In 2023, the American Library Association (ALA) awarded Love, Violet the Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s Literature Award. This was the honor of a lifetime! And it means many more children will enjoy Love, Violet — in spite of all the soft censorship and book bans.
Illustrator Charlene Chua and I share our acceptance speeches (slightly edited) in this video, including Charlene’s powerful comics and my voice recording (full text below). You can also watch it here on YouTube, with subtitles.
Charlotte Sullivan Wild’s 2023 Stonewall Acceptance Speech for Love, Violet (unedited):
I’m thrilled to be celebrating rainbow books with you! Like many of us, I grew up unable to even talk about queerness. And now, look at all these books! Thank you for honoring Love, Violet!
Warmest thanks to the ALA, Rainbow Round Table, and the Stonewall Award Committee. And especially to Mike Morgan and Larry Romans, and our queer elders, who have opened the way for us.
I’m indebted to my dear, patient writing friends, my faithful agent Minju Chang, who has believed in Love, Violet since 2013 – even when publishers kept telling us – sometimes directly, sometimes in code – that they couldn’t sell stories about queer kids. But editor Trisha de Guzman at Farrar, Straus & Giroux BYR joyfully changed that! Thanks to our amazing MacKids team: Aram Kim, Joy Peskin, life-saver Molly Ellis, Sara Elroubi, and so many others.
And to Charlene Chua, painter of dreams, your luminous, heart-filled images gave this story life!
Deepest thanks to my family who have always supported my storytelling (sometimes embarrassingly so!) and who did the work to become allies even when it wasn’t easy.
Last, Love, Violet would not exist without my gal in cowgirl boots: Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition, love! (That was our code for “I love you” before we could be out. I think the cat’s out of the bag now!)
It’s impossible to sum up how personal Love, Violet is. Stories and histories are always personal. So is the harm of false myths used to demonize. Growing up in a family of Evangelical pastors and missionaries, my only words or images for queerness were the horror stories of male pedophiles pouring from our Christian radio station.
I longed to be good. Loved. Family. How could I be queer?
I couldn’t. So I tried not to be. I suppressed and repressed, until it was choking me. But then, in my 30s—not even divorce, not resigning a faculty position, or facing my Very Religious family could stop me.
I’d never felt more liberated. Joyful! Myself.
But unlike many kids today, when I saw the disgust disfigure my grandmother’s usually loving face, I was grown. Physically safe. Surrounded by other support.
Many kids are not.
So, I wrote Love, Violet directly to them. Around the politics and terms and slurs. I wanted to break the silence with a love story.
I wanted to give kids words for themselves like: MAGNIFICENT. DREAM. ADVENTURE.
And, the word for how we thrive—TOGETHER.
I wrote the truest story I could about what young love feels like. That awe, being dazzled.
And I wove in the gender expressions of many I love and myself. Growing up, I hadn’t seen gender nonconforming gals portrayed as tender; or feminine ones as sporty or queer. Or queer people of color honored EVER. Yet there we were.
And now, here we ARE. With all these books.
With Charlene’s evocative, honoring images.
And a story about the most human thing we do: LOVE.
But not everyone wants to acknowledge our shared humanity.
Not surprisingly, Love, Violet and several other rainbow picture books have been named in a lawsuit seeking to “protect” kids. Meanwhile, a trans teen has already left the same district because of death threats.
Protection? No, this is something else.
Unmaking our stories.
It’s strange. I used to be the kid carrying hand-written notes to school, asking to skip activities for religious reasons. I know this earnestness. It’s sincere.
But how can one be excused from our shared humanity?
What of the queer children in these families?
Their peers witnessing themselves described as dangerous monsters?
As I wrote in an essay for We Need Diverse Books,
erasing or defacing any group’s humanity is a genocidal wish.
A task easily outsourced to the playground, school boards and legislators, parents and police, frightened folks with guns. And too often, the instruction to not exist hits home.
These stakes are so high.
That’s why we’re here.
Throwing everything we have into this work, especially for our kids of color, Native and trans kids.
And you know what? In that same Maryland community, members of the Rainbow Defense Coalition have organized to gather at drag story times and pride events. To actually protect kids. While hate groups scream at children, punch the air with fists, these neighbors pop open rainbow parasols, turn up the music LOUD. With their bodies and joy, they shield and surround these kids with safety and Love.
Soak up these stories, darlings. Drink in the pictures.
So, when the stones fly, you’ll already know who you are:
Beautiful. Precious. Family.
That’s what you do every day.
Open umbrellas of love.
Create safe havens for kids, for healthy escape, and discovery,
and maps of how to survive.
Thank you for sharing this mission, our books, your hearts.
Our kids need you. They need you. They need you.
*Below is the condensed speech actually played at ALA, as there were many beautiful books to honor! (2:46)
All art used with permission.