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July 18, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Sarah Nicole Lemon

Kate Hart
headshot of Sarah Nicole Lemon
One of my most frequent statements of 2017 has been "I love Lemon," and only rarely do I mean the citrus fruit. I met Sarah Lemon in our author debut group, and her social media feeds immediately convinced me we should be friends (you'll be shocked to hear I was right). Her debut novel, Done Dirt Cheap, was released in March to rave reviews, but Lemon is also an outspoken advocate for social justice, a rock climber, a mom of three, and a biker babe. Read on to learn more about her publishing journey -- and scroll down to win a signed copy of her book!

cover of DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Nicole Lemon
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Lemon: I am an author, with one book freshly into the world (DONE DIRT CHEAP) and another set to come out in 2018 (VALLEY GIRLS). I never intended to become a writer, because that felt like a magical thing girls like me did not get to be. I grew up poor and anything with art didn’t make money, so it simply wasn’t a possibility. But I was always a voracious reader—reading gave me access to the world I couldn’t have. When my life gathered some stability, I began looking more towards to writing as something I could actually do, even if it made me no money. I am aware how privileged I am to be doing something I love so much.

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

Lemon: Not unless you count things in the outdoors? With writing being so cerebral, I appreciate the chance to do something with my hands and feet, and seeing more than just the computer screen. I rock climb, hike, and ride my motorcycle when I can. Honestly though, as a mom to three small children (one special needs), a police wife, and trying to start a writing career, time for anything extra is not readily available. When I was younger, I enjoyed photography, watercolor, and music. I know I’ll find those things again when I have more space. For now, I just enjoy Instagram and getting lost in YouTube wormholes.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Lemon: I’m going to be real here, and say by far the greatest challenge I’ve encountered has been trying to jump social class. Whenever I open up about it, people are quick to compliment me that they can’t even tell—and it’s hard not to cry “but you can’t see how hard I’m working to have you say that.” It’s sucked up the most amount of thought, time and effort in my publishing path. I’ll be honest, I’ve shed tears over it. When I first began in publishing, the nicest restaurant I’d ever been in was basically an Olive Garden. I had never needed to tip service, because I was never in that space. I had only been on a plane once, for my honeymoon when I was 19. Now, I’m a lot more comfortable in those spaces, and every time I get on a plane, or hand over my bags, or go to a nice restaurant, I marvel at where my life has taken me. Even though it means I no longer fully belong anywhere, I’ve made my peace with it and feel lucky to have had such a broad range of experiences.

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

Lemon: I’m convinced failure is the most important part of success. I’m a climber, and a terrible one, but I always hear in my head “if you aren’t failing [falling], you aren’t trying [climbing] hard enough.” DONE DIRT CHEAP is my first published book, but it’s the third book I wrote with my agent. The first was universally loved and rejected (too quiet). The second, my agent lovingly put in the trash (bless her). Those two failures made DDC possible. It made me raw and desperate, and also willing to put all my vulnerabilities on the line and really go for it. I tried to write a book only I could write. The other thing about failure is that its most terrifying before it happens. When it happens, I’ve found it’s much easier to deal with than I expected.

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

Lemon: A friend just told me I’m the walking subversion of a trope, and it’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said. I understand that my background, my stories, and the way I look creates an immediate distrust (deserved) to people in publishing, but especially PoC. It can be really awkward, in that space to, say, know how to skin a deer. But, I try to take ownership of my history, my people’s history, to show you can change, you can learn, you can have different experiences and still have empathy and understanding. I do appreciate my learning experiences about race and class were all done in the real world (as opposed to online). I lived in West Baltimore at the same time as I worked at Georgetown Law, and God bless the black women who guided redneck, floundering me through those spaces.

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

Lemon: I was raised to believe the worst thing I could become was a feminist. If you wanted to completely take away a woman’s credibility in my community, you called her a feminist. For me, the point in my life where I really came into my own as a feminist was during my first pregnancy. I was 22, and despite being married, college educated, and in a steady white collar job, being pregnant made me lose the “exceptional woman” status I’d enjoyed. It also forced me to confront how I relied on white supremacy to reaffirm that belief.

