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October 19, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Erin Winick

Kate Hart
Erin Winnick wearing a safety glasses, lab gloves, and a blue dress she sewed
Lots of people have two jobs, but rarely are those two jobs as challenging -- and seemingly separate -- as mechanical engineering and jewelry design. Erin Winick's online startup is already making waves, garnering CNN coverage and rave reviews. But what really drives her isn't just a love of science: she loves to make things, whether they're discoveries, wearable art, articles for the New York Times, or this interview full of great insight.

Young Erin with a Lego tower
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Erin: I am a student at the University of Florida graduating with a mechanical engineering degree this December, but this summer I am actually interning in Santa Rosa, CA with Keysight technologies while running my company, Sci Chic. Growing up I have always loved science and making things. I constructed massive Rube Goldberg machines around my parents’ house, sewed my Halloween costumes, and built big LEGO towers. I rented stacks of Bill Nye DVDs from the library. When it came to finally selecting my major in college I gravitated toward the degree that teaches you problem solving and how to create new things, mechanical engineering. On top of that, I grew up in Florida surrounded by the space program and loving watching shuttle launches out in my front yard.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Erin: I am an engineer with a heart full of art. I am the weird engineer that likes to write. I love sewing, fashion and costume design. I use 3D printing as a creative outlets. All of this has led me really focus on science communication in addition to my degree. I love combining all of my interests in new ways. I truly believe science is creative, fun and fashionable and I am on a mission to show that.

I have made everything from galaxy themed dresses to Ms. Frizzle costumes. I have written for the New York Times and Business in Greater Gainesville. If someone gives me a chance to make things I jump on that opportunity.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Erin: Figuring out which route to take next! I graduate this December and I am tossing around a lot of options of the next path for me to take. I love entrepreneurship and science writing and am going to at least pursue them part time upon graduation, but I am also debating going in full force as a science communicator or going into industry or a grad school program I love. I am definitely applying to the MIT Media Lab upon graduation as they have an absolutely amazing program that I think really fits my personality and love of creation. Balancing all of these different things isn’t easy and can be draining at times, but it is a true labor of love.

Sci Chic Moon Phase Necklace
 Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Erin: The best compliment I have ever received is that I am a really genuine person. After going to a conference with a friend, the friend told me tons of people came up to them later and told them they loved my genuine and real passion for what I am doing. It meant so much to me that this really came across and people could see how much I care about encouraging women in STEM and showing the creativity in STEAM.

Sci Chic Circuit Board NecklaceKate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Erin: When I was leaving one of my previous jobs on the last day, one guy told me, “You are such a great engineer. Now don’t become a mom and ruin all that.” I wish I could say I had a great response, but I didn’t. I just nodded my head and walked away. It really shocked me that someone would say that. As I thought about it later on and wished I had stood up for myself at the moment, it made me want to prepare for a situation like that in the future. Comments like that can’t be ignored and it has sparked my motivation even more to encourage more women and diversity in STEM.

Erin in her homemade Ms. Frizzle costumeKate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Erin: Reach behind you and pull others up with you. Do not be afraid to extend a hand. Help without the expectation of getting something in return, and the returns will come in ways that you never expected.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Erin: Whatever it is that you love and are good at can be shaped into a career. You would be surprised. Talk to anyone and everyone you can. Learn about them and their passions. Then stay connected. You never know what person you meet could be the key to your future or will give you a once in a lifetime opportunity.


Erin Winick is a mechanical engineering student at the University of Florida and the founder of Sci Chic, a company that creates science and engineering-inspired jewelry using 3D printing.  Erin is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and entrepreneurship and an active member of the Society of Women Engineers. Erin has interned at Keysight Technologies, John Deere, Solar Turbines and Bracken Engineering and published on 3D printing outreach. In her free time she enjoys making, especially sewing and costume design, hiking, and singing along to Hamilton and Something Rotten cast albums.

website  //  twitter  //  instagram  //  snapchat  //

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October 17, 2016


Kate Hart

Hi friends -- I need your help! 

By the end of this year, the Badass Ladies You Should Know series will have featured 50 amazing women: authors, scientists, activists, rabbinical students, surgeons, artists, producers, comedians, designers, entrepreneurs, and more.

This project has been a labor of love, but to continue for a third year, I need help covering its financial and time/labor commitments. These include hosting fees, research, soliciting and formatting interviews, and promotion, among other things. After a lot of internal debate, I've set up a Patreon in hopes of offsetting these costs.

Don't have money to spare? No problem -- signal boosting is also greatly appreciated. You can follow and support Badass Ladies on any (or all!) of these accounts.


As always, I also appreciate it if you promote, request, review, and/or buy my book. (There is a currently a giveaway running on Goodreads!)

