Gabby Rivera Gives Jacobs Residency Lecture
Gabby Rivera, an author known as an outgoing and outspoken creator invested in fostering better dialogue, inspiring radical creativity, and improving our most vulnerable communities, delivered this year’s Jacobs Residency Lecture at Mercersburg virtually on Wednesday, September 30.
The author of Juliet Takes a Breath, Rivera is also the writer of the Marvel series America—which features the first queer Latinx teen-girl superhero. The series has caught the attention of The New York Times and Vogue, and Marvel Studios and Disney+ have announced a new show based on the series.
Charismatic and charming, Rivera is dedicated to empowering people and improving our marginalized communities. She is currently making major waves for her Marvel series starring America Chavez: a queer, Latinx superhero who’s been written and designed, crucially, by a queer Latinx. Rivera’s newest project is b.b. free, an original story following the coming-of-age adventure of b.b. in a post-apocalyptic world not quite like anything you’ve seen before. Set to be released by BOOM! Studios, Rivera calls b.b. free “a bouncy love letter to queer kids everywhere, especially the chubby Puerto Rican ones.”
In her talk, Rivera gave the students and school community insight into many the ways she infuses “radical creativity and joy into this world.”
“I imagine queerness is my superpower—my lens in how I view the world and my strength to change the world for the better,” she said. “My joy is rooted in action; my joy is rooted in the support of Black and native people and trying to make this world a better place not just for some, but for everyone.”
Rivera recounted drawing inspiration from the story of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who like Rivera, is of Puerto Rican descent and is Bronx-born) while she was living in her mother’s basement writing the story that became Juliet Takes a Breath. After the book was published (leading to Rivera’s work with America Chavez in the Marvel series), Sotomayor’s law clerks gave her a book in the America series, and Rivera opened her mail to find a hand-signed note from the justice.
“I never thought in a million years that Sonia Sotomayor, from her spot in the Supreme Court, would write to me,” Rivera said as she recalled the inspiration she felt. “This letter was like all my ancestors saying ‘You must continue. You are on your path. You are doing just fine.’”
Juliet Takes a Breath, a young-adult novel, was listed by Mic as one of the 25 essential books to read for Women’s History Month. The book is a critically acclaimed coming-of-age story starring a queer puertorriqueña who leaves her native Bronx to intern with one of her literary heroes: the feminist author Harlow Brisbane. Witty, authentic, and humming with the full complexities of modern life and radical politics, it was called the “dopest LGBTQA YA book ever” by Latina magazine, and was re-published in September 2019. Rivera’s podcast, "Joy Revolution," features interviews with revolutionary QTPOC humans and allies, where they share how they find, maintain, and nurture their joy in this chaotic world.
As an activist, Rivera also gives back. She serves as the youth programs manager at GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”), a leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe, affirming schools for LGBTQ students, which works toward fewer incidents of bullying and harassment and more students treated with respect. Rivera has also worked with Autostraddle.com for more than five years as the QTPOC Speakeasy editor and A-Camp staff. A film and multimedia teaching artist, she’s worked with social justice organizations like DreamYard Project, has appeared as a featured panelist and counselor at the annual Autostraddle Queer Women’s Conference, and has presented at the Allied Media and Digital Media and Learning Conferences.
Rivera also met with Mercersburg students active in the Rainbow Alliance and with the Book Club in small group settings; both gatherings, like the lecture were held virtually.
The Jacobs Residency Lecture is endowed in memory of John Alfred Morefield, the father of John Morefield ’52 and Fred Morefield ’53, in recognition of Wilmarth I. Jacobs, the school’s former assistant headmaster and director of admission (1915 to 1962), who personified a strong quality of non-elitism.