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November 4, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Marieke Nijkamp

Kate Hart

Marieke Nijkamp's debut young adult novel will release in January 2016, but you probably recognize her from all over the web: She's the founder of DiversifYA, a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books, a member of the YA Misfits, and an amazing all-around advocate for diversity in kidlit. I'm so happy to feature her as this week's Badass Lady You Should Know.

Be sure to enter the giveaway: Marieke is paying it forward with a pre-order of one of her favorite books!


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

Marieke: I'm an author. (And saying that out loud still gives me such a thrill.) My debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends will be out in the world on January 5th, 2016. [ed's note: Enter to win a copy on Goodreads!] It's the story of a school shooting. The entire story takes place over the course of fifty-four minutes and follows four teens, who all have a reason to fear the boy with the gun.

I'm also a diversity advocate, with a focus on queer issues and disability issues, since those are my lived experiences. I speak a lot about representation, discrimination, and equality.

And honestly, the two are two sides of the same coin for me. Growing up with a disability meant that there were many weeks, months, years, when books were an escape. But those books rarely included disabled characters, let alone disabled characters in hero roles (or in any positive light). I started telling stories to give myself a world that included people like me. I started telling stories, because they were my way to understand the world. (Fun fact, this is actually a somewhat common coping method for girls with autism, and one of the reasons why it goes underdiagnosed. We create elaborate worlds and play out various scenarios, so that when we're faced with those situations, we have play-pretend experience to fall back upon.)

Going from there to wanting to share my stories, my experiences, my understanding with the world did not seem like a wild leap. It wasn't easy-in fact, it was a long, meandering journey. But there were always stories to tell and stories to keep me going.

Ireland 2007. I backpacked around the 
country for a month with one of my best 
friends, and we ended our journey in Dublin,
where we arrived just in time for the release 
of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This photo was taken on a bridge across 
the Liffey, after a long night of reading and 
a day of wandering around Dublin in a near 
daze. (We somehow ended up in a church 
where a priest gave us a private guided tour, 
that, among other things, included 
mummified cats.)
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Marieke: For a long time, my biggest challenge was people telling me I couldn't do something, that I wasn't good enough, worthy enough, able enough. That I wasn't enough. These days, I see that as an invitation to prove them wrong. (Let it never be said that I'm not stubborn. It may be one of my better qualities.)

Instead, my biggest challenge is not always being able to get out of my own head. Proving others wrong is an easy thing compared to proving yourself wrong, and having entire worlds inside my head often also means having a multitude of scenarios of failure, fear, and still, of never quite belonging. Sometimes *I* don't think I'll ever be enough.

And there's no easy solution to that, but I try to embrace it as motivation. Because I'm not sure what enough is. I'm not sure if it's attainable. But if I turn it from an obstacle into a point on the horizon, then that gives me focus, to work hard, to love fiercely, to live without regrets, and to even the road for others where I can.

And some days, I deal with it the same way I did when I was tiny: by escaping into stories.

New York 2015. This photo was taken by Nicole Brinkley
of YA Interrobangat Book Expo America and my first
official signing. It's both travel and a dream come true. 

Simply that and all of that.
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Marieke: What makes me incredibly proud is seeing people connect to my stories. This Is Where It Ends isn't officially out in the world yet, but ARCs are floating around, and it's such intense joy to hear from readers who fell in love with characters, who used the book to start conversations, who found themselves among the pages. I can hardly wrap my mind around it, but it makes me so, so happy.

So too does seeing people find their voice. Whether it's friends or people I mentor or people I otherwise work with. Whether it's in writing or in advocacy or, generally, in scaling obstacles. Figuring out who you are and what you want to say and what your stories are is the greatest adventure. And to be able to be a part of that with support and trust is the best compliment

Wales 2009. For several weeks during the 
summer, I couchsurfed my way around the UK 
and ended up in Cardiff for a couple of days, 
where I spent my nights in an abandoned care 
home in the woods. During the day, I visited 
Torchwood, the Doctor Who sights, and geeked 
out at a John Barrowman concert. This photo
 is probably one of the most quintessentially 
me photos in existence. Geeky. Disabled. Queer. 
And yes, I am actually blond.
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Marieke:: Every reminder of inequality of rape culture of the fetishizing of queer women of gender-based diagnostic problems of sexual violence of victim blaming of the objectification of people of of of is a defining moment for me. A reminder of how far we've still to go. And that is especially the case in the context of marginalization. Or at least, it should be. But too often, too easily, feminism is white, middle class, cishet, non-disabled. And that in itself may well be the biggest danger to feminism. Equality begets equality, but equality also demands equality. Feminism, like other equality fights, demands anti-racism, anti-bigotry, anti-transphobia, anti-ableism. Without that, it's just a theory for the select few that further strengthens existing power imbalances.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Marieke: Listen generously and do not talk over people. Boost voices and educate yourself. And above all, tell your story, even when it seems you aren't heard. I promise you, there are people who will listen generously to you too.

From Marieke:
"I’d love to give away a copy (preorder) of Dahlia Adler’s JUST VISITING,
because it’s such a wonderful girl-friendship book. <3"


Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016.

website  //  twitter //  instagram

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