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Imagine Otherwise: Nia King on Supporting Queer and Trans Artists of Color and Self-Publishing
How can we better support the work of queer and trans artists of color? How can self-publishing create cultural conversations by and for marginalized people? How can emerging artists best navigate the tension between wanting to get their work out there while also demanding fair pay for their labor?
In Episode 47 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Nia King about how she came to host the podcast We Want the Airwaves, the racial politics of the publishing industry, how she has put her ethnic studies training to work beyond the academy, and why getting queer and trans artists of color paid fairly for their work is a key part of how she imagines otherwise.
Guest: Nia King
- Nia King is a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on political art by women, queer people, and people of color. She has been hosting and producing the podcast We Want the Airwaves since 2013. Nia has since published several of the interviews with the podcast guests in two books called Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives. Volume 1 was co-edited with Jessica Glennon-Zukoff and Terra Mikalson, and volume 2 was co-edited with Elena Rose. Nia’s writing and comics have also appeared in Colorlines and East Bay Express.
We chatted about:
- Nia’s work hosting the We Want the Airwaves podcast (1:23)
- Nia’s process of writing and publishing two volumes of Queer and Trans Artists of Color (6:22)
- How self-publishing is more accessible than traditional publishing to marginalized authors (10:18)
- Nia’s work getting queer and trans artists of color paid fairly for their labor (14:22)
- How emerging artists can build their audience while also being compensated fairly for their creative labor (16:17)
- How Nia’s ethnic studies training has shaped her art and creative work (19:49)
- Imagining Otherwise (21:44)
- On interviewing artists: “[My favorite thing about interviewing artists is] learning something I didn’t know. I get to continually learn, all the time. That’s a thing about journalism more generally too. I’m not in school, I haven’t been in school for a while…And so the question is how do you continue to learn and grow when you’re not in a classroom? For me, talking to people that I think are interesting and having the opportunity to engage with their work and ask them questions is very satisfying.”
- On why she turned her podcast into a book: “After spending a bunch of time of putting a lot of energy and money into the podcast and not being able to break even or recoup any of those expenses, I felt like I was collecting a lot of great stories but they weren’t getting to the people that I wanted them to get to. I thought, maybe if I move them into print media, folks that listen to podcasts will have access to them in a way that they don’t now.”
- On Nia’s choice to self-publish her two books: “Because I had been self-publishing for so long with zines, this seemed like a logical next step or taking it to the next level. I was very familiar with self-publishing on a much smaller scale, so I knew how to build an audience and how to find distribution for my work. I had a social media presence that would allow me to promote it. I did pitch the book to a couple publishers, but I found pitching the book harder than writing the book itself….There’s also the question of who do you want your audience to be? Are you going to spend the time and energy to try to prove to a non-queer audience that your life matters? Do you want to just speak directly to your people? I feel like self-publishing allowed me to speak directly to my people.”
- On the struggles of queer and trans artists of color: “I don’t make a lot of money but I am more financially secure than a lot of people that I am in community with in terms of queer and trans people of color. Queer and trans people of color are not only likely to live less long, but also they tend to have a lesser quality of life. I just turned 30 but I see a lot of people in my life dealing with chronic illness and chronic pain due to the stress of living under chronic poverty and not having access to steady jobs, housing, and necessary healthcare. I see a lot of queer and trans people of color getting sick earlier and not being able to do the things that people who are our age that are able bodied are supposed to do. Poverty is a queer issue.”
- On being paid fairly as a marginalized person: “Sometimes you’ll be on a panel as the only woman, the only queer person, the only person of color. And in that situation, you’re adding value by being there because you’re diversifying the panel. The organizers might not want to acknowledge that flat out, maybe in part because they don’t want to make you feel like a token, but eventually if you do enough panels and you see the same faces over and over again you realize that you’re providing legitimacy by being there—otherwise it would just be a bunch of straight white guys. In that situation, it really is important to understand your value because you’re providing something that they wouldn’t otherwise have and you should be compensated for your time. You’re also doing a lot of intellectual and emotional labor that other people on the panel aren’t having to do.”
- On Imagining Otherwise: “I’m working towards a world where narratives of people of color are not actively suppressed because people don’t want to hear about racism. I’m working towards a world where marginalized people can have their truths accepted instead of denied. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a huge goal, but I think the fact that my podcast is queer and trans people of color talking to each other rather than speaking in an explanatory way or being shouted over by white pundits like what you see on TV is really important. It means that conversations about racism and other forms of oppression can go deeper faster. I’d like to think that’s kind of what my podcast is adding to existing media about race and queerness.”
More from Nia:
Projects and people discussed:
- Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives
- Queer & Trans Artists of Color, Volume 2
- Kamal Al-Solaylee
- Brown by Kamal Al-Solaylee
- Sabina England
- Feminist ethics of care
- Olympia Zine Fest
About Imagine Otherwise:
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/episodes. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.