I was living in West Baltimore at the time, and everywhere I went in the medical community in Baltimore, people treated me based on my face, my youth, and my address (the presumption was I was white trash, uneducated, and pregnant with a black, drug dealer’s baby). I was told to abort my child. I was told I shouldn’t be bringing kids into the world. Even after his birth, I was continually talked down to, given misinformation and treated as if I wasn’t capable of taking care of my child. It’s hard to spend all your energy trying to prove to people you deserve to exist, that you deserve to be treated with respect, that you deserve to bring a family into the world.

I understood immediately that the treatment I was receiving, however shitty, was still better than the treatment my (black) neighbors received. I understood that if I went missing in West Baltimore, people were going to care a little more than they cared about a missing, pregnant, black woman from West Baltimore. That directly affected my feminism, because suddenly feminism became something incredibly important—it became something I understood from a systematic perspective. The system does not find much value in the existence of women, but specifically poor or black, and especially poor, black women (and good lord, let’s not forget poor, black trans women!). We, as white women, or “exceptional women,” or black women with privilege, are complicit in that violence unless we actively dismantle that in our lives. Even now, I approach feminism from the systematic perspective. I focus on dismantling the systems that support and reaffirm our prejudices and beliefs. I strive to do that in my writing, in my lane. I also force everyone back home to deal with me as a feminist. I don’t shy away from the label.

Lemon and Kate signing together at YALLWEST 2017
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Lemon: I think the best way to support other women is by looking at the women in your community and finding your role in supporting, elevating and caring for women the most at risk. For me, as an author, it means promoting women of color online, reading their books and talking about their books. It means listening to them when they talk about harm perpetuated in literature. It means I do not tell stories that aren’t mine to tell. For my best friend, who was a student midwife and is now in school to be a nurse midwife, it means something totally different (namely, helping at risk women get access to positive maternal care). I think we all have opportunities in our lives to change the system if we are looking with intentionality.

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…   

reading: nothing…whomp whomp…I’m on a deadline. But I’m super excited about Roshani Chokshi’s new book A CROWN OF WISHES, and that will be the first book I read post deadline.
watching: Dave Chappelle’s comedy special on Netflix.
listening to: Tool, it’s my editing music. There’s something in the rhythm that just fits my writing brain.
eating: salad, fried chicken, and Halo Top ice cream.
doing: finishing my 2018 book, VALLEY GIRLS
wearing: Adidas pants and a Metallica t-shirt.
wishing for: everything Gucci right now, which is not at all in my price realm, but a girl can dream.
wanting: to show up at all author events looking like 70’s Jerry Hall (this is an unattainable dream, but I persist in it).
loving: THUG on the NYT list for the third week in a row! [author's note: this answer shows how unacceptably long its taken me to share this interview -- apologies, Lemon!]

the view from Lemon's motorcycle seat
Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why?

Lemon: Right now, I’m learning a lot about black women of rock and roll and also Asian women climbers. Those are two widely disparate things, I know, but women like Big Mama Thornton (an out and proud black woman in the 50’s who wrote "Ball ‘n Chain" and recorded "Hound Dog" before Elvis), and also girls like Malavath Poorna (who climbed Everest at 13yo) are incredible and interesting, and I want to read these books! (I am not writing them).

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Lemon: Have a spirit of teachability. (Is that a word?) I’m a Slytherin, so obviously, I think being teachable is important because it allows you to learn how to be successful, even if nature or nurture hasn’t naturally inclined that way.

Win a signed copy of Done Dirt Cheap! Open to US and Canada.


Badass Ladies You Should Know logo
Sarah Nicole Lemon spent the first fifteen years of her life doing nothing but reading and playing outside, and has yet to outgrow either. When not writing, you can find her drinking iced coffee in a half-submerged beach chair near her home in southern Maryland.

