Growing up, 22-year-old Diné (Navajo) poet Kinsale Drake (she/they) wanted to connect more deeply with literature, specifically Native American literature. And, like a lot of young self-described Indigenous “book nerds,” she wanted to talk about it with other Native girls.
Now, as a published poet with a Yale degree under her belt, the former National Student Poet and poetry workshop instructor has created NDN Girls Book Club — officially launching in April — not only to fulfill a childhood dream for herself but also to open the door for Indigenous youth who want to see themselves in literature — and even write those books themselves.
“NDN Girls Book Club has been something I’ve been dreaming about for a while,” Drake tells In The Know by Yahoo. “It’s something I would have loved as a young person. I wish that I had Native people I could have connected with to talk about art and literature, because I grew up not knowing the wealth of Native authors that existed until later on.”
Drake points to school reading lists and book club picks that have often sidelined Native authors in favor of more Eurocentric writers. Take one look at Time’s top 100 novels of all time, published in 2010, and you can understand why Native readers, and Indigenous youth in particular, might have often felt overlooked. (That’s not to mention all of the harmful stereotypes that exist in literature and beyond.)
“We know from studies that have been done, for example, that seeing harmful representations of ourselves in literature and media has actual detriments on our mental health as young Native people,” Drake says.
‘Native Girls Do It Better!!!’
That’s why the poet, who also founded the BIPOC-centered online magazine Changing Wxman Collective, is eager to uplift Native writers both established and emerging. With NDN Girls Book Club, Drake and her partners ship bright pink boxes filled with modern novels and books of poetry by mostly queer and femme Native authors along with fun goodies like iridescent stickers of Hello Kitty or illustrations that cheekily say “Native Girls Do It Better!!!,” all creating a dreamy book-nerd-meets-cool-girl aesthetic.
There’s even cool merch on the way, dropping March 24, that includes the organization’s signature pink sweatshirt.
NDN Girls Book Club partnerships
Drake’s vision has come to fruition with Venmo donations and funding from the First Peoples Fund, an organization based in Rapid City, S.D., that aims “to support Native artist-entrepreneurs and culture bearers.”
“Kinsale has a record of creating successful and engaging youth-oriented programming and we’re elated to support the launch of the NDN Girls Book Club,” Heidi K. Brandow (Diné & Kānaka Maoli), communications manager for First Peoples Fund, tells In The Know via email. “We are certain this program will provide a dynamic platform for Native artists and culture bearers to further establish a community centered on creativity and art.”
Drake has also partnered with Indigenous-owned bookstores, including the California-based Quiet Quail Books, to purchase and distribute these books to NDN Girls Book Club members for free and help stock tribal libraries.
“It has been an honor to assist Kinsale and her team to supply all kinds of Native literature, children’s books, genre fiction, Environmental non-fiction, and even more to folks!” Quiet Quail Books founder Carolann Jane Duro (Maara’yam & Kumeyaay descendant) tells In The Know via email. “Attending their first book club meeting, I saw the evidence of Kinsale and her team getting a bunch of us Native women together to validate, support, cheer on, and connect was fantastic.”
Native people telling Native stories
But that’s not all. Drake, who has led poetry and zine workshops at Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn, Wash., and Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, Calif., will also be planning free pop-up workshops and author talks in various cities. These workshops give girls the opportunity to craft their own stories on their own terms.
“They get to center themselves in any stories that they’re telling, and they get to see positive representations of themselves in literature. They can be, you know, adventurers and superheroes,” Drake says. “They don’t have to just be some kind of tragic stereotype or narrative as they’ve been written by non-Native authors.”
That’s why, Drake stresses, any Indigenous peoples should feel at home at NDN Girls Book Club events. Allies too. After all, her goal is to support Native voices on and off the page.
“Anybody who wants to find community in this space is welcome. I say NDN girls, but that’s because I’m an NDN girl and I was a little NDN girly. That’s why I named it NDN Girls Book Club, because I always think of myself as a little kid and what kind of book club I would have wanted. But for me, girlies is anybody.”
As Drake looks ahead to the April launch of NDN Girls Book Club — during National Poetry Month, of course — she also thinks about how she’s come full circle. She tells In The Know about the fan pages she used to run in middle school as well as the Instagram account for a Native character from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.
“Now some of my best friends are people that used to run accounts like that, and they were also Native and they also didn’t have representation. And so like we were each other’s representation in that world,” she says. “And that to me is the most amazing thing about this.”
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