The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown is hosting out coloring book artist Jacinta Bunnell as part of its artist-in-residence series, Nov. 11-12.
Bunnell is an artist and author from New York’s Hudson Valley. She has created coloring books that challenge readers to look differently at notions of gender and sexuality with titles like “Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls Will Be …” and “Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon.”
Adrian Shanker, founder and executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, said “Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center brought Jacinta Bunnell to our organization last year to do an exhibit of her coloring book pages in our art galleries, where people were able to color on the walls,” Shanker said. “This year, we’re bringing her back as an artist-in-residence to teach people how to make coloring books that are, what she calls, ‘gender liberating,’ and also have a community coloring party with the pages of her books. It so important that people be able to express themselves, and coloring is one way to do that.”
Bunnell said she draws from her experience as a teacher for her books but also seeks advice and ideas from the queer communities she wants to engage.
“My own experience would not feel broad-spectrum enough, so I always get feedback from as many people as possible before publishing a book. Usually, a small committee of people read the book and give feedback,” she said. “Then I’ll go back to the drawing board and change things beyond that.”
While queer families are far more visible now, inclusive coloring books and other LGBT-centered amusements for queer children, youth and families are difficult to find and often not available in mainstream retail spaces. Both Bunnell and Shanker said that the support of LGBTQ organizations and retailers is essential to reach the books’ intended audiences.
“We know that a lot of times, these books are hard to find,” Shanker said. “They’re not always in places where people go to find books. Sometimes it’s hard to access these materials. That’s why we make sure that our library has books like Jacinta’s but also goes further and creates community programs that engage our population with the artists themselves.”
“A lot of GSAs will buy [my books], along with LGBTQ centers and homeless shelters and schools,” Bunnell said. “I hope the children will finally be able to see a reflection of themselves in media because so much media ignores queer families or tokenizes them. Much of the children’s literature that is made for queer youth is very didactic in that it’s a teaching tool. Like, ‘This is what a lesbian family looks like,’ as opposed to normalizing it and weaving it into the story.”
Books created for queer children and their families draw some criticism from people outside of the community. Bunnell said she tries to insulate herself from any criticism that anyone might have about her books.
“It’s wonderful to have a publisher who creates a buffer for me from that,” she said. “I don’t get a lot of direct feedback because they handle communication around the books. I feel strongly that what I do is right, and there’s nothing wrong. If there is pushback, we’ve all dealt with that our whole lives as queer people. I feel strong in who I am and have a strong foundation of support from my publisher and my community.”
Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center’s artist-in-residence series presents Jacinta Bunnell, 6 p.m. Nov. 11. Attendees can create coloring books and at 6 p.m. on Nov. 12, join a community coloring party, 522 W. Maple St. at Bayard Rustin Way, Allentown. For more information, visit bradburysullivancenter.org, jacintabunnell.com or queerbookcommittee.com.