Once my goal of $15 is met, I'd love to expand other projects I've taken on in the past. Future possible goals include:
  • updated YA cover diversity charts for 2016*
  • new infographics assessing YA publishing deals, trends, and more
  • updating YA Highway's Publishing Road Map 
  • an expanded self-publishing section of the Publishing Road Map
  • in-depth profiles of historical Badass Ladies
  • how-to guides for aspiring Badasses
  • a Badass Ladies zine or collaborative project
  • open to suggestions!
* I am planning to chart at least the 2016 books from Big 5 publishers, regardless of financial support, and I need volunteers to help me count covers so that I'm not the sole arbiter of what qualifies as diversity representation. If you'd be willing to flip through a Dropbox folder of images and input stats into a Google doc, please sign up here!

All Patreon supporters will get my undying love and gratitude, but in special thanks, I'm offering the following perks:

  • Pledges of $3 per month or more will receive periodic bonus content from recent and future Badass Ladies profiles.

  • Pledges of $5 per month or more will also get first shot at items in The Badasserie, my upcoming Etsy store, before I publicly advertise its opening or future restockings. (Purchases are of course welcome, but I'd also be grateful for any word of mouth you can share. Follow its various social media accounts here.)

  • Pledges of $10 per month or more will also get a custom 3x3 wall hanging or sew-on patch with the word of their choice (see store link above for examples; limited quantity).

  • Pledges of $25 or more will also get a signed finished copy of my debut novel, After the Fall (limited quantity).

I'd love to hear ideas for other possible projects or perks. Thank you so much for your interest and support!

October 5, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Saba Sulaiman

Kate Hart
When literary agent Saba Sulaiman isn't ushering new writing talent into the world (or mothering her new baby!), she's busy working to make publishing a more inclusive place -- whether that means counseling women of color about their path into the industry, judging entries for the We Need Diverse Books Walter Grant, writing posts at Pub Hub, or just taking the time to answer a few questions for interviews like this one. If you have a manuscript that's ready to query, be sure to get Saba on your list of potential agents.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Saba: I’m a literary agent, and I can safely say that this is my dream job—not a day goes by when I don’t reflect on how incredibly lucky I am to be able to find and work with inspiring, talented writers and introduce them to the world. I was lucky to have stumbled into this field myself—I was in graduate school and sometime towards the end of my time there, I decided to switch tracks from academia to…well, the real world. So I began looking for jobs in CT (where my then fiance lived) while writing my MA thesis, and after almost a year of searching, I got my start as an Editorial Intern at Sourcebooks. I ended up working there for almost a year, with other fabulous, very badass women, and because it was a small, satellite office, I got to learn the ropes of the industry pretty hands-on. And then, my boss referred me to my current boss for another internship, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Saba: Finding the time to do everything I want to, and then overcoming the paralysis that sets in when I realize I haven’t done even a fraction of what I set out to do for the day. I’m working on setting smaller, more achievable goals, and being more disciplined with my time.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Saba: I came of age in an environment where it was normal to be leered at. Young girls in Pakistan are essentially taught to expect mild to middling levels of sexual harassment if they walk around in certain neighborhoods, even in broad daylight. And I happened to go to school in one of those neighborhoods, so I couldn’t really escape it. The catcalls, the deliberate attempts to brush against me, to grope me and smell me. A guy once licked me. I shrugged it all off at the time. My female friends and I kept a running tab of how often we’d get harassed, and laugh at our male friends’ horror, the tough girls we were. Because being tough about it was the only option, really. At least that’s how I was made to feel.

I now think back to those moments and feel rage. I’m angry that so many women in the world are never given the opportunity * not * to be tough about it. They aren’t really allowed to process their trauma—in fact, more often than not, they’re blamed for the experiences that caused it. My commitment to feminism has always been strong (thanks to my feminist hero, my father), but these experiences have motivated me to encourage women to speak their minds and hearts, about everything.

I’ve benefitted a lot from being a part of an industry that is mostly populated by women. Not many other bosses are as kind and caring as mine has been when it came to matters such as sick leave due to a difficult pregnancy, maternity leave, and child care. This kind of consideration should be universal, and although I don’t have the kind of clout to affect much social change in this regard, I do what I can to advocate for it. I have clients who are mothers, and I encourage them not to apologize for taking the time they need to attend to their responsibilities as mothers first. And, of course, I read and enjoy books by female authors, and actively encourage everyone around me to do the same.

And just another heads up: I’m also committed to supporting and bringing in more women of color to publishing. There’s a dearth of us around here, and I’m always willing and eager to speak to young WoC who are seriously considering a career in publishing. Reach out to me, and we’ll talk!

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Saba: Give other women’s words the respect and thought you expect your own words to receive. Encourage everyone, including men, to do the same. Point out the tiny injustices women face on a daily basis. It’s not complaining – it’s spreading awareness. It might lead to a better world for young women in the future. Don’t belittle your struggles, or judge other women for struggling just because you may not have had a hard time doing the same task. You can never know the difficulties of another person’s conditions. Acknowledge their pain, and don’t be afraid to admit to your own. Do what you can to reject, and fight against the unrealistic expectations society puts upon women.

