minorities. I'm a very active reader and a very rabid feminist, so it made sense to connect the dots. I decided to purposefully ignore the overly represented voice of the heterosexual, cisgender, white man and to instead focus on the voices of women--and particularly women of color and LGBTQ+ women, who we know face unique challenges of their own. My Instagram blog, @bookish.harpy, was a natural way to document this but, more importantly, a way to encourage other readers to think more critically about the books they read. It's so important to consume media with diverse representation if you want to understand and empathize with people who have different backgrounds, and moving that agenda forward is something I'm really passionate about.
What is something you have learned from reading only books by women this year?
This project opened me up in ways that I wouldn't have guessed, and introduced me to a huge community of like-minded people. I have a whole new appreciation for the power of womanhood and sisterhood, and I'm even more fired up to spread that intersectional feminism!
You told me that next year you are planning to do a project called #ReadDiverse2018. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
My 2018 reading goals will be very similar to #ReadWomen2017, but I'm opening it up to include men of color and LGBTQ+ men. There are a couple Ta-Nehisi Coates books I've got my eye on, plus The Devourers by Indra Das and On Being Different by Merle Miller. Once again I'll be avoiding the heterosexual, cisgender white dude books.
I'm also very excited to launch a new series next month: #HarpiesReadtheWorld. In an effort to counteract mainstream media's biased representation of minorities, throughout the year I’ll be leading reading challenges to highlight narratives from voices we should be listening to directly. Each challenge will last 30 days and includes three prompts to help you choose three books. The first challenge starts on January 1st, and the prompts include the following: A Book Written by a Native American, A Book from a Country America is in Conflict With, and A Book from a Predominantly Muslim Country. The goal is to personalize and humanize voices that our culture often ignores or paints with a broad (and generally pretty racist) brush. I will personally be reading poetry by Zitkala-Ša, Sabriya: Damascus Bitter Sweet by Ulfat Idilbi, and Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian War by Assia Djebar. I'm very excited to see what other participants choose!
Do you have advice for girls growing up today?
Take up space.
Do you have any female figures that you look up to? (real or fiction)
There are too many to name! Feminists and activists like Angela Davis and Audre Lorde, writers and truth tellers like Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou and Poly Styrene and Kathleen Hanna, pioneers and trailblazers like Wang Zhenyi and Alice Ball. I so admire women who are fearless and relentless and unapologetically badass, because that is how I hope to live.
Oh also, I think I'd probably burst into tears if I ever met Michelle Obama. I just want to get pedicures with her and talk about life. I think she's absolutely amazing.
Do you have a favorite music:
I like a lot of punk rock, soul and funk, jazz (especially vocalists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald). But David Bowie has always been and will always be my patron saint.
What is your life motto?
"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"