Turning awareness into action

Kate Schatz (Stevenson ’03, literature and creative writing). 

When Kate Schatz (Stevenson ’03, literature and creative writing) began her career as an author, she wrote short fiction stories for an adult audience. Yet, within only a few years, Schatz would find herself in a very different context: The New York Times Bestseller list for pioneering feminist children’s literature. 

Schatz spent her time at UCSC focusing on feminist studies and creative writing, two majors that flowed directly into her future work as a major feminist children’s author. 

“I very genuinely feel like my UC Santa Cruz education is the foundation of much of the work that I do,” Schatz said.

However, the prospects of her studies didn’t always seem to connect to the future. She recalls a time when much of her family–though supportive–looked onto her studies with confusion. In spite of her family’s questioning, Schatz knew the value of a feminist studies education, and would carry that understanding with her in understanding the world as a whole.

 “It was in my feminist studies classes, that I came to understand economics, and then I came to really think about history in a different way. I understood I learned a lot about psychology. I learned about literature in a very different way. For me, it was just this, it was an intellectual lens that went over all of these different fields.” 

Schatz's latest book, Do the Work! co-written with comedian and television host W. Kamau Bell, focuses on bringing the lessons Schatz shared in her children’s book series Rad Women to an adult audience by using an interactive medium–an activity book. By using a more interactive approach, Schatz aims to directly engage her readers with anti-racism, and turn awareness into action. 

“The book is called Do the Work, and the whole point is that you just need to do something,” Schatz said. “Change doesn't happen if you're just sitting around worrying,fretting, freaking out, or just posting on social media—you need to figure out something to do, and there's so many different things we can do. So why not create a book where you learn about that while actually doing things?”

Schatz began her foray into children’s literature as her time protesting in the streets came to an end, with new circumstances preventing her from participating in activism as she once did. Though she began her career with short stories after pursuing an MFA in creative writing, Schatz recalls always wanting to write a children’s book – and a few years into parenthood, Schatz would find the perfect reason to fulfill that desire.

“When I had the idea for [Rad Women], my daughter was two: it was also a time when I felt my experience and identity as an activist was in a transitional time,” Schatz said. “As a new mom, I wasn't as able or willing to go out to protests to be in the streets, risking arrest as I had before. I had a baby at home, and I felt a shift that I wanted to be impactful, but in a different way.”

Schatz published her first book of the Rad Women series, Rad American Women A-Z, in 2015, which would win itself a place on the New York Times bestseller list and place feminist history in the minds of children across the nation. With Schatz’s transition from street activist to feminist author, she would move her activism from the physical world to the mental one, and went on to publish numerous other works in the Rad Women series, writing on women worldwide and throughout American history.

After years as an influential feminist activist, Schatz still traces back the formation of her feminist understanding to Bettina Aptheker's course “Intro to Feminism,” which she took in her first quarter at UCSC. She recalls how much of her understanding of feminist theory came from that class, shaping the very lens with which she understands the world.

“I got such a thorough understanding of intersectionality at such an early age, and an understanding of a lot of concepts that are at the heart of a lot of white women's anxieties about race, privilege, and all these things that make people tense up and get really defensive,” Schatz says, “I really feel like I encountered those things at such a young age at Santa Cruz, and was able to process them, understand them and move on intellectually–and that formed the basis of thought for me.”

Schatz now spreads these same lessons around the world through her writing, teaching her wide audience about the same structures of power and privilege she grew to understand at UCSC. 

Kate Schatz newest book, Do the Work!: An Antiracist Activity Book, co-written with comedian and television host W. Kamau Bell is available for purchase now.