Cheer us on as we carve our own, unique way towards excellence. Give us the license we deserve to define what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be successful, what it means to be strong. It’ll inspire other young women to do the same, to answer to no one except themselves.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Saba: Keep fighting for what you want and what you believe in, but don’t be too hard on yourself—remember, you get to define what it means to be badass. Don’t be afraid to occupy all the space + take all the time you need to achieve your goals. Find a community you connect with, and do what you can to nurture the relationships you make through it—these relationships will give you strength when you need it the most. Remember that asking for help does not mean you are weak. And most importantly, stay true to yourself, no matter what.


Saba Sulaiman is a literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MA from the University of Chicago, where she studied modern Persian literature. Being a first generation immigrant in the process of negotiating her own identity and sense of belonging in a place she now calls “home,” she is committed to highlighting more diverse voices with compelling stories to tell; stories that demonstrate the true range of perspectives that exist in this world, and address urgent and often underexplored issues in fiction with veracity and heart.  //  //  @agentsaba  // Pub Hub

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September 28, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Erika L. Sánchez

Kate Hart
headshot of erika sanchez
One of the best things about hosting the Badass Ladies series is that the women profiled are always introducing me to even more amazing people. Thanks to last month's Christa Desir, today we have author and poet Erika L. Sánchez, whose work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and more, and won a multitude of awards and fellowships. Her debut YA novel, I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, is coming fall 2017 from Knopf.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Erika: Both my poetry collection and my novel come out next year. I have finished most of my revisions, but I may still have to do some editing. I'm also about halfway through a personal essay collection titled Crying in the Bathroom. Goodness, it has been so emotionally exhausting, because I'm basically writing about the worst moments of my life. (Don't worry though, it's also funny!) In addition to working on my books, I do some consulting and freelancing. I just turned in an article about body image for Also, I pray that my novel becomes a movie. There are not enough representations of brown girls in the world.

I've been writing since I was a kid. It's all I've ever wanted to do, so I'm basically living my dreams. It's both wonderful and frightening.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Erika: I don't think that these are creative in themselves, but my Buddhism practice and my running routine spark creativity for me. Since I converted to Buddhism last year, I have so much appreciation and clarity about my life. The philosophy has definitely influenced the way I view the world and consequently, the style and content of my work, particularly the law of cause and effect and the interconnectedness of all beings. Running is a meditative experience for me, so I often come up with all sorts of ideas on my runs. Many of the striking images I encounter while running in the city end up in my poems.

I also love music. I often listen to instrumental music as I write so I don't get distracted by lyrics. Philip Glass, Erik Satie, and Arvo Part are some of my favorites. Recently, I've also been obsessed with Beyoncé's Lemonade. It has brought me so much comfort. And documentaries about social issues, particularly feminism, always influence my work.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Erika: Self-doubt. A friend recently pointed out that I'm intimidated by my own life. I was stunned by how right she was. I'm now doing my best to believe in my own greatness. Women are conditioned to question themselves and downplay their accomplishments. We need to change that.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Erika: In 2014 I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I had this terrible job and was so unhappy. I had submitted my manuscript to one of my dream presses and thought it had a good chance. I was so desperate for something good to happen in my life. After months of waiting, I received a rejection. I was feeling so raw and vulnerable at the time that I sobbed on my couch for hours. I was hurt and disappointed, but I continued to submit my manuscript to my top choices until it was accepted by Graywolf December 2015. I couldn't ask for a better publisher.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Erika: "Your poem changed my life." I still can't believe that people feel this way about my work. It means everything to me.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Erika: I've been a feminist since I was 12. It has defined my entire life, really. Nearly all of my writing is about women in some form or other. It's hard to pinpoint exact moments because I'm always angry about some injustice or other.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Erika: We must be kind to each other. Review and promote other the work of other women writers. Don't be afraid to share the wealth.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Erika: Again, it's always a good idea to be kind. Not only is it the right way to live, it always comes back to you. Every cause we make has an effect. Also, believe that your voice matters and that you're capable of amazing things. I have failed too many times to count, but I'm stubborn as hell. Resilience is key because the writing life is full of disappointments.


Erika L. Sánchez is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. She is the author of Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf 2017) and a Young Adult novel forthcoming from Knopf in the fall of 2017. Her nonfiction has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. She has received a CantoMundo Fellowship, a "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation.

website  //  twitter 

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September 22, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Amy Lukavics

Kate Hart
Writing introductions for people I know well is always the hardest. How can I begin to describe Amy Lukavics? She has one of the kindest hearts of anyone I know. Her books are so terrifying I can't even read them. Her parenting, friendship, and tattoo games are all equally strong. My favorite thing she's ever said is, "Are we going out or can I take my eyebrows off?"

