Serving as allies for family members, friends, and strangers is undoubtedly important, but—as Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again, a collection of true stories from DK candidly explores—allyship is not always easy to navigate. Mistakes will be made, and that’s okay. Edited by Shakirah Bourne and Dana Alison Levy, the anthology features honest reflections from 17 authors on what it means to be an ally—how to do it, what it looks like, and how to learn from past mistakes. PW spoke to Tori Kosara, senior editor at DK, about the book’s unique approach to the topic and hopes for how the collection will assist both allies and those they support.
Where did the idea for the anthology come from?
We wanted to publish a book that could help young readers understand how to better support those who need allies. Allyship is a lifelong journey, not a destination, and we didn’t feel that a prescriptive “how to” guide was the right approach. After several conversations, we all felt that an anthology would best help readers understand what being an ally means by learning from a variety of voices and their lived experiences.
How did you select the contributing authors?
Agent and author Marietta B. Zacker, who in her daily work champions the voices of those who need to be amplified, introduced us to Shakirah Bourne and Dana Alison Levy. The editors led the way on commissioning the authors—and wow did they deliver! We didn’t want the book to read like a “checklist” of marginalized groups. There is intersectionality in real life and so the stories reflect this. Even though the stories focus on the same theme, each writer brings their own perspective and strengths to the collection.
What insights do the essays offer on the importance of empathy and forgiveness?
The subtitle “real talk about showing up, screwing up, and trying again” is reflected across the book. The essays ask us to reflect on our own experiences and to strive to do better. Of course, we are all going to screw up—the essays convey the message that no one is going to get it right all the time. Even though we are going to mess up, we should try to be allies anyway, and we should be kind to ourselves as well as others in our efforts to be allies.
How do the essays in the book promote open communication surrounding sensitive issues like race and gender identity?
In her essay, “Dana’s Absolutely Perfect Fail-Safe No Mistakes Guaranteed Way to Be an Ally,” Dana Alison Levy writes about calling people in. That means not publicly shaming someone on social media, for example, when they make a mistake. Instead, we can feel empowered to talk to that person and try to share what we’ve learned about being an ally. I think that’s such a lovely way to open the lines of communication around topics that don’t often get talked about.
What’s the first step for becoming an ally to someone with a different lived experience?
Allies shows us that there is no one “right” way to be an ally. For me, I think step one would be to do some research. I don’t want the person with a different lived experience to feel responsible for giving me relevant information or instructing me on how to behave.
What supplemental materials are included to support educators and students?
The authors share lists of relevant books, organizations, websites, digital media, and social media pages. Dana and Shakirah also include some self-reflection prompts and Naomi and Natalie Evans, who co-founded Everyday Racism and coauthored an essay for Allies, share some anti-racism advice.
How might Allies move young readers closer to realizing and embodying a more empathetic world?
For me, I think better understanding someone’s very real experiences makes it easy to feel empathy for them. In his essay, “A Bus, A Poster, and A Mirror,” author Brendan Kiely reflects on his own bullying behavior in the past. I think if we can all think about how we make others feel with our words and actions, then we’re on our way to being more empathetic.
What are some key takeaways for readers?
A key takeaway for me is that allyship isn’t just about showing up in “the big moments,” such as giving a speech at a protest march. Rather, there are hundreds of ways to be a “quiet ally” (as Dana calls it in her essay) every day. After reading these stories, I am constantly considering how I can be a better ally in almost every aspect of my life—whether it’s where I shop or the language I use. I hope that readers will connect with these essays and think about what works best for them when it comes to being an ally.