Activist Author Challenges Authority with LGBT Characters

Saturday, Feb. 4, Scripps’s Family Queer/Straight Alliance welcomed author and
activist Francesca Lia Block to speak to the Claremont Colleges community. Sponsored by the Scripps College Writing and
Gender/Women’s Studies Departments as well as the Queer Resource Center, Block spent
the evening discussing the fairy tale imagery that she often turns to in her
work as well as her consistent and controversial inclusion of gay, lesbian and
transgender characters in her fiction. 

first started publishing books in 1989 and has published about one book per year
ever since. Her young adult fiction
explores themes of self-acceptance and discovery, using magical themes to weave together the stories and to challenge common misconceptions about controversial topics. Her works feature numerous LBGT characters, and many of the women in her stories overcome patriarchal
themes by taking power over their sexuality.

the question-and-answer period after Block’s talk, one student asked the author to elaborate on her choice to include magical
themes in her books. 

always loved fairy tales,” Block said. “All my books are filled with fairy tale imagery… I think there is a deep
need for an escape into the magical world, even though fairy tale worlds are
dark.  There is a need to feel that we
have some sort of power against the forces of evil, a need to feel that we can
battle them and survive. We can really
identify with these characters and their battles.” 

books have sparked debate over their open and affirming attitude toward
people of all genders and sexualities. In 2009, a Wisconsin public library suggested a public book burning to protest the contents of Baby Be-Bop, one of Block’s books (first published in
1997) that portrays a young man coming to terms with his

said that she does not write with any consideration for politics; she
writes what she knows and what she cares about.  

started writing LGBT characters at first because they were just a part of my
world,” said Block.  “It didn’t strike me
until later that people have issues with this subject and that it is

Block read excerpts from her books The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold
and Baby Be-Bop aloud, and then she passed
around a copy of Dangerous Angels and had each audience member read a paragraph of an excerpt. Block’s
work and presentation style were both well-received by the 5C community. 

“[Block] is such an important part of my past. She really shaped me and my relationships in
a very influential way. It was amazing
to read and live the taboo simultaneously,” said Shane Zackery SC ‘14, Family Communications Coordinator. 

was quick to comment on the importance of bringing authors like Block to
the 5Cs.

“She won’t sugarcoat issues,” Zackery said. “She points out the obvious. She doesn’t ignore what’s right in front of her eyes. Claremont has issues with stating the obvious
sometimes, and she doesn’t.” 

Maul SC ’14 also commented on the reverberations of Block’s ideas in Claremont. 

“She is a writer who is really on the
edge. She doesn’t write for political
reasons; she just expresses what she feels, and that could be political
later. But at the time, she’s just writing
what she thinks,” Maul said. “She shows Claremont
that self-expression is vital.” 

Block has received numerous honors for her work, including
the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award and the Phoenix Award, as
well as citations from the American Library Association, The New York Times
Book Review
and the School Library Journal. Her writing has been published around
the world and translated into many languages.

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