Maybe I should just let Amy's badassery speak for itself below, but I can't neglect to tell you that she's also generous: Scroll down for a chance to win signed copies of her books -- and keep an eye out for her second novel, The Women in the Walls, coming this Tuesday!


cover of The Women in the Walls by Amy LukavicsKate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Amy: I write horror novels, and I freaking love it. It's fun, intense, and rewarding. My first book, Daughters unto Devils, came out in 2015, and my sophomore novel, The Women in the Walls, comes out this September 27th. I have two more books on contract-both horror, one of which is called The Ravenous and was pitched as The Virgin Suicides meets Pet Sematary, and comes out in 2017. The fourth book hasn't been announced yet, but it'll come out in 2018.

It's strange, because even though I've always adored reading, writing, and watching scary movies, I never imagined that I could become a horror author someday. My hometown is small and very conservative. I didn't really have any serious career aspirations, except for a period of maybe two months in early high school, when I became obsessed with the idea of becoming a journalist for a big-name magazine for teen girls.

UK cover of The Women in the Walls by Amy LukavicsWhen I researched the financial realities of moving to and attending college in New York City, as well as discovered how imperative an unpaid internship would be to landing the job, that dream died pretty quickly. (The unpaid internship thing specifically is kind of funny to me now, considering that I spent six years writing novels before I actually sold one.)

After high school, I didn't have anything I wanted to do badly enough to justify paying for college, so I never went. Instead, I went through a little local program to learn how to be a dental assistant-which was super fun until I had to, you know, actually assist the dentist. So I worked as a front office medical assistant for a while instead, then got fired unexpectedly a year in, which sent me into a spiral of worrying about my future and wondering what in the hell I was supposed to be doing with myself. During that time, I found solace at the local library, which I hadn't visited in years. I rediscovered this intense love of reading that I had as a child, and after I finished a book that I wished had ended differently, it finally dawned on me that hey, maybe I could write a story of my own. I spent the entire next day outlining my first novel, and I never really looked back.

watercolor of a snowy starry night with pine trees by amy lukavicsKate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Amy: I find a lot of joy in playing video games when I can find the time, as well as participate in the occasional Dungeons & Dragons campaign with my friends. I love to paint with watercolors (even though I am not very good at it). I also adore cooking, which is probably the creative outlet I engage in the most. I used to watch my great-grandmother and my Nonny cook all sorts of delicious dinners for my family as a kid, and now I find the hobby to be pretty influential on my work-I've noticed that all of my books have pretty vivid descriptions of food, haha!

Amy Lukavics's journalsKate: What's your biggest challenge?

Amy: In the past, it was being patient. Even when I only had a single chapter written of my first book, I wanted to be published now now now, to the point where I would rush through my work and not do nearly as great of a job on it as I could have. I think that had a lot to do with why my first three novels didn't sell-I never really slowed down and concentrated on what I was actually doing, particularly during the revisions process. It took awhile.

Once I realized that it wasn't going to happen as quickly as I'd dreamed, I took a step back to assess: what did I really want to write, and what would creatively fulfill me the most? That was when I decided that I would try to write my very first horror novel, which was my fourth book and would eventually be my first sale.

Now, I think my biggest challenge is writing on deadline when I'm creatively drained. My second book, The Women in the Walls, was particularly challenging in this aspect, but thank goodness I had my editor and agent to help me get through it without losing my sanity! It was really rough, but that made it all the better when I finally finished writing the book and proved to myself that it can be done, and in a way that I was still proud of. The book I'm currently working on could not be more different of an experience, but I'm vaguely aware that if it happened once, it could happen again. And this time, hopefully I'll be a little more ready.

cover of Daughters Unto Devils by Amy LukavicsKate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Amy: There was a time before I was published that my debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, came so close to selling. I had an R&R with a big house (R&R stands for revise and resubmit, where you work with an editor on your book without a contract, in hopes of an eventual sale.) I had my heart so set on getting that book deal-I worked with the editor for months to completely rewrite the book from the ground up, only to have it rejected in the end. I remember my brother-in-law was sitting next to me on the couch when I got the call, and I got so embarrassed at how much I cried about it. I'd endured so much rejection by that point, but it was easily the most devastating thing I'd gone through in my journey to becoming an author. I had been so fucking close.

Still, that one rejection ended up teaching me the most invaluable lessons about my own writing process that I never could have learned otherwise. I learned to trust my artistic instincts if an edit suggestion didn't feel right, whereas before I would have done whatever edits were asked of me if it meant getting a sale. In the end, it was that blind willingness that prevented me from writing a book that was capable of selling-there was just no heart in it, no real creative input on my end. I took those lessons with me when I picked up the pieces and attempted another R&R, on the original draft, with a different house...but this time, the novel ended up selling in a two-book deal.

I cried my eyes out at the time that big rejection happened, and I felt like the biggest failure ever. But now, I wouldn't change or trade the experience for the world. It made me so much stronger and had a direct influence on making me the writer I am today.

Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Amy: I think I nearly fainted when Paul Tremblay approached me before our panel at San Diego Comic Con and told me that he loved my book. It was the kind of moment I literally never would have believed was possible when I was aspiring-the fact that I was at Comic Con for writing horror, and the fact that an author I had so much respect for actually knew who I was, and liked my work.

