Kate Schatz is a proclaimed feminist, writer, editor, and educator. She is the author of the popular children’s book, Rad American Women A-Z, which was published by City Lights earlier this year. She was also my Literary Arts teacher in highschool!
I sat down at a vegetarian restaurant to talk to Kate about her book and feminism, among other things.
Nicole Lovett: So, I know you! You were my teacher at Oakland School for the Arts! I looked up to you because of the sheer drive and energy you have. Does motivation come naturally to you, or do you have a way to work it up?
Kate Schatz: Wow! That’s a really good question, you’re already asking me such good questions. Yes! I think it does. I’ve always been a really motivated person. That doesn’t mean that I’m not lazy, and that I don’t procrastinate, and that I don’t try to put things off. But, I do think that I’ve always had an innate kind of motivation. Particularly when it comes to work that is political, or that you know, is something that I really feel passionate about, which is generally all the work that I do.
So, I think I’ve always had a motivation and a drive to kind of create things and get things done. Might be because I’m a virgo, so I’m kind of a control freak and like most virgos, I feel like I always know the way that things should be done. So I like to do them myself. So, I blame my virgo nature on that.
Do you have a hard time asking for help?
Yes. Yea–well, let’s see. I instinctively said yes–yes and no. I think I’m getting better at asking for help because I recognize how helpful help is. [laughs] That’s a terrible sentence, but it’s true. It’s hard for me to ask for help because like I said, I like to think that I can do everything. But, being a parent and an artist and a teacher and having a grown up life is very humbling–and you start to accept [that you] actually can’t do everything yourself. So, yes, I have become a lot better at asking for help.
So, you are a proclaimed feminist, teacher, and author of the popular children’s book, Rad American Women A-Z. You’re taking a break from teaching now. What are you working on? Can you tell us about it?
Yes! Well, it’s funny because I realized I’m kind of always teaching? And I think of this work, this writing, it is a kind of teaching, but I am taking a break from my classroom teaching. And, what I’m working on now is tentatively called Rad Women Worldwide, and it’s a follow-up to Rad American Women, and it’s about rad women from all over the world! So, it’s a bigger book, both in how many women it’ll cover, but also just its entire scope, and that’s overwhelming and stressful, but also fun. We’re working on a couple of other ideas that we have as well. And, I’m also still slowly working on away at my novel.
Can you tell us about your novel?
Yes, I can, my novel is set in the late 1960s in San Francisco and it is about…the…scary and stark realities of reproductive rights for women before Roe vs. Wade. So, it is about the world of secret adoptions that, when before abortion was legal in the United States, when young women got accidentally pregnant, a lot of them would be sent away to maternity homes. So it’s about a young woman who is about to graduate from high school and she becomes pregnant, and she is sent away to a maternity home to basically have a secret pregnancy. And it’s also about illegal abortions. So, really uplifting stuff! [laughs]
Thanks for that! For Rad American Women A-Z, you did extensive research and stumbled upon people you had not even heard of. Was it easy to stay focused? Or, was the information overwhelming?
Again–a really, really smart question. I keep joking that I should publish my google search history, from the past year and a half–[laughs]–because it would show you how totally spazzy my research process is. But it’s also, I think would be really interesting because I–it is hard for me to stay focused in terms of like, being linear, it’s hard for me to be like, I am now going to write about this one woman and I will just research her and only write about her. Like, I tend to ping pong around, [especially] with my research for my Worldwide book. I mean, I’ll be researching, like, South American surfers and all of a sudden I’m researching ancient poets from Sumaria and then I’m researching, like, I don’t know, rebel–rebellion-leading women from like, the Congo.
I–I just completely ping-pong around all the time. And part of that is [just the] process of discovery, like you read about someone and you, you know–say I’m reading about a woman who was fighting for women’s suffrage in the United States! And the article or the essay I’m reading references another person I’ve never heard of! And I’m like, Woah, who’s that? And so, I’ll go google her up, and she leads me to [someone else]. So reading about one person leads me to another person, and it’s like a never-ending cycle.
