INTERVIEW | GABBY RIVERA

Gabby Rivera is a queer Puerto Rican author from the Bronx. She is the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics with her AMERICAN CHAVEZ run, and her debut novel, JULIET TAKES A BREATH, was republished by Penguin Random House just last year. Most recently, she has been creating an original comic series called B.B. FREE with BOOM! Studios. Self-described “butch tía” and loverboi, Gabby is a huge believer in cultivating community and queer joy in everything she creates.

I actually had a chance to meet Gabby at one of her tour stops last fall, and recently had a chance to catch up with her and ask about her experiences as a QTPOC writer in the industry, the intersections of writing and community, and how she tries to celebrate queer joy.

 

Hi Gabby! As we all know, I love you so much and you’re fantastic, so I just wanted to get that out of the way. For those who don’t know you yet, I want to start by asking: can you give folks 3 quick reasons why they should definitely read your novel, JULIET TAKES A BREATH?

1. Undercuts get their own chapter in the book.

2. There’s a hot motorcycle-riding junior librarian.

3. And Juliet is as nervous, sweaty and goofy as your favorite cousin, so please pick up this book!

Is there a moment you can recall when you realized not just that you *wanted* to be a writer, but that you *could* be a writer? And what did that look like for you?

I knew I could be a writer when I saw my friend, Vanessa Martir, quit her job to write. She was a single queer mother, without another job lined up, and decided she was gonna devote her life to writing. And that’s what tf she did. And I was like “well if V can do it and she’s glowing in confidence, then I can do it too.”

With the stories I write, I just want queer kids of color to feel loved, affirmed, and encouraged to go forth and be magnificent. Nothing else matters to me. I try my best to give life to characters that move with lots of love and goofy tender care. I hope that folks feel all that in my work and it offers some peace.

 

Have you always written with the intention of being a visible figure and role model for QTPOC youth, or that naturally come afterwards? How do you think that impacts your writing, if at all?

With the stories I write, I just want queer kids of color to feel loved, affirmed, and encouraged to go forth and be magnificent. Nothing else matters to me. I try my best to give life to characters that move with lots of love and goofy tender care. I hope that folks feel all that in my work and it offers some peace.

You’re very active on social media! (Check out @quirkyrican on IG for a constant outpouring of love, y’all.) What is it like being a writer and navigating social media? What responsibilities or boundaries do you think authors have online, if any, and how do you decide what you want to share with your community?

Navigating social media is wild! I essentially quit Twitter for my mental health. It was too stressful and immediate. Now most of my life/bouncy writing things live on Instagram and gabbyrivera.com. With IG, it’s folks that know me, love me, and want to follow me. So there’s less antagonistic homophobic bullshit and way more genuine community love.

I try to share things that offer gentleness, good laughs, and are just silly fun. With a mix of QTPOC social justice politics, you know?

I try not to share any colonizer news which only breeds more isolation, helplessness, and rage. I definitely don’t share violent videos of folks getting beaten or killed. That’s not for me. I understand the importance of being cognizant and impacted by the world around me. But it’s not my work to share that stuff, my work is to offer the soft in between. The breathing room, the adventure tales. All the places to rebuild our spirits and soft strong hearts.

 

You talk a lot about community and connecting meaningfully with those in your community. Did you have certain friends or mentors in the industry to guide you through the process or did you have to play it by ear? And how do you think QTPOC writers can find their own community?

My writing communities have always been super strong. Besides the writing, building community is the first step. Writers of color should always be connected to each other. Puerto Rican writers should be in community with each other. LGBT. Disabled. All the identities. For every piece of you that you hold sacred there should be folks who honor that part too. You know?

And especially for QTPOC writers, write for yourself. In your language. In your slang. Put your families and friends and co-workers in your stories. (change their names! haha) Share your work and ask for feedback from those same folks. That’s your audience. And if they don’t understand your pansexual octopus fencing period piece then find the folks who do and write for them, and yourself.

As far as the publishing industry, an agent is really helpful. Connect with writer friends that already have them and see if you can get an email intro. Let someone else navigate that world for you, with you. And with your best intentions at the forefront.

 

I’m sure you’ve encountered your fair share of gatekeeping within the industry. Were there any obstacles within the industry that have surprised you? And knowing that there are hurdles to jump, what keeps you creating?

I rebuke any and all gate-keeping. I know it happens. I know what it looks like when white people with gobs of money won’t give you a dime cuz they’d rather you bleed, sing, and dance for it. I see how the same sexist buddy comedies get made a million times over but we only get a movie like hidden figures (which was phenomenal) if they make up a white savior character.

So like all around us the racist, homophobic machines still churn and it’s up to us to decide how we navigate them. For me, I prefer to stay in my lane, do my work, and be open to the right opportunities when they come with me.

Let the gate open for me. I don’t need to bang on that shit. Why? For what? I’m good.

 

I’m so incredibly proud of you for your recent return to comics with b.b. free! Like JULIET and AMERICA CHAVEZ, it seems like you’re using the series to return to themes of Latinidad, self-discovery, carving out space for yourself, defying social norms, and unapologetically living your truth. What do those themes mean to you and what do you hope readers take away from those experiences?

Thank you, sweet humxn! That means the world to me. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever do comics again after AMERICA. It’s such a blessing to be doing b.b. free with BOOM! Studios.

And yesss! All I want to do is tell wild and fun adventure stories. Where chubby happy goofball kids get to be free, experience the wonders of the universe and learn to love themselves. Wholly. And unapologetically.

If we don’t worship ourselves with good love, all the wiggly bravery and confidence, who will? Social norms are boring. And fine they work for some people, but like for all the other gorgeous queer weirdos, like me, we need more. We need big wild stories, rainbow colored nails, and runways that take up entire cities.

We need swamps and magic and the freedom to do as we please, love who want in a world that isn’t trying to trample us.

I hope everyone who reads b.b. free dreams up their own adventures and takes their best friends with them.

 

Queer joy is the earth, the moon, and the stars. It’s the vast and unknown universe living inside each and every one of us. I offer myself to queer joy every day and each day it fills me up. And when I’m low, I reach out to my friends and loved ones and we build it together. I feel it here in this interview with you. Thank you for that.

 

What are some titles you’ve read lately that make you feel seen or inspired? Are there any new or recent releases we’re sleeping on?

On my must read list:

1. The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

2. Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez

3. Palante: Photos and Essays of the Young Lords 1969-1971

4. Popular Science magazine (for real get a subscription, old school, and nerd tf out!)

 

Anyone who knows you knows how much of a bright light you are in the community! How important is queer joy to you and what are some things that allow you to find joy in creating and in life?

Queer joy is the earth, the moon, and the stars. It’s the vast and unknown universe living inside each and every one of us. I offer myself to queer joy every day and each day it fills me up. And when I’m low, I reach out to my friends and loved ones and we build it together. I feel it here in this interview with you. Thank you for that.

Also some things giving me all the joy these days:

1. Making offerings to my baby altar

2. Yellow tulips

3. Writing love letters to myself

 

interviewed by @perpetualpages

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