What I think I'm most proud of, though, is that I've come into my career while simultaneously raising a small family, without having it hold me back. So many people love to talk about how having kids ruins your organic creativity and any chance at a legitimate writing career, and that just couldn't be further from the truth. Personally, the experience has had the opposite effect-it's enriched my life in a way that carries over into everything I do, including writing. That's not to say that it's easy or that it's for everybody, but it is absolutely possible, especially when you have a spouse that is so understanding and supportive. (Hi Eddie!)

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Amy: Before I started trying to get published, I didn't have anything to go off of beside what I observed in my direct vicinity, and like I mentioned earlier, my town is small and conservative. Once I started getting into publishing and living online a little more, I was able to see new perspectives from people in other places, and among other eye-opening things, I learned that 'feminism' was not nearly as dirty of a word as I had previously thought.

Before, I sort of equated the word with hating men, and being bitter, and making mountains out of mole hills. But then I learned that a feminist is simply someone who believes in the political, social, and economical equality of both sexes, and any other connotation that people carry along with the word is on them. It does not demand that women be treated more specially than men, it simply points out when things aren't equal and it does it in an unapologetic way. It doesn't have to be something that requires constant rage and shouting (although I do sometimes find those reactions from others to be liberating in a way, since sexism is so frustrating). All that is encouraged, in my perception, is a healthy amount of awareness.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Amy: Do just that-support them. Support them in their dreams, support them in their accomplishments, be aware when someone has been wronged directly as a result of misogyny and don't be afraid to point out that you've noticed.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Amy: Take good care of yourself. Try to spread kindness where you can. Read. Tell the voice inside that insists you can't do it to kindly shut the fuck up.


Win a signed hardcover of The Women in the Walls 
as well as a signed paperback of Daughters unto Devils! (US only)


badass ladies you should know logo
Amy Lukavics lurks within the pine-topped mountains of Arizona, along with her husband and two precious squidlings. When she isn't reading or writing creepy stories, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and playing video games.

website  //  twitter  //  tumblr

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September 6, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Amber McCrary

Kate Hart
Amber McCrary headshot holding a drawing of a sheep
Today, I'm happy to bring you Amber McCrary, the other half of the team behind the zine Native American Feminist Musings. Don't forget to read last week's profile of her partner Melanie Fey, and enter to win copies of all 3 editions of their zine!


Amber on the rez in front of graffiti reading "Remember who you are: Native America"
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Amber: Currently, I work for University of Arizona, I teach Nutrition Education to various organizations within the Salt River Reservation, basically I tell kids and adults to eat their fruits and veggies whether it’s through healthy food demonstrations or me dressing up as a strawberry. I’m waiting for the program to order an apple costume so I can be “Amber the Apple.” Gotta love that alliteration. Also, my second job, well to me it’s not really a job, it’s something I love to do, is making the Native Zinestress/Native American Feminist Musings Zine with my zine husband, Melanie.

Paths that led me to my current job and projects, mmmm let’s see, I would have to say it started when I transferred to Arizona State University and when Melanie and I were roommates for a couple years. I had just returned from study abroad in England and I decided to take a break from school. Melanie needed a roommate, from there I remember her introducing me to Sherman Alexie and other Native writers which sparked my interest in writing. When I transferred to ASU, I took an American Indian Studies class and everything just started falling into place. I finally started to understand the world around me such as the anger, sadness and confusion I felt growing up in a racist bordertown (Flagstaff). Eventually, I finished school, majoring in Political Science and minoring in American Indian Studies. From there, I moved back to Flagstaff, worked at a Native American non-profit for a couple years and realized I wanted to work with Indigenous communities for the rest of my life. Backpacked Asia for a bit, moved back to Phoenix and here I am. :)

Amber with zine at the Heard Museum
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Amber: Does blasting music on the freeway count? Other creative outlets would be water coloring, traveling and working on my social (lack thereof) skills. I can’t draw so I feel a little closer to art when I water color plus it just makes me extremely happy and calm. I love to travel, although my first traveling experience to England was a bit of a bust, but my second traveling experience made up for it. I spent a couple months in West Africa (Ghana). I took a summer class and had an internship there and man, it made me want to travel the world, learn about different cultures, taste new foods, meet lovely people I could laugh with and sit on the beach for the rest of my life. I love traveling but I have to do it in smaller increments these days.

Lastly, my social skills help me to be more creative because they help with my communication skills, learning to talk to people about my zine and being inspired to expand the zine (i.e. topics, interviews, collaborations, etc.). From this I have been able to meet other inspiring and talented artists/writers/feminists/zinesters. Growing up I was very shy and awkward and suffered from low esteem but as I have gotten older I have learned to be the person I would have wanted to talk to when I didn’t know how to socialize (somewhat engaging and approachable). These influence and affect my main work because these are passions of mine. I incorporate water coloring in my zine for backgrounds or watercolor fruit for the kids I work with.

