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QWS Podcast tile S2E5 Jordan Collins. A photo of Jordan Collins and the covers of their two picture books they have written - Where? and Dorothy. A square tile has the logos of Queer Writes Sessions, Words and Nerds Podcast and Blarney Books and Art in Port Fairy
QWS Podcast S2E5 Jordan Collins

QWS Podcast S2E4 – To listen to the podcast click on this link from Words and Nerds here or here.

In this episode Rob chats with Jordan Collins about slam poetry, writing and working with illustrators — and all about their new picture book, Dorothy

Full interview transcript below. Jo from Blarney Books & Art in Port Fairy reviews reviews Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly.

Jordan Collins Books

Dorothy, Illustrated by Myo Yim                                 Where? Illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Jordan Collins Shoutout

Thirsty Sword Lesbians by Evil Hat Productions, tabletop RPG by April Kit Walsh

QWS Podcast S2E5 – Jordan Collins interview transcript

Please note: this interview transcript has been modified for ease of reading.

Rob: Jordan Collins was born in Chicago, Illinois and moved to Australia when they were eight years old. Their heritage is African-American, Greek Australian, meaning that their skin is dark, their hair is curly, and they have spent a large part of their life feeling torn between cultures and expectations growing up. No matter where they found themselves or how they were doing, they could always find home and belonging in the pages of a book.

Now they write to give other people like Jordan a little taste of the home they’ve made for themselves. Dorothy is Jordan’s second picture book with Where? Illustrated by Phil Lesnie, published in mid 2022 with Alan and Unwin, and Dorothy is illustrated by Myo Yim and published by Penguin. Welcome to the show, Jordan.

Jordan: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Rob: Oh, we’re very excited to have you. And we have an opening question that we ask all of our guests, which is, how has your work influenced your identity?

Jordan: It’s definitely a very interesting question because usually you get it the other way around. Right. But I like that question. I think that my work that I get to do as a person who writes things and also occasionally draws things and that sort of thing is getting to explore different parts of my own identity through the work that I do. So a lot of the slam poetry that I’ve always done has been specifically about an issue that I was going through at the time and just kind of using words and language and metaphor in order to work through it.

Rob: And so is slam poetry something that is still very much a part of your life?

Jordan: I would say so I don’t necessarily write a lot of slam poetry in terms of like, putting it down a lot of the time. But I do find that poetry is just kind of the way that I see the world and articulate the world for myself. So like, if I see something, then often there’s like a word or a phrase that’ll come to mind, and then that is, that might become a poem at some point, but for the most part it’s just like, oh, there’s a star like on my ceiling that’s been painted over with landlord white, you know? And that’s just, yeah.

Rob: Yeah.

Jordan: That’s like a, that’s the metaphor. It’s right there. You understand the themes. That’s a poem, you know, <laugh>. Yeah.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll just introduce our listeners to Dorothy, which has your absolutely beautiful and lyrical prose in it and illustrated by Myo Yim. The illustrations are breathtaking as well, so I think it’s just such a beautiful collaboration. So that’s Dorothy Picture book. So I’m just going to read the blurb from the Penguin website, Dorothy, a captivating and lyrical own Voices picture book, exploring homecoming belonging and identity with exquisite illustrations capturing the essence of a journey of self-acceptance. Dorothy Wears Doc Martin’s clicking her toes together once, twice, three times. A modern comparison to Dorothy’s journey of Finding Home in the Wizard of Oz. Congratulations Jordan. It’s absolutely beautiful. How did this book come about?

Jordan: So it’s a pretty interesting story. So originally it was performed as a slam poem at the Poets Picnic. When I was in high school. We did like a slam poetry unit in class. And I wrote a poem in class. And then every year after that, my teacher made me do poet’s picnic <laugh>. So she would make me go and write a poem every time. And in one of the two of the performances that I did there was like a publisher who was there who then asked me if I wanted to turn the poem that I had made into a picture book. And that’s basically how that happened.

Rob: <Laugh>. Wow. Yeah. And, and was that the same with where, because where, I mean, if anyone hasn’t read Where? get onto it, such a fantastic book. So, because I think Where? starts off with a picture from the picnic, is that right?

Jordan: Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah, Phil did the lovely illustrations for that one. And I, yeah they put some of their friends in the front as well, which was quite nice. <Laugh>. But yeah, so that was also one of the poems that I performed at Poets Picnic as well. I think I did, I want to say four, I think I did four poems.