Find Lemon:
website // twitter  // instagram

get Done Dirt Cheap  // add Valley Girls to your TBR

Want more Badass Ladies? 
Check out more profiles, or follow and boost from any of these accounts:

June 7, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Sajidah K. Ali

Kate Hart
headshot of Sajidah K. Ali
Getting published can be a long slog. I was lucky to have friends beside me every step of the way, including today's Badass Lady, Sajidah Ali. She has an uncanny way of knowing exactly when someone needs a check in, a supportive message, or just a random silly tweet, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see all the buzz for her upcoming debut, Saints and Misfits, which comes out next week! (Be sure to enter her swag giveaway below!)


cover of SAINTS AND MISFITS by S. K. Ali
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Sajidah: I’m the author of Saints and Misfits, a contemporary YA novel about a Muslim-American teen. Each part of that sentence, author, YA novel, Muslim-American teen, feels good to say. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child and actually got a degree in Creative Writing in my early 20’s to fulfill this desire. However, I didn’t settle into the dream right away because I chose to focus on family (I became a mom early, while finishing university) and on a career in education. In 2006, a friend brought up life-lists – she pulled out a tattered piece of paper that held hers from university days – and a group of us decided we were going to write our own. The list would be the dreams we envisioned, when we were young, for our lives; the things we still envisioned for our lives. (I’m a strong believer in the idea that it’s never too late to do something kind, fulfilling, hopeful, life/world-changing.)

So there it was on my life-list: become an author. I began blogging my intent and progress and threw myself into learning all I could about writing a book. It was an education – like getting another degree in Creative Writing. Besides working on the art and craft of writing, there’s a lot to learn about the publishing process and the industry itself.

So began the journey back to my dream. It helped that the life-list crew met a few times a year to review our progress in fulfilling our visions.

drawing of brown skinned girl in purple hijab and light blue floral dress holding a book, by S. K. Ali
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Sajidah: I love art of all kinds. I can spend all day looking at art, reading about it, and, most of all, making it. Here’s a small sampling of my stuff: Maybe it’s due to this love of art that I storyboard for plot and even sketch characters when I’m stuck. When I say sketch, I mean stream-of-consciousness sketching, where the character blooms on paper, with me unsure of what pencil stroke is coming next. (Um, lol, maybe this actually called doodling?)

Visuals also inspire me when writing. I relied on them quite a bit to write Saints and Misfits. Because it served me so well, I’ve been using this method again for the novel I’m working on currently. So instead of reading to do my research, I engage in visual research. Like looking at photos, physically being in a setting I’m thinking of using (eyes open wide), or watching a documentary. Perhaps this has become my thing because I’m pretty adamant about staying away from reading when I’m in a writing season. Reading other books invariably interferes with the voice-flow I’ve immersed myself in. (When writing season is done, all I do is read! LOVE reading season!)

photo from one of Sajidah's hotel writing retreats
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Sajidah: I’m not a good multitasker. I’m very single-task focused and I’ll do that single task with my all but life is not a single-task-a-day affair of course. This was a challenge because I used to struggle with this aspect of my personality and wonder why I couldn’t multi-task and BALANCE everything better. But then a wonderful someone taught me that often times the words “balance” and “multi-task” are used to disguise the expectation of women to be perfect in every sphere of our lives. And if you’re a busy person with a lot of going on, this could send you careening.

I’ve learned, only recently, that it’s okay to block long chunks of time (like writing retreats!) for what I want to focus on and that some things may not be daily activities. Like I will NO longer beat myself up for not writing every single day.

Sajidah and her sons
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Sajidah: I went through a long period of time when I felt like the only talent I had was in trying to be a supermom. I was that mother who made cute smiley-face lunches with notes and who framed countless pieces of art my kids made. No time left for personal creative pursuits. I found a poem from that era called Frozen Tundra (lol) that described how I felt about my creativity. I felt like the writer in me had completely disappeared.

I bounced back by connecting with other creative-minded people. A support network – whether online or in-person – is so important to nurturing your creativity. It can be as simple as checking in with each other to see how projects are going or meeting up for weekly coffee dates or, the best, writing retreats. Talking shop, creative-shop, is integral for me and, haha, tundra-thawing.

