"These days, no conversation about literature or publishing is complete without a discussion of diversity and equity," says Léonicka Valcius, this week's Badass Lady You Should Know. Léonicka is a tireless advocate for inclusive literature, leading important conversations online and elsewhere, and I'm honored to share some of her wisdom here. (Special thanks to the also-badass Kelly Jensen for connecting us!)
Kate: When and how did you decide to commit to your career? What path(s) led you there?
Léonicka: One summer a few years ago, I was washing the dishes and crying alone because I had no idea what to do with my life. Then I did the most cliché thing ever: I followed my passions. I’ve been reading since I was a toddler. I was that kid who would give adults heart-attacks, crossing the street with her nose in a book. As I grew older, I wrote my own stories and edited stories my friends wrote. By the time I was in college, I was beta-reading for friends and writers I’d met in forums.
When I found a copy of The Writer’s Handbook from 1972, I was fascinated by the section called “The Editorial and Business Side.” It was the first time I’d thought of reading and critiquing as a thing people got paid to do! I googled publishing houses in Canada and cold-called their HR departments, asking how to get a job. All of them suggested publishing school so I enrolled in Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program.
I’m lucky. I live with my parents and was able to take out a line of credit to cover tuition fees and cost of living while I focused on school and networking full time. To complete my work placement requirement I had an internship at the Rights Factory Literary Agency. During that internship I went to a book event that set the course for my career.
After a (thankfully brief) stint of unemployment, a few terrible odd jobs, and another (great) internship, I got my current job. I am a book buyer. It’s exactly as awesome as it sounds. I meet with publishers to go over their list of children’s books and pick which ones to sell across the country. I then create marketing pieces both in print and online to tell people how fantastic those books are!
Kate: Describe your current projects. How do they intersect with your passions?
Léonicka: I’m pretty much a workaholic so I have many irons in the fire. Last year, I started a Twitter hashtag called #DiverseCanLit to have an ongoing discussion about diversity in Canadian literature. It was very well received so this year I plan to expand that into a larger resource.
I’m also very excited to be on the planning committee for a book festival dedicated entirely to diversity in literature. I can’t say much yet but if you’re interested in getting involved or donating, email me [firstname.lastname@example.org]!
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?
Léonicka: Nope. I am all books all the time. LOL! I’m only slightly kidding. I love stories and books are certainly not the only medium to tell them. The same elements of storycraft that draw me to books (compelling characters and mind-blowing world-building) pull me into other art forms.
Janelle Monae’s music creates an amazing world. It takes me to an intergalactic future that is fun and sexy and exciting. I imagine a movie set in Cindi Mayweather’s Metropolis: a road-trip movie about 4 girls bonding on their last summer before college with a trip across the galaxy in their rented spaceship.
Beyonce’s music is all about characters to me. I have an entire file of story snippets based on her discography. For example, I listen to “End of Time” but imagine it as the song of Black sirens greeting the captain of an invading ship.
I do the same for TV, theatre, films, and dance. I settled on a career in books because they were my first love but I’m fascinated by storytelling in all forms.
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?
Léonicka: One of my biggest challenges is not having the skillset to execute some of my big ideas. But that’s why I like to collaborate with other like-minded people. On Twitter, I put out a call for women of color with awesome projects to get in touch with me if they need help or just some encouragement. If you’re a woman of color working on something awesome, I invite you to do the same!
Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive?
Léonicka: I surround myself with brilliant, creative people. I love to watch people excel in their field and it inspires me to be better in mine. As for productivity, I’m a work in progress. My productivity increases when I log off of Twitter. I live and die by my to-do list, and truth be told, I could stand to scale that back a bit. I love the high of crossing an item off the list but the joy of doing something spontaneous and exhilarating is irreplaceable.
Kate: How do you deal with negativity?
Léonicka: I’m getting much better at setting boundaries. I feed off the energy of others so when an environment is overwhelmingly toxic I do everything I can to leave. That means logging off the social media site, unfriending the negative people (online and in real life), or physically leaving the space.
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?
Léonicka: Ask them what their goals are and how you can help. Listen to them and give them the tools they need succeed without you. Respect their agency. Respect that maybe they don’t want your help.
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?
Léonicka: I was in JROTC in high school and the one principle I came away with was “Know yourself and seek self-improvement.” To me that means, constantly striving to be the best “you” you can be and give the world everything you have to offer.
Léonicka Valcius is a Toronto-based publishing professional who advocates for diversity in literature and the publishing industry. You can learn more at leonicka.com, follow her on Twitter, or check out her work at The Toast, the CBC, Open Book Toronto, Strange Horizons, and more.
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