So, yes it can get a little overwhelming. For Rad American Women, once I really [knew] which women I was writing about, then I was able to kind of stay a little more focused to do that research. But, the initial research is all over the place–Which is exciting!–because I’m learning about so many cool people.
You attended the University of Santa Cruz for Creative Writing and Brown University for fiction writing. What would you say to people considering studying writing in higher education, but hesitant about it?
Ooh, such a good question. For one I’d say do it. You know, even if [you are] in college, even if you’re a science major or a biology major, you know, take a creative writing course. Look into what your college has to offer. You know, and find out who the teachers are, especially at community colleges–so many incredible writers teach at community colleges. And it’s such a chance to have access to such an amazing writer and to really just stretch your skills. So, again, for people who are not necessarily majoring in english or creative writing, still take a class. Like, it can help you think in such new ways. And for people who [think they’re] interested in writing but nervous about majoring in it, you know I think it can be a challenge because people don’t feel like it’s a very practical pursuit, but it can always be a minor, you know, or something else.
And I think that’s especially hard for first-generation college students and for students of color who are coming into college with huge amounts of pressure and expectation from a family? Like, it’s a major financial burden, it can be really hard to major in something like creative writing, which may seem kind of frivolous, like, [people] feel like they don’t need to major in anything of the Humanities because you need to do something really practical that’s going to get you a job. But! And I think that’s really legit, and I understand that, and again, you could always do a double major or have it as a minor or just take a few classes.
But I also think there’s a real argument to be made for the ways in which creative writing can help you in any field you go into. Again, no matter what job you’re gonna get, no matter what career you’re gonna get, you need to be able to express yourself, to think creatively, to have access to the artistic part of your brain. I really think classes like that can really benefit you no matter what field you’re gonna go into.
There’s actually been all these research about teaching creative writing to medical students?
Yeah, it’s really interesting and a friend of mine was doing it–she’s a creative writing teacher and she’s teaching classes at UCLA for med students! Because it’s about–for them, the idea is like, if you’re a doctor, a lot of what you do is like storytelling, you need to be empathetic and you need to be creative and you can’t just be this cold, clinical person because you’re dealing with human beings all the time. And [they have to understand] there’s so many stories. Being a writer is thinking about other people and trying to understand them and how they work–and that is so crucial for doctors and it gets lost.
You know, you can know all about a disease but then when you’re faced with telling a family that their child has some disease, you know, if you are an empathetic person, and you can imagine who this family is and what their story is, it can help you to be a better doctor. So, anyway, all that is to say is that they’re realizing creative writing classes can actually help people in the science fields as well.
That’s so cool!
Right? I think it’s really great. I will add to that–with a mouthful of food–in terms of going onto a graduate program, like a MFA, I think they’re fantastic and I think anyone interested in that should really try to find a place that would fully fund their students and give them scholarships.
Going into major debt for a MFA is pretty challenging. And I really would just recommend, more than anything, really, really, doing your research. Find an MFA program that feels right for you. You don’t just wanna go and apply to a bunch and get into some and go and find yourself in the middle of some town that you hate–with a bunch of people that are nothing like you and a bunch of faculty that you don’t care about.
So, if you are thinking about pursuing that, after your undergrad, really, really, really, work hard to figure out where you would fit. Kind of like submitting to a literary journal–like, think about where you want your story to live. Do you want it to live in some crappy publication that you actually don’t really like? Or do you want it to live amongst other things that you really, you know, believe in?
So those are my answers. [laughs]
That’s so good! Okay, so, in Rad American Women A-Z, there are women from all walks of life that you decided to include, from Angela Davis to Rachel Carson. Who were the women that you looked up to when you were growing up?
Why do you ask such good questions? Seriously–I’ve done a million interview and it’s so nice to get new questions.
I read…some of your interviews.
Good job. So who were the women that I looked up to when I was growing up? I looked up to a lot of fictional characters when I was very young, I think a lot of kids do. So, I really loved Nancy Drew books when I was a kid and I loved the book Harriet the Spy. And, I liked to read historical books, like fiction books about young women who were like, in the American frontier or who were adventurous. I loved the movie Annie. Any book or movie that had like a scrappy, strong, feisty female heroine–that was kind of my favorite thing.
