Interview with Whitney Gardner about You’re Welcome, Universe

Comments: 6



Earlier today, Andrea Shettle reviewed Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe and it’s excellent portrayal of a Deaf protagonist. This afternoon, we’re thrilled to feature an interview between Andrea, site editor Natasha Razi, and Whitney herself. Read on for discussion of research, art, Deaf community, graffiti, and more!

Andrea Shettle: It was clear from the little nuances in the book that you have spent a lot of time learning from Deaf people about our daily lived experiences. And I gather that you know ASL. What first drew you to the Deaf community, starting to learn ASL, and making personal connections within the community?

Whitney Gardner: I was first introduced to the Deaf community when I started taking ASL in high school. It quickly became my favorite (non-art related) class. I spent every lunch period practicing with my classmates. The next year we took a trip to a local deaf high school and I made a few d/Deaf friends. We’ve fallen out of touch over the years but I’ve tried to keep ties to the community and make new friends in other ways. I was strongly considering going back to school to become an interpreter right before we sold the book. It’s still something I would love to do one day.

Cover for You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerAndrea: Although I only briefly touch upon this in my review, I loved how has two moms in a stable lesbian-headed household. I feel this is so important for deaf readers who don’t come from cishet households. What led you to include this part?

Whitney: Most of my d/Deaf HoH friends have very diverse backgrounds and families. I wanted to make sure Julia’s world was as varied as real life.

Natasha Razi: What made you decide to make the protagonist Indian? Was she always intended as an Indian character or did that develop over the course of the book?

Whitney: I’ve always envisioned Julia as an Indian girl. She’s very loosely based off of the first Deaf friend I made back in high school. We would spend hours chatting on AOL Instant Messenger making up tons of silly ASCII emoticons when words would fail us.

Andrea: Aside from your existing personal knowledge, what other research did you do? Were there books, websites, or other sources that you found to be especially helpful?

Whitney: I was interested in refreshing my ASL while writing this book, so I hired a deaf tutor. Once a week we would meet and chat and practice ASL. She also ended up reading the book and offering her insights.

I found that http://www.lifeprint.com/ was helpful anytime I needed a refresher. There are lots of lessons there. I also enjoyed the following books:
– Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking
– Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity

Natasha: I know you’re heavily involved in the Deaf/HoH community and thank multiple Deaf/HoH people in your comments. Do you have similar involvement in desi communities? What sort of research did you do to write an Indian character?

Whitney GardnerWhitney: I listened to the real life experiences of my desi friends who read early drafts. And I am so thankful for the insight of my excellent sensitivity reader; working with her was a joy. She absolutely helped me make Julia’s story stronger.

Andrea: Have you read a lot of other fiction with deaf characters, whether as research or for enjoyment? If so, did this influence You’re Welcome, Universe?

Whitney: I have read other fiction with deaf characters both as research and for enjoyment. I saw that the relationship between deaf people and music kept coming up as a recurring theme, so I wanted to try and avoid that and make the book about visual art instead.

Andrea: If you were to write another book with Deaf characters, are there elements you’d tackle differently?

Whitney: I’d love to write a book that deals less with the comparison between the hearing and d/Deaf communities. Maybe something with very few hearing characters at all

Andrea: There is a lot about street art in this story. What is your own connection to art in general, or street art in particular?  How did that influence how you created Julia (and her friend and her art teacher)?

Whitney: My love for art came to me long before my love for writing. It’s always been a huge part of my life. I love how words and pictures play off of each other in picture books and comics. I’m glad I get to incorporate both in my novels too.

I wanted to make Julia brave and rebellious but not because of her disability or even in spite of it. I wanted to show her being a total bad-ass because that’s what she is. Art saved me when I was a teenager. I wanted to write about those feelings.

Natasha: What’s the coolest piece of graffiti you’ve ever seen?

Whitney: I’m dying to see a DOURONE piece in real life, they look so magical. But I have to admit nothing looked cooler than 5 Pointz did from the 7 train. I’m so sad that it’s gone now. I hope a little piece of it gets to live on in my book.

About Author

Andrea Shettle

Andrea Shettle, a program manager at the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD), is passionate about disability rights both domestically and internationally. At USICD, she coordinates an internship program for students and recent graduates who aspire to careers in international development. USICD is part of a consortium of US-based organizations supporting the RightsNow! project, which partners with disabled people’s organizations abroad to provide technical assistance in improving implementation of the international disability rights treaty Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in their countries. For this project, Andrea helps curate knowledge and resources for promoting disability rights in societies around the world. In her free time, she reads voraciously. She blogs about disability rights, various social justice issues, and disability representation in books and other media. She published a fantasy novel in 1990, Flute Song Magic, which is out of print.

Natasha Razi

It’s been half a year since Natasha Razi has stayed in the same country for longer than three weeks, so who knows where she is at the time you’re reading this. Probably somewhere with less vegetables than she wants there to be. When her health cooperates, she works as an environmental consultant. She spends the rest of her time writing fantasy novels, playing Broadway songs on endless repeat, and staying up way past her bedtime.



  1. Greetings Ms. Shettle, My name is Lisa Weldon and I am the author of the children’s book entitled Handicapable. Handicapable the first book in the Handicapable book series. It is an inspiring book about my life story as a handicapped little girl. Lola is the main character of the Handicapable book series. She is a sassy, couragious wheelchair bound little girl who is is wise beyond her years.
    It would be an honor for you to read and review my book.
    I too am very passionate about the treatment and mistreatment of those with special needs.
    Please feel free to visit my website booksbylisaw.com.
    With warm regards,
    Lisa Weldon

  2. Jayan Anderson on

    The interview highlights that even though a person may have a disability they can still be the protagonist. Whitney Is fascinated with dead/HoH communities and through this she brings too life the goodness in all communities.

  3. Wasn’t there a review of this book on this site? I could swear I read it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the book since it came out. I have mixed feelings, and I wanted to join in the discussion. Good interview!

  4. This review made me want to read this book. While I kept pushing it off, I finally got around to starting it last night, despite starting at 11:30 last night, and working today, I only have 10 pages left. I could not put it down, there is so much to love!

    Thank you for the great interview. I cannot wait to talk this book up to my library customers.

  5. Pingback: Review: You’re Welcome, Universe – Colorful Book Reviews

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