Sajidah in pink hijab giving strong side eye
Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Sajidah: Writing-wise, this compliment would be from my husband. All through the writing of my novel, whenever I’d discuss scenes, read bits of my writing or involve him in it, he’d be quiet or, worse, unengaged. Outwardly, I attributed this to the fact that he only reads science fiction or nonfiction but inwardly, I was crestfallen. Finally, he requested that I hand him my novel when it was DONE. I decided that this would be when it was published. And, so, five years later, I handed him the ARC of Saints and Misfits and he took one weekend and sat there with cups of hot drinks until he finished, closed the book with tears in his eyes and said, Wow, everything fitted together, nothing was superfluous and it’s just so, so, complete in the best way. He’s a project manager who’s into minimalism, efficiency and optimal outcome so this was a huge compliment.

drawing of girl in hijab with backpack and plaid skirt surrounded by art and writing supplies on Sajidah's writing desk
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Sajidah: My feminism woke as a child when I read and heard about how Islam began. Really. I understood my religion to be a revolution to the status quo of women all the way back in the seventh century. The ideas about a woman keeping her own name, owning her own property, challenging edicts etc. coincided with the debate happening in other parts of the world on whether women had souls or not. Understanding this part of my heritage early resulted in my belief that the struggle for gender equity –  feminism – was an intrinsic part of my identity as a Muslim. I went on to read and learn more about this aspect of my faith. I also saw strong women within my own community – women in my extended family, women at the mosque – and this solidified my belief. That’s why I don’t hold back in addressing and challenging the situation of women all around the world, including Muslim countries, most of which do not follow Islam in regards to women’s rights.

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…    

reading: My next to-read is Tash Hearts Tolstoy
watching: Abstract (a documentary series on Netflix about art and design)
listening to: Regina Spektor’s On the Radio
eating: Avocado toast, lol
doing: report cards, waaah
wearing: earth-toned hijabs (it’s a thing now)

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Sajidah: Linda Sarsour – one of the organizers of the Women’s March. A powerhouse of an activist, she exudes confidence, loud and vocal solidarity, and passion. But these qualities are combined with compassion and a deep connection with others. I’ve met Linda at events a few times and, in each instance, she’s been personable and kind.

Sajidah with her writing group
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Sajidah: Seek solidarity through boosting each other’s voices. Listen to each other’s experiences with openness and examine the lenses through which we’ve been conditioned to see diversity. Feminism can look different so buy diverse girl-power stories to understand what the struggle is like for someone with an identity different from yours.

Enter to win one of FIVE Saints and Misfits book swag packs – open internationally!>br> a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find Sajidah K. Ali at:
website  //  twitter  //  goodreads

Buy Saints and Misfits:
Simon and Schuster  //  Amazon US  //  Amazon CA  //  Barnes & Noble  //  Book Depository  //  Indigo

Want more Badass Ladies? 
Check out more profiles, or follow and boost from any of these accounts:

June 1, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Tanaya Winder

Kate Hart
Imagine spending all of your work days supporting and empowering teens, using your MFA to teach creative writing, and organizing awareness-raising exhibits like Sing Our Rivers Red, then going home and thinking, "You know, I should be doing more. Lots more." That's exactly why Tanaya Winder is this week's Badass Lady: her day job alone makes her a badass, but she also dedicates her free time not just to her own art, but to making sure fellow indigenous artists can also access the field. From poetry to music, motivational speaking to motivating students, Tanaya's life and career are nonstop inspiration to others -- which is probably why she's one of NCAIED's 2016 "40 Under 40" Emerging American Indian Leaders.

It's an honor to profile her here, and be sure to scroll down -- she's also giving away copies of her books!


cover of WORDS LIKE LOVE by Tanaya Winder
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Tanaya: I’m in the practice of heartwork. I’m blessed to live a life doing what I love serving people I love. I’ve managed to carve a space in the world where I can have a career doing what I’m passionate about. My day job is serving as the Director of a youth program where I get to work with high school students to help them in their secondary and postsecondary success. I love helping them find, see, and embrace their potential. I also try my best to “walk my talk.” If I tell the youth I work with to pursue their passions and walk in this world with a good heart and good intentions, I do my best to exemplify just that. So in addition to Director life, I also travel the country as a performance poet and motivational speaker. I’m a published poet and learning how to navigate those spaces (given my administrative experience as a director) I decided to create an Indigenous artists management company and collective where I can help other talented Indigenous artists navigate those spaces as well. We support and uplift each other and also encourage others to find their passion and use their gifts to help build a better world. Sometimes I get to travel with them and open their music sets with my spoken word and singing.