Through traveling, I have shared stories in The Nizhoni Beat zine about my adventures and encouragement of telling other Native girls to go and travel the world because there is a lot of love out there. This has influenced my main job in many ways, I can tell kids or adults about eating mangoes the size of their heads every morning before going to my internship in West Africa. Plus, it sparks the little ones’ interest about how there is a bigger world out there. At a former job, a little Navajo girl that is very smart always used to tell her mom “When I grow up, I want to go to college and go to all the weird places like Amber!” Her mom and I always smile when she tells me this story because we know she sees all the opportunities that are out there. My main work has helped me a lot with my social skills in the professional environment which has helped me so much when it comes to the zine. I worked in retail from ages 16-24, I never realized how much those computer and video customer service orientations would be such an important skill not only in my professional life but my personal life and creative/artistic life, which is weird to say, haha.

Amber and Melanie with a display of their zines
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Amber: For me my biggest challenge is always trying to find that balance in life, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Amber: Oh man, I’ve failed so many times, I have so many embarrassing moments flying through my head right now (falling off A mountain in Tempe, ripping the back of my pants and walking into poles) but a particular time I bounced back from failure would have to be my sophomore year of college. I moved to England for study abroad. I was certain this was my ticket out of small town life, I was hoping to leave and not look back. Once I got to England, it was not what I expected at all. It was cold and cloudy all the time. Plus, I was in the North, so the racism was just as bad as Flagstaff, people didn’t know I was Native American but still treated me as the “Bad Brown Person.” It was funny, going half way across the world and I still found the same old shit I was running from. Anywho, I was pretty miserable and depressed during this time, I missed my family like crazy and cried almost every day the first two weeks. Although it was a really shitty time for me, it made me realized how grateful I was for my family, culture and the land I come from (Northern Arizona). This moment made me realize I was taking a lot of things for granted back home. Every day, I wanted to go home but I knew I needed to finish my semester but all I thought about was the 12 hour plane trip back home to the mountains, desert, Arizona sunsets, my grandma, burritos and TACOS. I ended up failing half my classes then returned home with my tail between my legs. Afterwards, I took a break from school for a couple years before figuring out what I was doing with my life. However, from this and my break from school, I realized many things, mainly how important my family, home and culture were to me. At the time, I was devastated by it all but now that I look back, I’m grateful this happened because it made me realize how resilient I am and that my family always has my back.

Amber in Thailand
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Amber: What makes me really proud is getting feedback from Native girls around the country and world telling Melanie and I how much they enjoy and relate to the writings in the zines. Nice reviews from academia are always great and all but the ones that really hit me and make me remember why I write is when Native girls tell me the zines sound like something their sister or cousin would write. When we get compliments or comments like this, this is when I know we are on the right path in terms of the zine’s objective.

Amber on the rez
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Amber: The biggest misconception about feminism is that we are man haters. I love being a Native woman and coming from a matrilineal society (Diné), all the women in my family are very close and supporting of one another, this is something that I’ve always known. However, I’ve always had a very complicated relationship with the Native men in my life, my dad and brother. As I have gotten older and become a feminist, I think it scared them at first because of the stereotypes behind feminism (angry, man hating women). But through feminism, it taught me to speak my mind and learn to finally address the issues I used to keep bottled up about my dad and brother. At first it was very intense but as we put everything out in the open (with the help of a therapist), we opened up and finally learned to talk to one another. Through this, this has brought my brother, my dad and I closer. We talk every day and I try to tell them I love them as much as I can. Through feminism, I learned to voice my hurt and silence to them and they listened, stepped up and I feel loved and protected by them every day. In result, I hope I am able to reciprocate to this to them as well. This has broadened my understanding and I hope others understanding about feminism, it’s not about hating men but letting men know we want to be heard and respected.

Melanie and Amber at LA Zinefest
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Amber: As a youngin, I wasn’t popular, I was mainly close with a small handful of nerdy, goofy girls and the women in my family. I didn’t encounter jealousy and the “mean girl syndrome” until I was in my mid-twenties, so the thought of bringing down women is new to me. But for me, I think we need to stop this thing called jealousy and girl hate. There’s this meme, quote or whatever they’re called that says “Another girl being smart does not mean I’m not smart. Another girl being pretty does not make me ugly. Another girl being liked does not mean I am unliked. Girl competition needs to stop and self-love needs to start.” Which I totally agree with, there are so many awesome women out there and we need to encourage and help other women that are trying to do good in the world rather than bring them down. Like M.I.A. says “Pull up the people!” We need to pull up the women!

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Amber: This may sound SUPER cheesy but follow your heart then the rest will fall into place. Also, don’t be afraid when you are new to something. We all have started from a place that was unfamiliar to us but don’t let fear or inexperience hold you back.

