Celebrate PRIDE with Jonathan Hamilt of Drag Story Hour

This Pride Month, The Collective Book Studio is reflecting on the value that books add to the queer community. As the owner of a publishing company that creates books, it’s important to carve space on our list to amplify and advocate for LGBTQAI+ titles. Allyship refers to actions, behaviors, and practices. I am personally invested and passionate about creating a diverse bookshelf that represents and reflects my own family’s experiences as well.

When it comes to my vision of the future of publishing and The Collective Book Studio, I would love to figure out ways to tell more Queer stories and explore partnerships with LGBTQA+ organizations like Drag Story Hour. I would also love to seek out funding for grants that would pay content creators to write, illustrate, and produce books that celebrate diversity and inclusivity. There is a real magic in storytelling and I absolutely believe that when we read diverse books it opens more doors to create social change. I would love to be able to publish eight gender non-conforming titles a year ranging from non-fiction to middle grade and children’s picture books. 

In addition to my work as a publisher, I feel that librarians, booksellers and other publishers, also play a major role in creating space for queer voices, queer, stories, and queer books. The biggest thing I want to share about representation for LGBTQ/Queer representation in kids books is that it is so important for people to just be themselves, to be a shining examples of what it means to DARE TO BE ME! And live a true authentic life where gender is not imposed upon anyone and no child has to conform or match masculine or feminine gender norms. When we live from a place of authenticity, it gives others permission to do so as well. In that spirit, The Collective Book studio asked Jonathon Hamilt, from Drag Story Hour to share details about their involvement in the organization. Read the interview below: 

Jonathan Hamilt (Executive Director of Drag Story Hour) and Angela Engel (Founder and Publisher of The Collective Book Studio)
Jonathan Hamilt (Drag Story Hour Co-founder and Comms Director) with Angela Engel (Founder and Publisher of The Collective Book Studio)

Drag Story Hour (DSH), a national 501(c)(3) non-profit, started in 2015, and you were named the first executive director in 2020. How did you get involved? 

I visited San Francisco in 2016 and saw Honey Mahogany, from Rupaul’s Drag Race, reading to children at the San Francisco Public Library in the Castro. As a baby drag queen myself starting out, I was like, “This is an option!?” So with the blessing of Michelle Tea and Radar Productions, I co-founded the NYC chapter of DSH in 2016 and was the first drag queen to read in NYC! 

What literary and creative programming does DSH offer to kids and teens?

We have so much diverse programming, which gives fabulous flair to the notion of cultural literacy. We work with young humans in our story hours, book clubs for middle schoolers, high school GSA visits, university campus talks, and DEI chats with corporate. We work with elders, kids with autism and other disabilities, and develop training for our storytellers to work with medically complex populations. 

How many local chapters of DSH are active? How can people start one?

We have 25 active U.S. chapters and around 12 international chapters. If you want to become an official affiliate within our network, please reach out to me! 

We were thrilled when DSH and GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) selected No One Owns the Colors for Read Across America Day in 2023. What are some considerations you have when choosing a picture book for a Story Hour session? 

There is so much amazing children’s literature out in the world right now! Our curriculum committee chooses books that are great for large story time audiences. We aim to choose stories that include plenty of illustrations, gender neutral language, and turn reaction into wonder! 

The American Library Association reported a startling statistic about book bans in 2023: “Titles representing the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47 percent of those targeted in censorship attempts.” How is combining drag and stories an act of resistance against this attempted erasure of LGBTQIA+ literature?

Drag story hours are educational events where audiences, including children and families, experience diverse narratives. This educational aspect helps build understanding and acceptance, countering the effects of ignorance and misinformation that often underlie attempts to erase LGBTQIA+ content. By educating the public, these events promote inclusivity and tolerance.

What are some ways to support DSH? 

Follow us on social media! Become a frequent patron of your local queer business! And turn your allyship into co-conspiratorship by standing up and clapping back to homophobic and transphobic microaggressions—even if no one is watching!

Meet the Author

Gianna Davy, a professional ballerina by age 16, adventured her way across stages for the majority of her life before settling down to start a family. Today she lives in northern California, where she teaches movement, makes jewelry, hugs her children, and belts out karaoke in the car.

Meet the Author

Kaci Bolls M.Ed was recognized in 221 as one of Metro Nashville TN's top elementary teachers of the year. She is a children’s music artist with multiple SiriusXM top 1 hits including the #1 song “Dare to Be Me,” which was licensed by Malcolm Gladwell for his podcast “Revisionist History.” Prior to becoming a rock-star kindergarten teacher, Kaci spent over a decade working with country music's finest musicians and songwriters as a session and backup singer and songwriter. Kaci lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and their two bird dog brothers.

Meet the Author

Nathan Meckel’s music appears on dozens of albums and in over 4 films & television shows. He’s performed at Lincoln Center & co-written songs for kids with children’s authors Peter Reynolds, Susan Verde, and Barbara Joosse. "Dare To Be Me," co-written with Kaci Bolls, reached #1 on SiriusXM’s KPL and was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, “Revisionist History.” He’s also an award-winning music video director and co-founder of the film production company, Stereophonic Films. Nathan lives with his wife in Nashville, TN. They have two kids and two furry friends.

Meet the Illustrator

Brenda Rodriguez is an illustrator, designer, and recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design. Her whimsical illustrations are influenced by spaces and events in her own life. Originally from Miami, Brenda now resides in Washington, DC with her partner, Gabe.

Meet the Illustrator

Ana Larrañaga was born in San Sebastian, Spain, and grew up in the countryside of Castilla, in a huge family, surrounded by cousins and animals. At school, she drew little stories on every possible piece of paper. In Salamanca, where she studied Fine Arts, teachers told her to draw very big things. When she finished her studies, she returned to her small drawings and became an award-winning illustrator. Ana lives in Germany with her husband, three sons, and one cat. She likes swimming in the sea in the summer and knitting in winter.

Meet Angela Engel

When Angela Engel launched The Collective Book Studio she wanted to build a different kind of publishing business, one that adhered to the author’s vision every step of the way. Her experience in traditional publishing allows her to introduce beautiful books into the world, and she brings her passion for reading and sharing new ideas into every new project...