Rob: Yeah. So that teacher sounds pretty incredible. They were, were they quite or almost like a mentor or support to get you into the writing world or would you, yeah.

Jordan: Yeah, yeah, I’d say so. Mostly just pushing me a lot of the time to do things that as a grumpy teenager I didn’t want to do, you know, <laugh>. But yeah, so the dedication in Where? to Christie Godby and Anna Buckley, those were my two English teachers that I had in high school because they were the ones that encouraged me to write, which is what they had me change the dedication to instead of forcing me to write <laugh> <laugh>. Cause they thought that that didn’t sound quite as nice.

Rob: <Laugh>. Oh, that’s brilliant. And also kudos to you for, as a teenager in particular, you know, performing in front of people like that must have taken a lot of courage.

Jordan: Yeah, it was pretty, it was always very difficult. Every time I would go up I would be shaking so terribly. They had this podium that you had to stand behind. And I was always so grateful for that podium because I could put my paper on it and I could see my knees buckling <laugh> from just being so nervous.

Rob: So are picture books, is this a medium that you want to stay in? Because I think picture books seem to have, for a lot of listeners, you know, there’s people who write picture books. I’ve got my first one coming out in September, so I get the 500 word limit. But I love that. I think having that constraint is quite exciting in a way because really, you know, every word absolutely counts. So, yeah. So is it a space that you want to stay in? Because I’m sure you’ve heard it a lot in terms of people’s thinking that picture books are easy to write, and I think them and poetry are <laugh> are some of the hardest things to write. What’s, yeah. What’s your take on that?

Jordan: Yeah, I think that I would certainly not be opposed to writing another picture book. I think because of the way that I ended up in, you know, writing and becoming an author, I think that that has made it a little bit of like, it wasn’t ever something that I considered with the writing that I was doing. I was just writing a poem to perform it. And so I haven’t really written anything else for another picture book because I just, I never thought that I was going to be writing picture books, if that makes sense.

Rob: Yeah, no, no, it does. It does. Like, is one of your projects like a collection of poetry or what’s sort of, what’s your next writing project?

Jordan: Yeah, I think maybe a collection of poetry. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cuz a lot of what I’ve written is really because poetry is my way of handling a lot of really big feelings and trying to come to terms and understand things. Yeah. I think I’ve started to write a lot of different little pieces and tidbits of like, stuff about gender identity and sexuality and stuff like that. And I think that that would be something that maybe if I wrote another picture book, I would want it to be about, just about that processing of identity beyond just ethnicity and growing up and that kind of thing. And more of a kind of yeah, like queer story to give to children because it’s one of those things that as a queer kid you always wish that you had, you know, <laugh>, so.

Rob: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And it just, I think the, where we are at the moment, culturally, I think the more resources like that and the more stories, ways to educate parents as well as for kids to see themselves, the better really. That sounds, that sounds incredible. Another question that I’ve started to be asked, which is great, please, listeners keep asking is <laugh>, which I’m sure you’ve been asked a lot, is about the relationship between your pros and the illustrator. So for Where? and for Dorothy, how were they sort of similar or different, the experiences? Do you get to collaborate and talk to each other or how?

Jordan: So I think when I, for Where? I think that there was a little bit more collaboration in terms of like, I would be, I was mostly very okay with pretty much anything that was happening. But I think one of the main things with Where? was that at one point Phil came to me with two ideas and they said, would you like me to kind of do this like sort of space adventure where you know you’re going throughout the cosmos or would you like to maybe do that thing about like, having these microaggressions that are kind of expanded into the sort of surrealist kind of thing. And yeah, I think I sent him back a message that just said, I want to go to Space <laugh>

Rob: <Laugh>.

Jordan: And they said, I’m really glad that you said that because I had no idea how I was going to do the other idea. So thanks.

Rob: Oh, the space illustrations are just beautiful in Where?