Win all 3 editions of Native American Feminist Musings zine!
US only


Amber McCrary was born in Tuba City, AZ, grew up in Flagstaff, and currently lives in Phoenix.

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August 31, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Melanie Fey

Kate Hart

headshot of Melanie Fey
Today's interview is a two-part feature, because this pair of ladies presented too much badassery to fit in one post. Melanie Fey and Amber McCrary are a pair of Native writers who create, among other things, a zine called Native American Feminist Musings. They both turned in stellar interviews, so a coin flip decided on sharing Melanie today -- be sure to come back next week for Amber's, and scroll down for a giveaway!


"Native Zinestress:  Send zine inquiries and submissions to:"
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Melanie: Right now I am a book minion at Multnomah County Library which I do love enormously but one of these days I hope to be a full-time writer and hopefully not a starving one. When I'm not trying to figure out what to do with my life, all of my energy goes into making zines and/or writing poetry and prose. Fingers crossed that I'll have my first book of poetry completed by the end of this year. I've also been threatening to write a novel for some time now; we'll see if that actually happens. As for passion, I've always had this really freaky obsessive need to write, even when I was a little kid. Beginning in elementary school, I remember trying to write short stories and poetry and getting extremely frustrated by not being able to express myself the way that I wanted to on paper. By age 18, I saw college as my only ticket out of my home town Flagstaff, AZ, which I loathed at the time. So I packed up, went to ASU and majored in Creative Writing because it was really the only thing that I saw myself doing. I just wanted to get my kicks and write it all down Jack Kerouac-style. I still don't know where the storyteller craving comes from though. It's just always been there, embedded in my bones.

Native Zinestress poster
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Melanie: The thing I love about making zines is that you can tap into all sorts of creativity. Writing, drawing, painting, collaging, Xeroxing, Photoshoping, etc. It's like a whirlwind of different art mediums colliding onto a single page. Absolutely delightful. However, when I get hit with a creative block, all I have to say is: one person dance parties. Get creative with it. Get weird. Lots of ideas get born if you allow yourself to get weird.

all 3 copies of Native American Feminist Musings on displayKate: What's your biggest challenge?

Melanie: My biggest challenge would have to be myself. It's a serious juggling act: managing my time, constant pep-talks, self-discipline, self-care, breathing exercises to keep anxiety in check, etc. Oh, and fighting white male capitalist patriarchy. That's a pretty tough challenge too.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Melanie: Failure is one of those tricky words because I've found that oftentimes people are reluctant to use it. An example being that failure isn't so much failure as it is a learning experience that one is expected to grow from. Growth means progress and progress couldn't possibly mean failure, right? But sometimes that "failure" feels so soul-crushing that it's nearly impossible to put any sort of positive spin on it. I've only felt like this one time and it took years to snap myself out of it.

I had graduated from ASU in 2008 when the economy had just gone into the crapper. My head was filled with idealistic dreams at that time and I was convinced that I was going to be wealthy and accomplished despite the current financial status of the economy. At the time, teaching English in Japan seemed like a pretty sweet gig. It paid well, I'd be able to travel new territory, hopefully make enough cash to pay off my student loans and then return to grad school in the next year or two. I'd somehow swindled a Japanese ELL company into hiring me, boarded a plane and arrived in Fukuoka, expecting to call the Land of the Rising Sun my home for the next year. However, within a matter of days, I began to question my decision. It was one obstacle after another, having to fend off the harsh judgments of other white male ELL teachers who criticized and gossiped about me behind my back. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in the business suit I was required to wear every day. As an introvert, I found it incredibly difficult to be "on" all the time as an instructor, teaching between 6-8 classes a day. My body wasn't adjusting to the food and my anxiety was through the roof. It was the loneliest place I had ever been in my entire life and by the 4th month my brain broke. Physically and mentally I was not well. So I made a quick decision to get the hell out of there. I scoured my contract and found one loophole that I could use to break it. I scrubbed my apartment, gave away all of my belongings that I couldn't fit inside my suitcase, and then delivered a letter to my superiors with details about the loophole I had found. And they were pissed. After having survived an intense interrogation where several of them tried to make me stay, I ultimately made my argument convincing enough that they had no choice but to let me leave. Now, in any job this would look bad, breaking your contract. But in Japan, where their work ethic and standards are more rigid, this was like sacrilege. And yet, I was still determined to go, for my own self-care. They brought in an emergency teacher; I bought a ticket last minute, got lost on a subway and then finally made it on a plane heading for LAX. All of this had happened over a matter of 5 days with very little shut-eye and by the time I got home, I fell into bed and slept for 20 hours straight. Once I had come out of my delirium, my self-esteem plummeted through the fucking floor.

