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Lit Chat: Meet Shannon Gibney

Posted on Wed, Jul 20 2016 9:00 am by Molly Fuller

 

By the time we met for coffee at 10 a.m., Shannon Gibney had already had a busy day. A friend’s job was on the chopping block for what amounts to a civic duty, and Shannon wasn’t going to let her get fired over it. Crystal Spring, a Washburn teacher, was arrested in May essentially for monitoring the arrest of a black man (not illegal, btw). Minneapolis Public Schools got wind of the arrest and marked her for termination, pending a vote from the board of education, for her “unbecoming” behavior, though she hadn’t been convicted of a crime (and all charges were later dropped). The school board vote was scheduled for the following Tuesday, and Shannon had been working to mobilize the community in protest of Crystal’s firing. (P.S., the community support was significant, the school board voted the right way, and Crystal was reinstated as an MPS employee.)

I thought this story was a great way to introduce you to Shannon because it gets at the root of her work: for her, activism and writing are inextricably linked. Writing is a vehicle she uses to illuminate issues that need a place in the public sphere, and one of my favorite things about Shannon is the multitude of formats and genres she does this in; from her journalism to her creative writing, activism is the basis of her writing life. It’s in no small part the reason she worked at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the state’s oldest black newspaper—which is also woman-owned—where she served as managing editor when she moved to Minneapolis in 2002. It informs what she has taught in her classrooms, from North Hennepin Technical College to her current home at MCTC. It is an integral part of all of her accolades and fellowships, from Bush in 2005 to McKnight in 2015. And, of course, activism has a place in her current creative writing.

At a time where important books on race are flying off the shelves— including A Good Time for the Truth, which features one of her essays—I encourage you to also read See No Color, Shannon’s debut YA novel andwinner of a Minnesota Book Award this year. Shannon began writing it during her MFA program and worked on it for the better half of a decade—for this book, the journey was as important as the destination, as the process of writing it was also where she developed her skills as a writer. The novel follows Alex Kirtridge, a transracial adoptee, as she navigates the challenges of belonging as a person whose identity is split between many cultures and communities. The books helps to draw attention to a topic rarely discussed (how many protagonists can you name that are mixed race with white adoptive parents?), contributes to the diverse book movement, and helps to normalize the appearance of minority protagonists in YA. Shannon is now at work on an ambitious book tentatively titled Dream Country, following generations of a Liberian-American family over a period of 150 years. 

Dream Country is just one of Shannon’s projects, as a hallmark of her character is that she’s always working on multiple things at a time, including her teaching commitments. She’ll be teaching a point of view in YA fiction class at the Loft July 30th [link to: ], as well as a YA fiction class in the Master Monday’s series this fall. Sign up if you want to learn from a bonafide fount of YA knowledge! And to stay updated on her ever-growing list of activities, visit her website and follow her on twitter @GibneyShannon. 


Molly Fuller is the outreach and development manager at the University of Minnesota Press and former production editor of Coffee House Press. When not working, she can usually be found with her nose in book or crossword puzzle, or wrangling a wild animal someone misleadingly told her was a dog. You can follow Molly on Twitter @tamalebruce.

Editor's Note: This is Molly's last Lit Chat blog post for the Loft, as she turns her focus to other wonderful literary work and projects. We are grateful for Molly's countless insightful conversations highlighting our vibrant literary community, and wish her the best in her future literary adventures! Lit Chat will continue; more on that in the coming weeks. Until then, please join us in giving Molly a hearty thank you!