Jordan: Yeah. Yeah, they did a gorgeous job with all of that and with Dorothy as well, with Myo. So usually the way that it would kind of work was that I would just receive emails, like drafts of different drawings and stuff, and then I would give my feedback on them or like, which ones I preferred. So one of the things about Dorothy was in the earlier concepts of them, the original kind of drawing of the Dorothy character was more, what’s the word? Was more based around the actual like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. So she had like the little like shoes. So like, it still looked, you know, like a little brown girl. But she had like, the shoes were like the shoes that she has at the Wizard of Oz. And I was like, no, she has to have the Doc Martins, you have to give her the Doc Martins. It’s very important. So yeah, that got changed very quickly. But most of my role in the illustrations was kind of just looking at things and going, that looks amazing. Thank you <laugh>.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And honestly, yeah, they’re so beautiful. Like, like I said, both books. And you just sort of depend on it as well as, you know, obviously read it all the way through because yeah, each page with your words and the illustrations is Yeah. You just wanna frame each one actually <laugh>.

Jordan: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got one Myo gave me, so she came to the book launch that we had for Where? and she gave me a framed drawing from Dorothy. That’s just, I can see it right now from where I’m sitting <laugh>. She’s always watching me when I go to sleep.

Rob: Oh, that’s beautiful. Oh, fantastic. So what, what is your hope for Dorothy being out in the world? And I guess the same for when you had Where?

Jordan: I think my main hope is at this point just making other people feel a little bit less alone. That kind of searching for identity and also making them feel like it’s okay to, to not really have such clear cut answers on those things. Because, you know, we’re all, we’re all human and we’re all people and we’re very infinitely complex beings. We’re, you know, a bunch of tapioca pearls and a saline solution that’s hallucinating hard enough that we invented calculus. And like our experiences are so unusual, you know, because of that.

Rob: Brilliant. Yeah.

Jordan: <Laugh>. So I think that that’s something that I kind of want to impart to especially younger people that I wish that people maybe had done for me when I was younger as well. Yeah, that’s my hope with Dorothy.

Rob: You know, I can just imagine a young kid who’s, you know, who’s learned how to read the story is so affirming and it’s like a hug really. And just letting them know that they aren’t alone. And I think you’ve done an incredible job with that. Thank you, Jordan.

Jordan: Thank you.

Rob: A question we ask all our guests is a writing question, any advice you have or top tips for writers out there and, and I guess we’re, we’re, you know, emerging writers, beginning writers.

Jordan: I think probably my best piece of advice is just to write <laugh>. And keep writing, which is often the hardest thing. I know for me personally, I’ve never had a schedule or a process or anything like that because writing is just something that I do. But I think that that’s equally as important and valid as people who set themselves like a certain amount of words that they do every day. As long as you’re getting something down, if you have an idea, putting it to paper or into the notes app on your phone or whatever you can do. I think that the most important thing about writing is just to actually write <laugh> mostly.

Rob: Absolutely. Yeah. And I love hearing that. So is that your, what do you do if you’re out and about and you know, you have a word or a metaphor come to you? Do you put it in your notes on the phone?

Jordan: Yeah, I just, yeah, I just open up the notes app on my phone. I write it down before I had a phone back when I was in school, I would carry a sharpie with me and every time I had an idea I would just write it on my arm, <laugh>. So I’d go to school just covered in like, pen from all these words I’d written on my hands.

Rob: Oh, I love that. That’s great. And also on the show, Jordan, we have a shout out question and would you like to shout out any LGBTIQAplus artists, books, art shows, organizations, social media accounts?

Jordan: I think the main thing I would like to shout out is specifically to do with the Table Talk Role Playing community and the amount of good and interesting and diverse representation that they have given the queer community. There’s one particular book that’s called Thirsty Sword Lesbians that I really appreciate by April Kit Walsh. That I think is just a great exploration for queer and non-queer people to enjoy and play around with. Yeah, that’s, that’s my shoutout <laugh>.

Rob: Brilliant, brilliant. I love that. So we’ll put that in our show notes for the episodes. Thank you.

And our closing question for you Jordan Collins, is what is your hope for the LBTIQA Plus communities?

Jordan: I think my hope is probably as a community, not just wanting to be accepted, but also being accepting within ourselves and to the other people around us. And not needing so badly to put ourselves into labels and boxes and things like that. And understanding kind of the way that we handle language and gender and all of those things. And being more just kind of accepting of ourselves and each other is my hope.

Rob: Beautiful. Thank you so much. Thank you, Jordan. So that’s Dorothy out by Penguin picture book by Jordan Collins, illustrated by Myo Yim. Thank you so much again, Jordan, for being on QWS Podcast.

Jordan: Okay. Thank you so much for having me.

Check out our Season 1 QWS Podcast episodes here.