Conversation with Litwin author, Stacy Russo with Maegan Jenkins
This is the next installment of our Author Interview Series with Library Students where prospective information professionals meet with authors to discuss the research process and engage in a deep dive on important topics of the field from concept to publication.
Conversation with Stacy Russo
This interview was conducted by Maegan Jenkins, a dual degree student in Costume Studies at New York University and Library and Information Science at Long Island University.
Can you speak a little bit about activism and identifying as an activist? How has your activism informed your profession as a librarian and as a writer?
Stacy Russo: I see them as combined, for sure. A goal has kind of been for me to make my life more whole in a way – not segmented into different parts. For me, becoming a librarian felt like more than just a job. This is what I’m really passionate about. Ultimately, being a librarian means serving people and building community and I feel like it’s much bigger than me. It’s about trying to make the world a better place.
A lot of the work I do as a writer is tied to activism, including my oral history and storytelling projects. It’s all about people’s stories and communities – especially trying to amplify the stories of people who are not celebrated enough or are sometimes even silenced – that’s a big part of my work.
I published a book with Litwin Books where I compiled the protest essays of my late professor, June Jordan. She was a big blessing in my life.
Can you tell me about working with June Jordan and how you came about compiling Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from the Progressive?
Stacy: I first met June Jordan when I was a student at Berkeley, and this was around 1993. She’s very known for a class she taught called Poetry for the People. I didn’t take that class, but I took a women’s studies class with her. I was so shy and I suffered from impostor syndrome so I didn’t really cultivate a relationship with her, but I did have a few moments with her that really impacted me.
She was such a fierce activist and a major figure, and I could really tell that being an activist was integral to all aspects of her life.
What did you learn from her and how did that bring you to her archive?
Stacy: I really fell in love with her idea that anyone can be a poet – that we all have that in us. The curriculum that she taught at UC Berkeley, she also taught to certain students and they in turn would go into the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco to teach it. She would align herself with whoever she felt was suppressed – it didn’t matter the gender, the religion, or the ethnicity of the group.
Years after my class with her, I received a grant to do research with her personal papers that are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. I was there for a week and I was really trying to answer the question, “How does somebody become such a great teacher?” While I was looking through her papers, I just happened to come across some of her columns that she wrote for The Progressive magazine. Then I wondered, “Are these all preserved?” I guess that’s kind of something a librarian would think. I was so thankful for Rory Litwin embracing the project! When Rory first heard about the project, he asked me such a beautiful question: “Who is June Jordan?” and then the book was born.