Editor’s Note: See Jane Write now publishes articles and personal essays by writers who identify as women, non-binary folks, and our allies. Learn more here.
By: Courtney Nicole
Just as the late, great Toni Morrison told us to write the book we wanted to read, Kibby Araya created the online platform she couldn’t find. Kibby is the creator of She Lit, a book blog about women writers and their work.
Kibby’s love of storytelling began when she was a child. When she was just six years old, Kibby started reading the dictionary after receiving one for Christmas. It’s how she fell in love with weaving words together to create stories. Her fascination with the English language led to a passion for reading and creative writing. Growing up, she was a fan of Judy Blume and Ann M. Martin, but her father’s enthusiasm for the news also captured her. Her family would read the newspaper, and watch local and international news together. Wanting to write other people’s stories led Kibby to pursue a career in journalism. After graduating from journalism school, she realized that her love for creative writing still existed, and she decided to tap back into her creative outlet.
This past spring, Kibby was announced as the winner in the 2022 Young Adult Fiction category of the Black Creative Fund Revisions Workshop, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. Her winning submission is a social justice novel set in the 1990s. In addition to a monetary award, Kibby was able to work with an editor and participate in monthly workshops held by editors and agents to discuss the publishing industry and how to make better revisions.
Today, Kibby is a news editor for an education technology company.
In this conversation, Kibby discusses the founding of She Lit and why it’s important for her to highlight women’s written work.
You began She Lit while working as a news editor. What advice do you have for other writers contemplating leaning into their craft while also working a 9 – 5?
I’ve always been an efficient worker. I am usually done by six, or so, and I would come back home and eat dinner and chill out but I was kind of wired to do a little bit more and that’s how I got more into writing short stories and novels. I know some writers wake up early or stay up late. After work was done I wanted something that was fun for me to do and productive, and for me that was writing stories and practicing the craft. I don’t have a fine arts degree so I did not learn this in school. I would do things whenever I could find the time – at least an hour or a half hour a day – while still working, eating, exercising, and doing everything I needed to do.
You started She Lit as a personal blog discussing your journey as a novelist, and have transformed it into a website recognizing female writers and their work. How did you decide to make this transition?
I’m from Sacramento and I was living there after I finished graduate school, and started to get back into creative writing, and there weren’t any events or opportunities to network with other writers. When I moved to Los Angeles there were so many of those types of events. I knew there were other writers, in the same boat as I had been in Sacramento, not having the resources that were available in L.A. I started blogging about going to weekly workshops and meeting authors during their L.A. book tours. When I started focusing more on my craft I realized I had to read more books. I think a lot of writers forget to read books while they’re writing. I wanted to talk about the books I was reading. I wanted to deconstruct stories better, which helped me as a writer, construct my stories better. Also, I love TV and a lot of books were being adapted to TV and movies in some way. I like talking about that and comparing the book and TV versions, and it kind of just went from there. It also incorporates my news interest. I’m not reporting per se, but I am pulling from different sources and putting together a blog post that I don’t think would be on mainstream media.
You mentioned workshops. Do you have tips for people who are looking for workshops in their area, or trying to tap into their local writing community?
I use meetup.com, I think it’s still recovering from the pandemic but there are a lot of groups there. Look for like-minded people, but also look for people who look more like you and read what you read. I have also used Shut Up & Write in the past. Another piece of advice is, I wouldn’t pay for a workshop where the instructor does not have a book published by a big publisher or a smaller imprint. If they haven’t published, they can’t tell you about the querying, editing, or publishing process. They don’t have to be famous – a lot of authors are not famous – but you want someone who knows the processes well and can help you.
She Lit covers an array of written work by women in literature, television & film. Why is it important to you to elevate the voices of women?
Before I started reading a lot more as a writer, whenever someone recommended a book to me it was always a book written by a man. It might be a good book, but I realized I was reading way more books by men. Sometimes when you are reading a book by a woman it’s not taken as seriously, especially if you’re reading women’s fiction. It’s downgraded as Chick-lit or a beach read, and those are the most popular books. The romance genre is the top genre, but no one really talks about that. There’s just such an array of books by women and I felt like I wasn’t reading enough of them. I could read an intellectual, non-fiction book, but I could also read a Chick-lit book that’s done well. After I started blogging, the industry changed a little bit. I do feel like diversity has come more to the forefront of the publishing industry. Now people feel like they’re always seeing books promoted, that were written by women, but that’s just changed in about the last five years.
Do you see your writing as a form of social activism, especially with the rise of book bans today?
I didn’t, but then I started seeing negative comments on social media about book bans, and they sounded like a script, there’s like a script just going around on the internet that people are taking, and getting very angry, and creating all this sexualized content. I write a lot about book bans now because that is a huge issue with diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry, but also it deals with literacy and there are going to be young readers who are not getting the books that they’re looking for, so I write a lot about that. I have been thinking more about taking comments off of my blog and pay-walling some content because I don’t want negative comments. I don’t want that energy, but also a lot of times it just feels like as a Black woman, you can’t share your thoughts on something. That’s really the issue if you’re a person of color or if you’re in the LGBTQIA community, you can’t express your thoughts. There is a way to critically bring up something, but not be nasty about it and a lot of people are being nasty about it. So, I am taking some action on my blog to protect my work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with See Jane Write readers?
If you want to be a creative writer or a blogger just go ahead and do it. I suggest sitting down for a few hours a day for a few weeks or months and planning it out. Maybe meet up with other people who are trying to start writing, even if it’s just brainstorming. I’m a believer in having your own web domain and having some type of branding to it, but other than that, just write what you want to write. If you want to be an author – fiction or nonfiction – and you don’t have the fine arts degrees, try to find workshops. There are a lot of virtual options now, and local libraries have programs all the time. There’s a science behind writing and story creation that I think some writers don’t want to be bothered with but you have to continue learning. Learn how to improve your craft and you’ll have a good story on your hands.