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March 10, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Courtney Summers

Kate Hart
There are authors with talent, and authors who are fun on social media, and authors who use their success to support their colleagues -- and then there are women like Courtney Summers, who combine all those traits into one fierce package of amazingness.

Courtney was one of the first on my list of "badasses I hope to profile," and her upcoming All the Rage was first on my list of "2015 books to read." I'm happy to report that neither her interview nor her killer book disappoints. (And be sure to scroll down for a giveaway)


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

Courtney: I'm an author of young adult fiction. I've written several novels, all released by St. Martin's Press. My most recent projects are an e-novella called Please Remain Calm (which is a sequel to my 2012 zombie novel, This is Not a Test) which came out in January, and All the Rage, a contemporary, realistic YA that explores the consequences of rape culture. It comes out April 14th.

Kate: When and how did you decide to commit to your career? How does it intersect with your passions?

Courtney: I've always liked telling stories and from the time I was a kid up until my late teens/early twenties, I explored many different mediums to best enable me to do that. First I thought I was meant for the stage. I was a theatre kid, but eventually the politics of it got me down. Then I thought a career in the film industry was where I was headed. I wanted to be an actor, then a director, then a screenwriter and then I decided that wasn't the thing for me after all--so I'd be a photographer instead! And then I thought, no--I'll tell story through music! I'll be a famous pianist! Well, I wasn't good enough for that. Writing was something I'd always done, but it wasn't until I sat down and began writing my very first novel that everything clicked into place. I knew this was how I was supposed to tell stories. I wanted to share those stories so from that point on, publication became my goal. I worked hard and fortunately, my passion became my career.

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

Courtney: I love taking photographs and it definitely influences the way I write. I tend to visualize my books in snapshots and glimpsed moments.

Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Badass
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Courtney: Trusting in my process, especially when I'm starting a new book. So many of my books get written on their own terms and sometimes it takes a while before they tell me what those terms are. I try to remember each book happens how it's supposed to happen, whether or not it's making any sense to me at the time.

Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive? 

Courtney: Good art--whether it be in the form of books, movies, music, video games, paintings, photographs, whatever--inspires me. It makes me want to produce good art.

Kate: How do you deal with negativity?

Courtney: The last couple of years, I've been making more of an effort to not indulge that side of myself. That's not to say I don't have my moments, but I try not to give them so much power over me. The things that tend to put me in a negative frame of mind are usually things beyond my control--but how I choose to respond to them is within my control. So reminding myself of that keeps the negativity from overstaying its welcome . . . most of the time.

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

Courtney: I've failed many things in my life and I'm sure I'm not done yet. Failure is inevitable because no one can succeed 100% of the time. It's just one of those privileges of being alive. Among my failures are the novels I wrote before Cracked Up to Be that will never see publication or the five drafts of All the Rage I had to toss before I finally started getting it right, or the moments I could've been a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter. But I want to talk more about the "bouncing back from failure" part because it's so important. There used to be a time when everything I didn't succeed at felt like the end of the world. I thought my failures were final verdicts on my worth, on my value as a human being. But the beautiful thing about failure is that it often presents with it an opportunity to learn and grow and those are the things that bring you to, or closer to, your successes. And if that's the case, have you really failed? I felt this tremendous weight off my shoulders when I realized that. So for me, less defining are the specific failures I bounced back from than the knowledge that I could bounce back from failure. Because knowing that is what make me to try for the things I want again and again, no matter what the outcome.

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

Courtney: I was a teenager and I had this vintage polyester housewife-looking dress and I just loved it. I loved the way I looked in it and the way it made me feel. One day, I went to a thrift store wearing the dress. I made a beeline for the backroom, which is where they kept all the books, and there was this old man there, a volunteer. I was browsing the shelves when he came up close to me and started to talk. I just wanted to look at the books, undisturbed. He didn't care. I didn't tell him. I felt like it was more important to be a Nice Girl to this man, who was getting closer and closer to me, because from very early on in our lives, girls and women are often encouraged to be nice even if it's at the expense of themselves. Then he started rubbing my shoulder, my arm. He said, "That's a pretty dress," and "You'll be a good wife," and "good for making babies." And he laughed and kept touching and rubbing my shoulder and despite how shocked and sickened I felt, there was that undercurrent of, excuse yourself, but nicely, don't be rude. So I laughed with him. And then I got out of that room and I hated my dress and I hated the way it made me feel.

But after, I couldn't stop thinking about this man and how entitled he felt to me and my space and what he said and did without feeling ashamed or embarrassed--but how ashamed and embarrassed it made me feel. And why my instinct was--even as I was crawling out of my skin, knowing the situation was wrong--was to not make a scene, to be nice, to spare his feelings. Every time I asked, "Why did he . . . ? Why did I . . .?" This bigger picture was revealing itself to me . . .

I'm a feminist and this certainly informs and inspires all of my work. I always want to write about the unique pressures girls face. I want to challenge and deconstruct gender-based stereotypes and expectations. I want a girl who picks up my novels to think about those things, and if she's experienced them, I want her to feel less alone.

Courtney's headcrab recommends
books like Sarah McCarry's fabulous
All Our Pretty Songs
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Courtney: Declare yourself a supporter of women. That's almost too obvious, but it can't be overstated. Let other women know you're there for them and BE there for them. Raise them up. Make sure they're heard. Help them on the path they're carving out for themselves and I promise you, they will be there to help you on yours.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Courtney: Sometimes the biggest obstacle on the road to badassery is yourself--it's that part of you that's afraid of wanting, receiving, giving, being tough, being vulnerable, speaking out and taking up space and owning it. Get out of your own way.


COURTNEY SUMMERS was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBIL award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published three more books–2011 YALSA Top 10 Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book Some Girls Are, 2012 YALSA Quick Pick Fall for Anything, and 2013 YALSA Top 10 Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book This is Not a Test. Her e-novella, Please Remain Calm (a sequel to This is Not a Test) released in January, and her newest novel, All the Rage (April 2015) is already gathering accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Follow Courtney:  /  /  /

Courtney has also generously offered to give away autographed books! 

Just leave a comment telling us who your favorite Badass Ladies are and we'll pick one entry at random to win signed copies of What Goes Around and  This is Not a TestUS/Canada only. And don't forget to follow Badass Ladies You Should Know on Tumblr and Twitter for bonus materials! 


  1. Not to be predictable, but...Courtney Summers definitely qualifies for my list. Also, Laverne Cox - I think she is a freaking brave and brilliant and frighteningly articulate goddess.

  2. What a great interview/profile! Courtney is high on my badass ladies list, of course. A few others are Sara Bareilles and Kelly Jensen, both fiery and feminist and good with words in different ways!

  3. My favorite badass ladies would have to be Ellen Degeneres (no explanation needed) and Ellen Hopkins (she uses her writing to bring a lot of serious issues into the light, so to speak).

  4. There are badasses scattered all throughout the YA genre though I've never read anyone was raw and vibrant as Courtney Summers.

  5. Well, let's see. Badass ladies include Laverne Cox, Amy Poehler, Hayley Hoover, E. Lockhart, and Taylor Swift.

  6. Definitely Courtney Summers! I also think Laurie Halse Anderson is badass, because of the way she approaches serious issues in her work.


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