BELLOWS FALLS—Not all children are lucky enough to have a drag queen read to them, but some recently had the opportunity at the Rockingham Free Public Library.
As part of the Storytime for Social Justice program at the library, Sam Maskell, the Youth Services Librarian, invited Miss Ginger Soulless, a performer with the Ladies of the Rainbow drag troupe, to be a guest reader.
“Storytime for Social Justice is a fairly new program for the [library’s] youth department, which takes place the last Friday of every month at 5 p.m., and features a different theme,” Maskell said.
Although Soulless was scheduled to read on March 31, the event was postponed by a week, to April 7, because of snow.
Paul Mekdeci-Brown, who is Soulless’s alter ego, told The Commons, “The theme for the storytime that I am doing is ‘Be Who You Are.’”
Mekdeci-Brown chose two books to read: Glamourpuss by Sarah Weeks, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldaccino.
Glamourpuss features a dog doing impersonations of Carmen Miranda and Scarlett O’Hara. When the titular character worries the dog will steal the spotlight, both learn a new way to relate to each other.
Morris Micklewhite sensitively portrays gender-nonconforming children.
Although he has never read to children in a large setting, Mekdeci-Brown said his children’s theater experience helped him prepare for this performance.
Theater is also what ushered him into drag.
When Mekdeci-Brown was 19 years old, and working in community theater playing male roles, a last-minute need came up for someone to take the part of a female character.
“So, I put myself in drag, and after that I got male and female roles,” he said.
Mekdeci-Brown began performing with the Ladies of the Rainbow about two-and-a-half years ago, and he said he created the Miss Ginger Soulless persona for the Ladies.
“I love acting, and drag is just another role for me,” Mekdeci-Brown said, adding Soulless is “not too femme. She’s very campy, like something out of John Waters. Even when I do glamour, it’s camp.”
Mekdeci-Brown and Maskell met last year, when Maskell directed Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens, the song cycle performed as a benefit for the Southern Vermont AIDS Project. Mekdeci-Brown was one of the actors.
“She mentioned the program, and I said, ‘Absolutely! I would love to be involved,’” Mekdeci-Brown said.
Maskell said she started the Storytime for Social Justice program because “libraries are for everyone! That’s not a political statement, it’s the truth.” Maskell said.
Storytime plays an important role for children, she added.
“With storytime, the library helps bring early literacy into the home; we help children feel welcomed, safe, and understood; we help children to be better acquainted with themselves and the world around them."
Maskell said she was inspired to start the program by Storytime Underground (storytimeunderground.org), which announced a 2017 challenge for library storytimes to include themes of social justice and inclusiveness in storytime and library practices.
Other Storytime for Social Justice themes Maskell has presented are families, kindness and empathy, community, and friends/diversity. Next month’s theme will be refugees.
“While the [program] can be political, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I don’t think of kindness and empathy as partisan issues,” Maskell said.
She said that she read “some really positive articles about drag queen storytimes happening in San Francisco and at the Brooklyn Public Library. I think it’s a great fit. Drag queens get dressed up and put on fantastic performances, something that kids love to do, too!
“Kids see people as people. And having Miss Ginger lead a book-based celebration for children all about being the best self one can be regardless of what others might think or say is an excellent message.”