Introducing The Library Coven Series

Introducing The Library Coven Series

Kelly J. Drumright 

Hello! And welcome to The Library Coven, a bi-weekly* column on Ancillary Review of Books. This column is adapted from The Library Coven podcast, which is co-produced by a duo of professional book witches and irl besties, Jessie and Kelly. In each episode we discuss (mostly) young adult fantasy through the lens of intersectional feminism. We hedge by saying “mostly” because we like to have freedom to branch out into other speculative genres, and we don’t limit ourselves to “young adult” because it’s a contentious and evolving category anyway. 

Why do we make the show? The short answer, which we use as a tagline, is “because critique is our fangirl love language.” But there’s so much more to our collaboration. We do this because after meeting and falling in friend-love, we couldn’t contain our bookish enthusiasm and wanted to make a space for other readers/listeners to nerd out together. In our experience, connecting with others and talking about books is fucking magical. 

Since terms like “intersectional” and “feminist” can get tossed about without much rigor or care, I want to take some time in this introductory post to explain our values and commitments to community, while also addressing our sites of un/shared privilege and marginalization, which inevitably affect the form and content of our reviews. We want readers of ARB to know who we are, what we do, and what they can expect from our review series. 

Library Meet-Cute and Starting the Show 

I met Jessie at the front desk of the main campus library when I was several years into my PhD program in Spanish Literature at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As I’m learning is common when completing a doctoral degree, I was in the throes of an existential crisis, which I’ve since self-diagnosed as an amalgam of the following: part Saturn return, part academic disillusionment, part radical politicization via feminist and queer theory by women of color, and part actually confronting my shit in therapy and starting some slow intergenerational healing. Jessie, of course, knew none of this at the time. She just knew I checked out a lot of books and my hair was bright blue (or purple, or magenta, or all three). 

Fast forward a few months and coffee dates later, Jessie and I decided to teach ourselves how to podcast (thanks, internet) and we started producing a show. We called ourselves JK, It’s Magic for the first two years, because 1) it was surprisingly hard to think of a show name and 2) we knew very little about branding and marketing. (Pro tip: don’t use initials like we did. Apparently they are hard for people to both understand and remember.) As time went on, we couldn’t stand that people thought we were associating ourselves with notorious transphobe J.K. Rowling. And thus, one rebrand later and The Library Coven was born!  

Our podcast mission…

…to create a space for readers/listeners to rant/rave about something we love: young adult (YA) fantasy. But not JUST that. More specifically, Jessie and my VERY subjective, messy, ever-evolving genre conceptions, which are inevitably influenced by personal preference, the publishing market.

…to educate and inform by connecting our conversations to current events and historical context, as well as by discussing theoretical topics in approachable ways.

…to elevate the voices of writers and readers/listeners who identify as members of marginalized groups (especially BIPOC, LGBTQIA2+ folks, women, disabled, #spoonie, and/or neurodiverse creators). 

…to encourage, empower and connect readers/listeners who are taking action beyond the page by fighting for our collective liberation from ableism, capitalism, patriarchy, settler colonialism, and white supremacy in whatever ways we can.

For the ARB series, I will adapt some of the discussions we’ve had on the podcast into written form and they’ll appear fortnightly on ARB. Since our episodes typically range between 45-65 minutes and full transcripts are 25-40 pages single-spaced, I’ll abridge some of the content, but I commit to capturing the essence of our conversations and our critiques of each text. To give you more of a sense of the kinds of things we discuss, here’s the anatomy of a Library Coven episode. 

Anatomy of an Episode (or Review) 

We start each episode by introducing ourselves and giving a brief synopsis of the book we are discussing. Depending on the content of each book and/or current sociopolitical events when we are recording and releasing the episode, we then issue different calls-to-action to our audience (e.g., a mutual aid effort to donate to, accounts to follow, concepts to learn, etc.). We round out the intro section of the show by offering our initial reactions to the text. 

The bulk of our conversations are spent examining the form and content of the book from various angles. We’ve structured our analyses by creating specific segments in which we address world-building; magical systems; conflict and villains broadly conceived; intersectional identities of characters and systems of privilege and oppression; sex, romance and relationships; formal concerns and paratextual elements; and core takeaways we find to be particularly transformational. Finally, we offer readers/listeners suggestions for books and media relevant to each episode’s conversations. 

I’m excited to start sharing our reviews with the ARB audience and want to encourage you to contribute to the conversation. 

The Library Coven review series Schedule
  1. Introducing The Library Coven, a podcast and (now) review series on ARB!
  2. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas 1/3)
  3. Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas 2/3)
  4. Wayward Witch by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas 3/3)
  5. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Sands of Arawiya 1/2)
  6. We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal (Sands of Arawiya 2/2)
  7. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (1/2)
  8. A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown (1/2)
  9. Wicked Fox by Kat Cho (Gumiho 1)
  10. Vicious Spirits by Kat Cho (Gumiho 2)
  11. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi 
  12. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (1/3)
  13. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (2/3)
  14. The Burning God by R.F. Kuang (3/3)
  15. A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney (Nightmareverse 1/3)
  16. A Dream so Dark by L.L. McKinney (Nightmareverse 2/3)
  17. A Crown so Cursed by L.L. McKinney (Nightmareverse 3/3)
  18. Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

To keep up with what we’re reading in real time, you can find us @thelibrarycoven on Twitter and Instagram. And if you’re interested in checking out our show, you can access it anywhere you get your podcasts. 

We’ll be back here on ARB in a fortnight with a review of Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. Until then, stay magical!

*A Crip Time Caveat

“Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies. . . . Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds”

Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip (2013, 27)

Put briefly, both Jessie and I have semi-apparent disabilities/chronic illnesses/auto-immune diseases, and we take various immunosuppressant medications for our treatment. This is just one of many serendipitous parts of our identities that Jessie and I share. Although our profound love of early/mid 2000s so-called emo music, baking, and knitting are also important, they feel a tad less salient given COVID-19. In other words, we are among the high risk/vulnerable on a regular day, and this is even more the case during a pandemic. Amidst a fuck-ton of ableist gaslighting and violent attempts to “return to normal,” in order to protect ourselves and survive, we are both well into month 7 of full isolation as of October 2020. All of this is to say that we operate on crip time, and by extension so do the podcast and review column. The revolution starts at home, so they say.

Kelly J. Drumright (she/they) is an educator, writer, and media-maker living on occupied Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho lands (Boulder County, CO). In a past life, she earned a PhD in Iberian and Latin American Literature. Kelly’s research combines decolonial, feminist, queer, and affect theories to examine the relationships between humans, other-than-human beings, and technology in cultural discourse. In addition to co-producing The Library CovenKelly is a bilingual Spanish-English interpreter/translator agitating for migrant justice from home isolationYou can find them on twitter @kdrumleft.

Transparency Statement

This series was commissioned by editor Sean Guynes in September 2020 from a pitch sent to the editor via Twitter. The author and editor are mutual acquaintances through shared scholarly and genre fiction review networks. No review copy was arranged by ARB.

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