Judging a book by its content and its cover


Sydney Foster

Photo by Sydney Foster/ City College News

Sometimes the cover of a book is more provocative than the contents of the book.  In the case of MCTC Professor Shannon Gibney’s first book, “See No Color,” due out November 1st, both the cover and the content are provocative.

Shannon Gibney professor of English at MCTC in her office on Sept. 29, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Sydney Foster/City College News

Shannon Gibney pulled from her own experiences as a transracial adoptee to write a book from a perspective rarely, if ever, seen in the Young Adult genre.  Most books are written from the adoptive parent viewpoint, so this book is a chance for the adoptee perspective to shine.

“So often,” Gibney says, “well-meaning white liberals have the idea that they don’t really see black.  That they don’t see any difference.  That you are the same and we love you the same.”  But adoptees know that it is not as simple as that.  Being adopted is not something that can be erased – it is always with the adoptee. “In telling our own stories, we can not only heal ourselves, but heal others too,” said Gibney.

A good cover tells you what kind of book you will read without giving too much away. And in a changing industry, a memorable one just might make the difference between a purchase and dismissal. It is extremely important for an author’s creativity to not only capture your attention with the content, but with the cover.  “All people are creative”, says Gibney.  “I’m lucky because I discovered the genre for my creativity. “

When asked how this book came about, Gibney stated that she started writing this book in 1999 when she was at Indiana University working on her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in fiction and creative writing. “It took me awhile to get the chops to write this book,” says Gibney.  “I’ve always said that we are the ones that allow us to be labeled.  I let other people tell me what my writing is, but identity is fluid and intersectional.  

Some aspects of this book focus on the inescapable black racial identity.   “If you occupy that space or raise someone who does,” says Gibney, “ there is no escaping the body.  You can’t erase that or overlook it. I have had fits and starts with this book since 2004, but the literary world was not ready for this book yet.”

Gibney didn’t start writing to get published, but because she had something to say. She was a voracious reader and knew that writing comes from a love of reading.  She also knew that “you don’t control the publishing industry, how people receive your work, where it goes and it is hard not to get swept up in it when it’s going well, and hard not to get down when it’s not going well.”  

For those interested in writing, Gibney’s advice is to “read everything you can get your hands on.  Read widely and deeply.  Then get something down and go back and revise.  Perseverance and patience are going to be key.”

Gibney’s book “See No Color” brings awareness on issues of transracial adoption, black racial mixed identity, gender and sexual issues, and is rife with awareness, fallibility, openness, and cruelty.

Shannon Gibney is a professor at MCTC, a young adult author, a journalist for Al Jazeera America, and has recently won a $25,000 McKnight award.  This year has been one of pleasure and joy, unlike a year ago where she lost her daughter, for unknown reasons, and “on the heels of that loss I came back to the classroom, which has been my safe haven, to then be charged by two white male students with racial discrimination on my first day of class,” Gibney stated.  

Gibney’s struggle involved two white male students that accused her of discrimination during a class discussion in Fall 2013. The reprimand of Gibney, which was eventually rescinded, sparked local and national attention and according to her, she “was in an environment where I was a target for a while, as an advocate for vulnerable students.”

“I went on sabbatical to do some self-care,” stated Gibney. “In a way what is happening in this novel is the same as what happened to me here, it looks different because it is a different space, but I had to tell my story.  I felt it was the only thing that was going to heal me.  There are always consequences with what you do or don’t do, and there will be more.”

As her favorite author James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”