My current project is working on a Dream Warriors Artist showcase this fall where all of the artists I manage and work with can come together to debut some new music and collaborations. We have a dream to one-day help start an endowment for Indigenous communities to pursue art projects.

Finally, I’m currently finishing up my first chapbook Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless, which should be available for purchase by the end of May. Then, I go to work on my second full-length poetry collection.

Given all those things, my life may seem like a bunch of random pieces but really they fit together in a beautiful mosaic where each piece relates to and feeds into the other. I love it.

black and white image of Tanaya with sunburst
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Tanaya: Aside from writing I also sing. I’ve been taking vocal lessons for a little over a year now and it’s like therapy to me. I love learning new techniques and how something small like simply changing the shape of your mouth can affect the sound in big ways. I honestly think singing (and working on that craft) makes me a better performer. I incorporate singing into some of my poems, but I also think it helps with stage presence, feeling comfortable in my body, and finding other ways to connect with the audience. Out of all art mediums, music is the one that can heal across timelines. Learning how to practice that kind of healing makes me a better Director, writer, youth worker, and heartworker.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Tanaya: Time! There never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do. I have so many ideas and I get so excited by them that I’ll try to do everything and sometimes (more often than not) I end up taking on more than I can manage. So then, learning how to maintain balance is my biggest challenge, but I’m getting there.

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

Tanaya: I don’t believe that anything in life should be named a “failure.” I think if you learned something from the experience then it wasn’t a failure, but rather a lesson in learning how to stretch more in the direction of compassion, acceptance, and love. For me, one of these moments that forced me to stretch into a bigger, more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving version of myself was after one of my best friends committed suicide. I felt like I failed by not being there, by not knowing, by not stopping it. It took me years to forgive and let go. And in that period of forgiving and letting go I made a lot of mistakes and inevitably, unintentionally hurt some people I love. But, I learned empathy. I learned to accept (and give) forgiveness and ultimately, I became a person dedicated to love and helping people I cross paths with see all their beauty, wonder, and magic. I try my best to be a mirror, reflecting all of the light one might not always be able to see.

group of Tanaya's students holding her book and an eagle star quilt
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Tanaya: Seeing my students succeed makes me proud. I love seeing them continue on with their lives, accomplishing their goals, and pursuing their dreams. Seeing them shine makes me happy. I especially love it when a student may have been shy at first…like let’s say in a writing workshop I was leading, but then by the end of it they’re standing at the front, or even sitting in their chair sharing a piece of their heart with the entire class. That takes bravery! I suppose I’m proud knowing I played even a small role in helping them like I was able to be one thread in the fabric of their lives.

Tanaya mid-jump with mountain in background
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Tanaya: I believe the best ways to support anyone is asking them “what do you need” and “how can I help?” For women specifically, I think showing lateral love is super important and this can come through uplifting and empowering whether that be by offering advice, insight, or a safe harbor for her to just be. Uplifting can come through encouragement but also through sharing space by connecting each other to opportunities and even creating opportunities together. Showing someone that I see you and helping them feel and be seen in the ways they need is absolutely necessary. Everyone is going through their own battles or navigating their own storms and I think each of us has the ability to be a lighthouse for the other, to help guide each other through those dark times. My mother always said, “Be the kind of person who makes everybody feel like somebody.” I take that to heart in supporting other women in their heartwork because it is tough, difficult, and extremely vulnerable to feel, live, and love. When it comes to supporting other women in their emotional bravery, I want to embody revolutionary love by being just as brave.

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Tanaya: Right now every womxn in this collective I am a part of “Women Warriors Work” is a badass lady everyone needs to know because they are all setting positive examples of being – they are all doing necessary heartwork in the world.