When I was–I also looked up to my mother and my grandmother and the women in my family, I had a lot of awesome strong women. When I was in middle school, this is a reference you probably won’t get–[laughs]–but I was really interested in journalism. And I was super obsessed with MTV news and Tabatha Soren, who is like the host of MTV news. And, I thought I wanted to be her when I grew up. There was this show called Murphy Brown. And Murphy Brown was this broadcaster on TV. And so that’s what I wanted to do. I was like, I want to be a broadcast journalist.
That’s so cool!
And that was around the time when I started to get into good music, not like just annoying radio music, like Paula Abdul? So that’s around the time I discovered a lot of the people that really, really inspired me through high school which was a lot of musicians like Tori Amos, Kathleen Hannah, and a lot of women in punk. [So that] became very inspiring for me. And then really, I’d say that led me to discover women who are politically active, who are very inspiring to me, like Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem and other amazing activists.
That’s so great!!
I must also say–and Judy Blume.
And Judy Blume?
Mm-hm. She’s always been a hero.
Didn’t you meet her?
For like two seconds, yes. Technically we met. I can’t say that she remembers it, but I was one of like five hundred people in a giant line to meet her. So, I did meet her really quickly. And I gave her a copy of my book.
Hopefully she kept it. Well actually, I gave her one to give to her grandchild.
Yeah, ’cause she’s a grandma.
That’s so nice!
Okay, you might have answered some of this in the last question but, was there a certain moment when identifying as a feminist became important for you, or did you always feel that way?
So, I would track that to high school. And, I was a pretty self-righteous, outspoken person from an early age. And, I definitely always felt pretty empowered to like, use my voice and stand up and that may or may not have made me a kind of obnoxious person to be around? [laughs] But, I think when I was in high school, I was really interested in environmental issues. And–I’m trying to think about it. I really think it was probably my–let’s see…I remember getting really mad at a bunch of guys. I was always arguing with people when I was in high school? And, I was kind of a hippie in high school. And like, I would wear giant political t-shirts and like, baggy ass pants and like, Birkenstocks. I didn’t shave my legs. I remember arguing with a bunch of guys about why I didn’t need to shave my legs. And, that’s like my first memory of me being outspokenly feminist. Being like, Why do you guys care? Who are you? What right do you have to tell me that I do or do not have to do something to my body? Like, I don’t give a shit if you’re attracted to me. You’re lame–[laughs]–like, why is any of this your business? And really like fiercely arguing with them in my journalism class. I just felt really conscious of that. The thought that my appearance was some else’s business and the fact that these guys felt empowered to tell me what I should or should not do.
And I think that was also around the time, again, when I was listening to a lot of riot grrrl music that was like, super outspokenly feminist. It definitely was not cool at all in my high school to be a feminist. It was not at all cool, and it wasn’t cool to be political. But I was anyway? [laughs] So yeah, that’s kind of my earliest memories of that. And then I–I did, like I said, a lot of environmental work and I remember going to a conference when I was in high school that was about environmental justice and race and class.
And it was like a really cool conference because it made connections that I hadn’t thought about yet, which was the connection of environmental activism and the issues of race and class and communities in poverty. And I was more interested up until that point about saving trees? But then I went to this really important conference and I was like, Oh wow, this is not just a forest issue. This is an urban issue. And that’s probably when I started to connect race and gender and class and all of those things into one. And then I went to college and discovered Women’s Studies and that was that.
How was having Women’s Studies?
It was the best thing ever. Because it taught me how to understand the world. I think it’s how I came to be interested to understand economics and politics and history. I mean, it really just gives you a lens and a language through which to view the world, you know? Like, placing gender and issues of inequality and power at the forefront of your own understanding of all of these bigger issues.
It was huge for me. So, I loved it. I loved it so much. And again, I think that like, you know, your major in college–I think it’s easy for people to be very career driven and focused, like, I’m gonna major in Business because I’m gonna be a business person, you know? And then major in Chemistry, I’m gonna be a chemist. And you know, that’s true for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be that way, you know, I learned how to think and argue and write more effectively by being a Women’s Studies major. It would help being a writing major, in any way that you’d bring that to any field.