Rad Girls Can
Writer Kate Schatz learned about one of the girls featured in her and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl’s new book, Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women, in an unusual place — a greenroom at a Neko Case concert. Schatz, a huge fan of the singer-songwriter, started talking to Case’s aunt and uncle who were also backstage. When she told them what she was doing — compiling stories about girls who have done incredible things — they told her about Memory Banda, an 18-year-old Malawian girl who helped pass Malawi’s new law to end child marriage after her 11-year-old sister got married to a man in his thirties.
“So sometimes it’s research and sometimes it’s Neko Case’s aunt,” Schatz said about how she found diverse stories for her book.
Schatz has had some practice at this after writing two previous books (both New York Times best sellers), Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide. She and Stahl wanted the 50 young women profiled to be from a variety of cultural backgrounds and historical eras, both well known and not. So along with stories about diarist Anne Frank and ballerina Misty Copeland, the book also includes skateboarder Sky Brown; designer Egypt Ufele, whose collection was shown at Fashion Week when she was 10; Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi; and Mary Beth Tinker, who was told she couldn’t wear a black armband to school in 1965 to protest the Vietnam War and who fought back, eventually winning her case in the Supreme Court, setting a precedent for student speech rights.
Schatz and Stahl wrote this book because when they spoke at libraries, schools, and bookstores about their other two books, the question they got most from young readers was “What about stories about girls my age?”
“On book tour, tons of parents and kids were asking for stories about young people, and it’s such a good time for it,” Stahl said. “So many social movements are led by young people, like Parkland, where people stood back and listened to the kids.”
Both she and Schatz said one of their favorite stories was about Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who swam for more than three hours to save herself and others on their way to Greece, when the motor on the boat failed and it began to take on water. Mardini went on to compete on the first-ever refugee team in the 2016 Olympics.
“She and her sister saved all these lives and pulled the boat to safety. People would have drowned without their athleticism,” Stahl said. “To be able to be in the Olympics without a country is a totally compelling story.”
One of the young women featured in the book, Eva Lewis, won a slam poetry contest, studied in France for a summer, and was inspired by her experience there to make a film about privilege. Lewis went on to co-found the group Youth for Black Lives that in 2016 organized a protest against police violence, which drew more than 1,000 people in downtown Chicago.
Lewis, who just finished her first year at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies sociology and nonprofit leadership (on a full scholarship), says her foundation for activism and speaking up came from her family.
“First and foremost, the superiority of women was accepted, and I was confused when I found out the whole world didn’t think like that,” she said. “My mom was like the boss lady in my life and my grandfather was disabled and sick and lived with us. From his bed, he would say things like ‘Love your blackness’ and ‘Don’t listen to men,’ so that was normalized for me.”
Trisha Prabhu is also featured in Rad Girls Can. At 13, she came up with the idea for ReThink, a technology to prevent spreading online hate, after she read about a 12-year-old girl who killed herself after being bullied online.
“It struck me she was only a year younger than myself when I first read it,” she said. “I remember clearly being outraged and feeling angry at apathy about it, and that people would read about it and feel bad for a little while, but not take action. That frustrated me — I didn’t want to be a bystander; I wanted to be an upstander.”
Prabhu, who will head to Harvard in the fall, did research into the adolescent brain and the lack of impulse control. Rather than addressing the damage after it was done, she wanted to do something proactive that would put the onus on the potential bully. So Prabhu, who had been coding since she was eight years old, created filtering technology that detects mean and hurtful messages and asks the person if they really want to send them. ReThink is in 1,400 schools around the world, and Prabhu has been honored by Google, MIT, and the White House and featured on the TV show Shark Tank.
Stahl’s portraits of Prabhu, Lewis, and the others illustrate the book. The pared-down look of paper cuts work well for this, says Stahl, who co-founded the Arts and Humanities Academy at Berkeley High School.
“They’re very bold and graphic and translate really well from fine art to print,” Stahl said. “It’s one piece of paper and a blade, and it’s a distinct look that’s interesting to young people.”
Stahl and Schatz will launch their book on July 17 in Oakland, where they will be joined by a social justice troupe for girls of color, the Radical Monarchs, who are featured in the book. Other young women in the book and organizations that support girls will join them throughout the national tour. Schatz, who used to teach creative writing at Oakland School for the Arts public charter school and co-founded the feminist activist group Solidarity Sundays, says she looks forward to it.
“These books encourage people to tell their own stories and reflect on themselves,” she said. “We’re not all going to be Yusra Mardini, and save 20 lives, but you can have big, extraordinary dreams and make an impact.”
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