September 2023 Power Player
At Power to Decide, we’re committed to uplifting the many individuals on the ground doing the work that matters most. Each month we highlight an individual who is championing the effort to support people’s reproductive well-being. Check out this month's Power Player profile.
Anna Gracia, Author, she/her
Author, Boys I Know
What work have you done to ensure that all people have the information and access they need to make decisions that align with their intentions and improve their reproductive well-being?
I write books about topics many people aren’t comfortable discussing aloud: abortion, condoms, emergency contraceptives, etc. By weaving these into my stories — especially those for teens — I reach audiences that might not otherwise be reached.
Fiction has the ability to inform just as well as non-fiction, especially when readers are able to see themselves in the characters. The feedback I hear most about Boys I Know is that it feels very realistic, not just in the portrayals of the characters and relationships, but of the situations my teenage protagonist finds herself in. Because the fact is, anyone who is sexually active can easily find themselves in an unwanted pregnancy scare — regardless of how “careful” they are.
By showing my character navigating reproductive care, it allows teens (who are so often underinformed) to safely explore the consequences and possibilities of situations like a broken condom. But beyond that, I’m able to fold in the larger conversation about how these things impact relationships, self-esteem, and their futures. My hope is that by making an impactful story, these bits of information stick with them past the conclusion of the book, helping to shape their worldview of what is possible.
How did you get started in your field? What is your driving force?
I had been one of those “I’d love to write a book someday” kind of people. But life was too busy with my other careers — accounting, teaching — then kids. In fact, I was in my thirties with three kids when I first read Gloria Steinman’s famous quote that’s some variation of, “Women grow more radical with age, men get more conservative.” But it sparked something in my brain; like it had been happening to me but I hadn’t fully realized until that moment.
I don’t want girls to have to wait so long to assert their bodily autonomy. I want them to be radicalized earlier — to demand the treatment, access, and respect they deserve when it comes to things like their reproductive health. I know it makes my books less “marketable” within the broader population, but I think it’s too important a topic to shy away from.
Each time I sit down to write a story, the first question I ask myself is, “What do I wish I’d learned earlier?” My driving force is to keep putting out books that challenge readers to think about the world they’re living in and how they can better seize the future they want.
What advice would you give to someone looking to effect change in the field that you currently work in?
I think the best piece of writing advice I’ve read is “Write what scares you.” It can be intimidating, committing to a cause. I’ve been yelled at by parents for handing out condoms at my events. I’ve seen more than a few teens hustled past my table at events by their parents, who want their kids to have nothing to do with the topics I write about. But every time someone reaches out to tell me how impactful my work was to them, it all feels worth it.
Writing is my resistance, and it allows me to reach a far wider audience than I could ever have previously dreamed of. The key, to me, is not to let external factors like book banning and marketability affect your dedication to including something you’re passionate about. Instead, let it motivate you to write a better story, so that your message can’t be ignored.
There needs to be more than one Judy Blume in the world.
Why should someone care about ensuring that all people—regardless of who they are or where they live—have the information and access they need to live their best life?
Whether or not someone agrees with me politically, I want them to have the same rights as me. That’s what feminism is, and a foundational aspect to reproductive care. Because underneath it all, I am an optimist at heart — I don’t think I could do this work if I weren’t. I want to believe that information can change the world, and that the best way to do it is by teaching kids empathy.
Many attribute the speed of societal change to same sex marriage as a result of individuals coming out to their friends and family members. By making the issue personal, they were able to change minds and hearts because it stopped being an abstract concept to disagree with. I think books can do the same thing. So even if someone continues to oppose abortion, for example, my hope is that they will do so only on an individual basis and not advocate for restrictions for everyone because they’ll understand that each person’s situation is unique and personal.
The only reason to restrict information is out of fear of others becoming informed.
Is there a highlight of your work that you’d like to share?
As I mentioned earlier, I make it a point to hand out condoms at each of my book events. It gives me the chance to spout quick statistical facts teens might not be aware of otherwise: Condoms aren’t 100% effective; they expire; if you have a latex allergy, non-latex condoms exist.
It’s the most basic of information, but so often they’re hearing it for the first time.
Sometimes, readers stay to engage in a more in-depth discussion of what their state does or doesn’t cover in sex ed, or how their own parents have been too hesitant to discuss contraceptives at home. I hope that by normalizing the conversation, they might feel just a little less uncomfortable about the topic.
My time with these individuals is brief, but my goal is to let them know that sexual health isn’t embarrassing or something that should be overlooked. Everyone needs to start somewhere.