By Patrick Fergus
“Anyone can be a jerk,” Mira Jacob said. “Anyone can be prejudiced.”
Jacob, the author and illustrator of the award-winning book Good Talk, visited the Springfield College campus on Tuesday night and shared that message.
Blake Arena was filled to the brim with students as Jacob gave an enthralling presentation about the origins of the graphic novel, which is being read by all first-year students as a part of their seminar class.
Published in 2019, Good Talk received an abundance of praise for its subject matter and presentation. The book earned numerous awards, including being named Book of the Year by Time, Esquire and more.
Jacob grew up in New Mexico after her parents immigrated there from India. Her book details her journey of identity and race in the U.S., and additionally through the lens of her son.
Some of the most notable conversations of the story include her son’s questions about identity, racism, and the realities of a world that is not always fair. This partly inspired Jacob to create Good Talk, because she believed that the conversations she was having with her 6-year-old son were equally important to have with her readers.
“The reality is that there are a lot of systems that are made entirely unfair for people in this country,” Jacob said.
When pondering how to construct these conversations with her child into an interesting read for her audience, Jacob believed that the book should take on a more artful and creative look.
There was only one problem for Jacob, she had never done anything of the sort before.
“I had never drawn professionally,” Jacob said. “I had never drawn people….and it was very hard to figure out what to do with them.”
Jacob describes her earliest attempts at sketching her characters as “totem pole heads with strange mouths.”
One of the most admirable skills of Jacob writing and drawing is her ability to mix serious topics such as racism and prejudice with comedic elements. Perhaps, it is what makes Jacob’s stories feel so relatable and interesting.
“Everyone thinks these conversations are too hard to have, everyone thinks we can’t talk about this stuff, but actually when you’re laughing, you can talk about a lot,” Jacob said.
Jacob mentioned throughout her presentation that she has a different definition of racism than some. She sees it as a system that works to knock down people of color and takes away opportunities for them, and not just a destructive belief.
“Racism is not just about getting your feelings hurt,” Jacob said. “It’s getting your jobs taken and feeling uncomfortable walking down the street.”
Jacob distinctly describes a conversation with her husband where she was concerned about writing the prejudices she had faced, even from her family, and the effects that telling her story would have on their relationships.
“It’s gonna hurt us….it’s gonna hurt our family,” Jacob recalls telling her husband.
In the end, she recognized the importance of her experiences and the effect it could have on people who may struggle with their racial identity and its relevance in their lives.
For Josiah Evely, a first-year student who attended the presentation, this resonated deeply for him as a person of color.
“It was informative,” Evely said. “It’s important to understand your own identity because then other people will appreciate you for who you are,”
Jacob’s presentation served as a reminder for many of the relevance of racial and identity issues in the country, and was an essential glimpse into someone’s experience of both.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College