Chat With the Creator of YA Open Mic

On the Thursday of each month, different young adult authors share stories that range from goofy to serious on the Barnes and Noble Teen blog, almost like Humans of New York. I'm excited that I got the chance to speak with Michael Waters the creator of this series, YA Open Mic.

What inspired you to start YA Open Mic?

Ever since becoming active in the Young Adult community online, I've been amazed by how many YA authors are willing to share their personal experiences. Especially regarding issues of marginalization based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, socio-economic status, and others, many YA authors I've talked to are constantly challenging the status quo through their personal stories. By being open online, they have made myself and many others more informed about a number of identities and social realities that aren't featured very prominently in mainstream media.

I started YA Open Mic to bring this brand of sharing to a larger platform--to highlight stories that humanize cultures, identities, and situations that are often very stigmatized, and to promote empathy before all else.

How do you put the posts together each month? Do you interview each author personally?

I actually don't. I link authors to examples of past posts, tell them the mission of YA Open Mic, and ask for a story--about anything in their lives--that comes from a place of emotional honesty. I've been really amazed by what they've shared as a result.

Do you have a favorite edition of YA Open Mic? If so, which one?

I really do love them all. Each post in the series thus far has contained at least one story that has stuck with me. But the February 2016 YA Open Mic truly blew me away.

What's the hardest part of curating stories for YA Open Mic?

Without question, finding authors of marginalized identities. YA publishing is very white, cisgender, able-bodied... you name it. I find that YA Open Mic is at its greatest when it is as diverse as possible, yet some months there are virtually no marginalized YA authors with books releasing. Certainly this is due to structural inequalities, as the Lee & Low diversity survey reveals.

What impact do you hope these posts will have on readers?

My goal with this series is actually twofold. On one hand, I want to promote awareness of--and empathy for--a diversity of identities and experiences. We typically only see certain types of people represented in media, and that representation doesn't reflect how vast and different the people of the world--or even of just the U.S.--actually are. As a result, some identities (such as asexuality, non-binary genders, and so many more) are unknown to the majority of the population, and others (like mental illness) become heavily stigmatized.

YA Open Mic, I hope, will on some level change that. I believe that people cannot fear what they can understand, and humanizing some of these experiences and identities, therefore, will make our readers more aware and more empathetic.

On a related note, I also want YA Open Mic to help readers remember that they are not alone, that there are people--awesome authors, even--who identify the way they identify or have experienced what they have experienced.

Do you find that you hear some of the same stories often? Have you ever had to ask someone to submit a different story?

I haven't yet. Part of this is probably because the series is so new--there is only one new post every month, and the first one debuted in October 2015. But I certainly would request that someone change their story if it feels too similar to something that has already appeared in YA Open Mic.

What has the response to YA Open Mic been like?

So far, it's been great. I've loved seeing the excitement from readers. My main goal now is to expand YA Open Mic to a larger audience. So, you know--if you like the series, I would love it if you could share it around.

What advice would you give to an author who is just starting out?
I'd tell them to make friends. The internet--and Twitter especially--is full of awesome authors, bloggers, and industry professionals who could potentially promote your book, but more importantly, who will help you navigate that whole crazy author thing. Publishing is hard and sometimes very isolating, and from what I've seen, it's really important that you have several bookish friends who can help you through.

Do you see yourself continuing YA Open Mic in the future? How long do you hope it'll last?

I definitely plan to continue it for the foreseeable future. As long as it continues to be fresh and meaningful, I'll keep doing it. I might at some point expand the series and introduce multimedia ways for authors to share their stories--we'll have to see!