Listen, it’s fine if you don’t know who Leigh Bardugo is…
Wait, wait, I can’t do this. I can’t start out this post with a lie! It is not fine if you don’t know who Leigh Bardugo is, so I’m here to tell you some things about her: first, she’s an incredible writer of young adult literature. She has penned several novels in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world entirely of her own making; plus, she was one of four YA authors tapped by DC to write coming-of-age stories of some DC Heroes (hers? None but WONDER WOMAN Y’ALL). So she’s kind of a big deal. Like, the amount of talent she has for storytelling and world building is just, like…I want it.
Another thing to know about Leigh is that she’s committed to writing diverse books. She’s a white Jewish woman, but she incorporates characters of varying colors, religions and sexualities in order to create a world that similarly parallels our own. She also writes characters with disabilities; as someone who has dealt with chronic pain and psychical disability herself, Leigh hasn’t shied away from showing that in her fiction. And that’s incredible.
All of this is stuff you could find with a quick Google search of her name. But today I want to share a personal story, about how much of an incredible person Leigh Bardugo is. And it all started with her book, WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER, which was released earlier in September.
It all started then because, of course, Leigh was going on tour for that book; and, fortunately for me, that tour included a stop in New York City. In case you’ve missed it, THAT’S WHERE I LIVE!
Now, the last event I went to at a New York Barnes & Noble was the Jojo Moyes/Emilia Clarke signing last year, so I got my butt out of the house seven hours before the event was to begin and trekked to Union Square for a wristband. Fortunately, they were still in stock.
As the seconds ticked ever closer to 7 p.m., my heart began to race a little more. I was excited because this event included a conversation between Leigh and Daniel Jose Older, another incredible writer; book signing with personalization, yo; and a chance to take a picture (seen above)! Because I’m a dolt, I showed up just a few minutes before 7, and grabbed a seat towards the back of the auditorium. Sitting in the back of the class was a winning strategy all through college, so I didn’t figure it would hurt.
Except of course, they let you line up to meet Leigh by row.
Now, thanks to my job as a barista, I go to bed around, oh, 9 p.m….if I’m staying up late. Usually, I’m in bed by 8:30 p.m. Last Wednesday, I didn’t even line up to meet Leigh until 9:15. This is how committed I was to meeting her.
I was nervous, though. What do you say when you meet someone you adore, who’s writing has meant the world to you? I had submitted interview questions to Leigh a few weeks earlier through her publicist; should I mention that? Should I go with my gut and say, “Hey, how are ya?” and when she responded with, “Good, and you?” say, “Starstruck”?
Cause I was. I was completely struck by her dazzling stardom. I mean, she was so great on stage. Funny, self-possessed yet modest, full of wisdom. And then there’s me, small and terrified and without a book deal to my name.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry about it, because as soon as she saw the little Post-It that said “Karis” attached to my book, Leigh smiled and said, “Oh, are you the same Karis…?”
SHE RECOGNIZED MY NAME Y’ALL!!
And then — then!
She held out her arms and, when I hesitated, said, “Are you a hugger?”
HECK YEAH I’M A HUGGER LEIGH BARDUGO, I’LL GIVE YOU A HUG!
Wow. I was amazed. While she signed my book, I took a deep breath and told her what I’d mentioned in the interview questions: that I read the Six of Crows duology during a desperately miserable depressive episode, and they helped me survive. I teared up a little. I told her “thank you.”
She wrote a little note in my book, we took a picture, and I went on my way.
I didn’t sleep all night. I was still too riled up, too excited.
And now, to get to the point of this story: Leigh is not only an incredibly talented writer, one who cares about diversity — she’s a real human. One who cares. She recognized my name and remembered it, knew who I was…and I’m not the only one. I saw her greet so many other fans with recognition, like she’d met them before and was excited to see them. And I believe she was — excited to see them, to remember them.
I think it’s that she just cares, y’all. On a human level, she gives a crap about the people who read her books and the people she meets. And she remembers them.
And that’s my writing lesson for the week. No matter how good you are, how successful, how amazing…never stop caring about people. About readers and non-readers and everyone in-between. Because if we don’t care about people…what the heck are we even writing for?
The best writers, it turns out, don’t do it for the glory or the recognition. They do it because the care about people; stories can honestly change lives, and to be a part of that, to do something like that…you have to care about the people reading your words.
I’m so grateful for writers like Leigh who care. And when I grow up…I want to be just like her.