The student news site of Plainfield High School Central Campus

The Fielder

The student news site of Plainfield High School Central Campus

The Fielder

The student news site of Plainfield High School Central Campus

The Fielder

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Author Leah Johnson visits library, speaks about growing up queer, coming of age stories, and gay pickles

Stonewall Award-winning author Leah Johnson visited the Plainfield Public Library last spring and will open her new bookstore, Loudmouth Books, in Indianapolis tomorrow, on Sept. 30.

One student who attended, Katie Vidmar, junior, described it as “really laid back.” 

“The most memorable moment was when we talked about cucumbers,” Jackie Casillas, junior, said. This was in reference to Johnson saying “I am an anti-cucumber truther. Big cucumbers convinced us for too long that they need to be used at spas on eyes, or in water. Big cucumber is a lie,” and “Pickles are not cucumbers. Pickles are queer. Pickles are gay culture”.

The visit was virtual and joined by other local libraries. Even then “There weren’t a lot of people so she was able to talk to all of us individually,” Vidmar said. “It seemed like she really genuinely wanted to connect with her readers.”

“Writing is only one part of my job, the biggest and my favorite part is getting to talk to young people about books, that is what I write the books for,” Johnson said at the visit. 

“She was a really sweet person who has so much passion for writing, getting her stories out into the world, and connecting with other people,” Vidmar said.

“‘You Should See Me in a Crown’ is sort of autobiographical. Writers say it all the time but I really want to write the book I wanted to read when I was 16. I grew up in an area with a lot of straight rich white girl books and it was hard for me to connect to all of these stories. I want to write a book for a 16-year-old me, and I hope its existence will make 16-year-olds now feel less alone,” Johnson said.

“I was really afraid that if I came out I’d lose my family and my faith,” Johnson said. She ended up coming out to her mother right after they watched a queer Broadway show, “The Prom” to celebrate her book’s release. 

  “She danced in the aisle and was having the time of her life but I was crying the whole time,” Johnson said.

Afterward, they went to a Dallas BBQ in Times Square. 

  “When my mom asked what was wrong I told her what the book was really about,” Johnson said. “But I came out at the least classy place on earth. BBQ sauce on my fingers, people fighting next to me, the entire place smells horrible and in the middle of all this chaos I blurted out: ‘Mom I don’t want you to be disappointed in me but I’m not straight.’ And my mom, mid chicken wing to the mouth said ‘there is nothing you could do that would make me love you any less, you will always be my daughter – I don’t care who you love.’”

Johnson did not start out as a fiction writer. As a teenager, she had hoped to be a journalist, specifically a political reporter.

“Right at the beginning of college BLM blew up and I was the only black person in my newsroom, so I was handling most of the reporting. I was sad and exhausted all the time. I wanted to tell important stories but not in a way that broke my heart every time I went to work,” Johnson said.

“I wanted to be a journalist so I could take the stories of people who were used to being the other and make them get the center,” Johnson said. “Everybody said journalism is dying, and one thing about me is I’m gonna make money.” So, Johnson found another way to tell the stories nobody else was telling.

“I was raised in Indiana; y’all know the vibe. I was often the only black kid in those spaces,” Johnson said. “If you’ve ever felt different for any reason then you know how it is to be in a room where you feel like the other.”

In the end, she went to grad school for a fiction writing program in New York. 

  “It was the best thing I could have done,” Johnson said. “In New York, all the things that made me feel different, other, and lonely growing up weren’t so weird and unusual in the world,” Johnson said. “I was able to explore without being embarrassed or ashamed of the person I had always been.”

“I was working 3 jobs when I first moved to New York,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know anything about the industry, I didn’t know how to write a book even though I went to grad school and spent $100,000 learning how to write a book; It’s very hard to be creative when you have to think about paying your rent.”

Johnson had some strategies when she struggled to write. Her “secret to writer’s block” is “Stop writing, A lot of people say you need to sit down and write every day. ‘You got to do this, you go to do that.’ I don’t. I don’t believe it,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away and engage with art that makes you feel inspired.”

“I decided to tell a story about queer people, queer teenagers in particular. I think a lot of straight people get the fun high school media, first kiss, and heartbreak, but when I was growing up, queer kids didn’t get that,” Johnson said. “I didn’t experience it until I was in my 20s. It felt great to take back the stories I didn’t see myself in as a kid.”

Johnson is proud to be a success story. 

  “I get to do this for a living, and I get my cool little gay book and my cool little gay life and my adorable dogs who are not gay.” But she still says, “I’m just a normal person who writes gay little books sometimes.”

Last February Johnson was proud to announce a new book deal, co-written with George Johnson (no relation), author of “All Boys Aren’t Blue”.  

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