When you're in college, everyone tells you to follow your dreams. What they don't do is prepare you for when those dreams catch fire and explode right in your very chest: failure. I was so embarrassed when I returned home. I was afraid to let people know that I had come back because everyone had been so proud of me for getting hired overseas in the first place. I hid out and acquired several mediocre jobs that I hated, grad school sinking further and further away into the background as I struggled to pay off my student loans (I'm still trying to pay them off to this day). But then, with an insurmountable amount of determination, I managed to get hired at the library. What can I say? Books saved me. I slowly gained back my confidence, began to take pride in my work again. Then I discovered the library's zine collection (they have over 1,400 zines!). I had found my outlet. Once Amber and I decided to make a zine, I decided to go all in; there'd be no catching the quickest flight out of town this time. Although I'm still not fully recovered from my Japan experience, I'm still accumulating more self-confidence every day. Healing takes time but patience is what matters. Patience, compassion and movement are all essential for growth along with knowing when to say no. Basically, in a nutshell, your gift is always calling out to you, but sometimes you have to go through a lot of bullshit to find it. But once you do, accomplishment feels like laying your head on the warmest, softest bosom imaginable.

Melanie Fey performs at a poetry reading
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Melanie: When people ask me to read poetry at their events! And then other people actually show up! And stay the whole way through the performance! I've written a lot of bad poetry, so I was always kind of scared to put myself out there. But when people come up to me after my readings, and let me know that my work has got them thinking and feeling, well, that gives my life meaning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Melanie : A defining moment that galvanized my understanding of and commitment to feminism was when I got my mother's name, along with the medicine wheel, tattooed on my left shoulder several years ago. My relationship with Shimá (mom) was a tumultuous one. My parents divorced when I was 3 and my father was given full custody of both me and my older sister which most can probably agree is incredibly rare and maybe even odd. We hear a lot about single mothers in our society, not a lot about the single fathers.

My mother's tendency to indulge in drink often kept her away and unreliable. When she did show up, drunken fiascoes usually ensued. It's confusing enough having an unstable and absent parent, but this was doubly confusing for me because traditional Diné culture is matriarchal. Diné women typically own the land and the livestock which they then pass down to their daughters. Also, at birth, every Diné person is given 4 clans which are passed down to them through family lineage, but that first clan always comes from the mother. So, as a kid, I often wondered, where is the matriarch? And why did she abandon me? When she finally met her demise and passed away when I was 15 years old, I came apart at the seams. With nonexistent positive female role models in my life during my early childhood, I became extremely distrustful of all women, maybe even misogynistic.

It was only after the passage of many years that I met and read the work of some very strong and wonderful women. I buried my head in books where I learned about addiction, intergenerational trauma, colonization and boarding schools, all factors that contributed greatly to who my mother was as a person. For the first time ever, I also decided to put my self-destructive tendencies aside and focus on healing. And healing gave birth to decolonizing. I discovered the medicine wheel which represents emotional, mental, spiritual and physical equilibrium. The combining of feminism with decolonization informed my decision to identify as an Indigenous Feminist. I realized that the only way for me to heal and move on with my life in a good way was to forgive my mother, and to realize that despite all of the hardships that she put me and my family through, she did/does truly love us. I could choose to remember all of the bad things, or choose to remember the times she held me when I was sick or when she made me hot milk when I couldn't sleep. Getting her name and the medicine wheel tattooed on me was a kind of permanent peace offering, a constant reminder about how empowering forgiveness and letting go can be.

Amber and Melanie in a pumpkin patch
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Melanie: Please don't see other women as your competition! It is a toxic mindset and only serves to further divide us which makes the abolition of patriarchy that much more difficult. Instead, give each other high fives. That's my advice. Oh! And one more thing, I think using any sort of position of privilege as a means of highlighting the struggles, pointing out injustices or raising awareness about inequality is huge. My college degree, my print hookup for the zines, my ablebodiedness, etc. are all means of privilege. I acknowledge that not everyone possesses these things and so I've decided to utilize them in the best way that I can. By making the zines, Amber and I can raise awareness about not only feminist issues but Indigenous, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, etc. issues as well. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Melanie: Hózhǫ́ homies! That's my best advice. In traditional Diné culture, hózhǫ́ is what every Diné person is striving for. It can be loosely translated as beauty, balance, harmony, peace, everything in moderation, etc. Once one steps outside of hózhǫ́, her equilibrium and medicine wheel is thrown totally out of whack! So basically, hózhǫ́ is just a way of telling you to empower yourself before you wreck yourself (but in a humble way mind you). But on the off chance that you do wreck yourself (which we all do eventually), channel all of that discord into whatever creative passion you have. Turn it into something cathartic and productive and move on. That's about as badass as you can get.

Win all 3 editions of Native American Feminist Musings zine!
US only


badass ladies you should know logo
Melanie Fey is a Diné (Navajo) writer, zinester and Indigenous feminist. She hails from Flagstaff/Dinétah, AZ but currently resides in Portland, OR. She acquired a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and spends her days working as a public library book minion. Melanie is one of two co-creators/editors of the Native American feminist zines Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, The Nizhoni Beat and Shik'is ShiHeart. Look for her other published works in Red Rising Magazine, As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and Fix My Head #8.

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