And also these ladies below are doing some great work in the world to make it a better place.
  • Rowie Shebala – amazing poet and fierce performer. Definitely check out her spoken word 
  • Monique Aura and Nancy King - they’re both such dope art educators, muralists, and all around super talented badass artists!
  • Irene Vasquez – she’s the Director of Chicano and Chicana Studies at the University of New Mexico and this amazing lady does so much for her family, department, university, and community. I want to be her when I grown up :) 
  • Sharice Davids – She’s one of the smartest, driven women I know! It’s inspiring to see a young Native woman making a difference as a White House Fellow doing good work to represent Indian Country 

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…    

reading: The Artist’s Way
watching: Scandal
listening to: Harry Styles
doing: working on the manuscript for my 2nd full length poetry collection
wearing: pajamas
wishing for: more rain
loving: life :)

Tanaya giving thumbs up in running gear and race number
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Tanaya: Everything happens for a reason. Breaks you thought were heartaches were really the Creator helping you dodge a massive bullet destined for danger, rupture, and the darkness you crawled your way out of long ago. So let go. Let go of anything that didn’t work out the way you wanted because you know this – deep in your heart of hearts you know: you were born from a line of fierce women on fire who shine light in the darkest of places and heal those in need. And if people are afraid of you, let them be afraid – they should be because you are powerful beyond containment, the kind of free people dream of embodying and everything is coming together the way it was always meant to. Because you are destined for greatness. And anything you ever set your mind to, you looked yourself in the mirror and said, “we are going to fucking do this.” And you did. You did do it. So don’t stop now because you are meant to keep all of the promises you ever made to yourself.



Tanaya Winder is a poet, singer, writer, and educator, raised on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, CO. An enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, her background includes Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Navajo, and Black heritages. Tanaya writes and teaches about different expressions of love (self love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love). A winner of the 2010 A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando prize in poetry, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cutthroat magazine, Superstition ReviewDrunkenboat and Kweli among others. Her poems from her manuscript “Love in a Time of Blood Quantum” were produced and performed by the Poetic Theater Productions Presents Company in NYC. Her debut poetry collection Words Like Love  was published in 2015 by West End Press. Her second collection Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless is forthcoming later this year. Tanaya has taught writing courses at Stanford University, UC-Boulder, and the University of New Mexico. She has a BA in English from Stanford University and a MFA in creative writing from UNM. She is a co-founder and editor-in-chief of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World. She guest lectures and teaches creative writing workshops at high schools and universities internationally. Tanaya is the Director of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Upward Bound Program, which services 103 Native American youth from 8 states, 22 high schools, and 8 reservations across the country. She continues to teach as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico. Winder co-founded Sing Our Rivers Red, an earring exhibit with 1,181 single-sided earrings to help raise awareness about the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and colonial gender based violence in the United States and Canada. Finally, she created Dream Warriors Management, an Indigenous artist management company and collective. Winder is a recipient of the National Center for American Enterprise Development (NCAIED)’s 2016 “40 Under 40” list of emerging American Indian leaders. You can learn more about her at:

facebook  //  twitter  //  instagram  //  TED talk  //  //

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Check out more profiles, or follow and boost from any of these accounts:

May 17, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Maurene Goo

Kate Hart
headshot of Maurene Goo
Sometimes you meet people and immediately know you're going to be friends. That's what happened two years ago when I met Maurene Goo at the LA Times Festival of Books -- mutual friends had assured me I'd love her, and sure enough, they were right. Fast forward to 2017 and we've shared a publisher, signing tables, secrets, good times, and even weird stomach problem remedies. I'm grateful to have Maurene in my life and I'm happy to share her with you. Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end!


cover of I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Maurene: I’m a YA author who does freelance editorial work on the side. I had a few meandering paths that lead me here—but always there, from the beginning, was a love of books. I thought I wanted to study journalism in college but took so many literature classes that I ended up minoring in English lit. Then I worked in a bookstore after graduating with absolutely no career plans. So I applied to grad schools and ended up going to Emerson College to get an M.A. in writing, literature, and publishing. I worked in textbook publishing while in school then worked for a few art book publishers in LA when I moved back here. During all this, I was writing my first YA novel purely for fun (it was a sample for an MFA program that I couldn’t stop working on even after I decided not to pursue it). My friend read an early draft and sent it to her agent who ended up representing me! In a way, my publishing journey was both long and short. A few months after I sold my book I started freelancing and writing full time.

cover of SINCE YOU ASKED by Maurene Goo
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Maurene: I have an interest in design, and I was doing that work when I sold my book, actually (I was the design director at a wholesale art house). I’m not sure if it influences my writing, but in general, I’m a pretty visually driven person, so I have some strong feels on book covers, haha. I don't have much time for it nowadays, but my website is where I have fun once in awhile.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Maurene: Focus. I used to be super proud of my multi-tasking skills (a plus in project management work), but it’s now a huge detriment to getting writing done. There are always one billion other things that distract me…and I end up doing them a lot of the time. Having friends to write with has been invaluable, I work really well with accountability and deadlines.

Maurene Goo (center) protesting at LAX with authors Kirsten Hubbard, Sarah Enni, Victoria Aveyard and Alex Kahler
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Maurene: Very tempted to list every boy that never liked me back but probably we’re talking career related ;) Well, I’m four years between books, which is like—eternity in YA years. I took a long break after my first book when a lot of my ideas were rejected. I actually didn’t write a single word for nine months straight. I know that's “bad” for writers (write everyday! Or something!), and I wouldn't necessarily give that advice to anyone. However, it’s what I needed at the time— some perspective beyond publishing and not having my identity shaped by success or failure at this one thing. So when I finished drafting my second book, I knew it was a book I really loved and wanted to champion. It was hard-earned.

Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Maurene: Anytime someone says something I wrote made them laugh out loud, I am very flattered. I’m not kidding when I say that’s a big goal of mine every time I write a book—to make people laugh. A lot. I don't know why I feel this need to be like, a comedian, but humor is something I’ve grown to really value as a writer. (I’m sure it all boils down to simple narcissism!)

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

Maurene: I actually took an introduction to feminism class in college. Haha. But I think feminism was a part of my life from day one—my mom was always a strong figure and she never took shit from anyone. And she taught me and my sister to never take shit (while being polite, well-raised Korean kids). She also always pursued her career and prioritized it. At first, it was out of necessity, but soon it became clear that my mom found real fulfillment through work. This was like, step 1 of understanding feminism for me. That women are equal to men—as breadwinners, decision-makers, in strength and intelligence, etc. So I’ve always fought against any force that told me otherwise. As far as how feminism informs my writing? I write about teenage girls. They  might be flawed and have a lot of growing to do, but I think they’re valuable in a world that is always telling teen girls that their interests and opinions are silly. I want to tell their stories.

Maurene with friends at boxing class
Kate: Lightning round -- tell us what you’re…    

reading: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
watching: The Handmaid’s Tale and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (K drama of course!)
listening to: Spoon’s new album, Hot Thoughts and the Reply All podcast
eating: I just ordered Korean food! Spicy tofu soup.
doing: A lot of book promo, haha. Ha. Ha.
wearing: It got “cold” in LA so I’m wearing my fleece and thick camping socks
wishing for: A huge fail for the proposed GOP healthcare bill.
wanting: My cat to stop bringing lizards into the house
loving: My boxing class—it’s so fun, empowering, and really challenging.

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Maurene: Celeste Pewter for keeping the entire kid lit community properly informed and galvanized after the election. She’s a political staffer and book reviewer and she’s been invaluable in the whole #resist movement.

Ali Wong for being the funniest Asian American woman in the world. Ok, there are probably others I don't know about, but her Netflix special, Baby Cobra, nearly killed me. She writes for Fresh Off the Boat and lives in LA and it’s my personal mission to befriend her.

Megan Nicole Dong who works in animation. She does the funniest/slightly grotesque and bizarre comics and she was recently picked as one of Variety’s Ten Animators to Watch.

Maurene at art museum
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Maurene: With your money! I’m only half-kidding. Supporting women-owned businesses, buying their art, consuming their content—that’s all ways you can support women’s work. But you can also be a good friend, support them emotionally and mentally. And be a connector, refer people, talk them up—spread the word on the women you want to support. (You are the BEST at this, Kate Hart!) [editor's note: I try, thanks Maux. <3]

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Maurene: Take risks and don't be afraid of failure. I’m not religious so I believe we only have this one life to get shit done.

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Maurene Goo is the YA author of Since You Asked and I Believe in a Thing Called Love. She grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. Before publishing her first novel, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She also has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles.

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