Erinne Paisley: PopActivism and changing the world

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Erinne Paisley‘s interest in social justice began early. She was involved in organizations such as Me to We and co-founded an activist group in high school. While still a teenager, she was invited to speak on panels, engage in global conferences, and develop content for youth audiences. But it was the story of her prom dress made of old homework that went viral. The story garnered a huge response, including a book series with Orca Book Publishers called PopActivism.

What genres do you write in and how did you get started?
I write primarily young adult non-fiction. The biggest step in my writing career so far has been working on the Pop Activism YA series with Orca Book Publishers. The series is three parts and serves as how-to activist books for anyone with a smartphone who’s looking to make a positive difference in the world!

Book cover of Can Your Smartphone Change the World? by Erinne PaisleyWhat was the impetus for the PopActivism series? What inspired you?
In 2015 I graduated from high school and created my prom dress out of old homework. On the dress, I wrote, “I’ve received my education. Not every woman has that right.” Then I donated the money I would have spent on a regular prom dress to the Malala Fund. The story went completely viral and I got the opportunity to promote women’s educational rights in the mainstream media spotlight for a few days! I interviewed with outlets like Teen Vogue and MTV and got to be connected online with many like-minded people trying to bring attention to the same issues. This experience really showed me how social media can change the status quo – and how influential it already is in our lives. I wanted to explore further how social media can be used to create positive change and especially how young people can do this, since smartphone usage is most influential in their lives.

Can Your Smartphone Change the World? (Orca Book Publishers) is a 21st-century guide with specific ways you can create social change through the tap of a screen. Why did you decide to start with the smartphone for the first book, Can Your Smartphone Change the World?

Can Your Smartphone Change the World? really frames the rest of the PopActivism series. It gives lots of examples of how people have used social media to push important issues into the spotlight and gives tips on how you can do the same. The second book in the series, Can Your Outfit Change the World?, focuses on how you can create change through your clothing choices. It’s coming out on February 20, 2018. The third book (forthcoming), Can Your Conversations Change the World?, looks at women’s rights and productive conversations about feminism. Both of these books use social media as a tool to create effective activist movements, so it’s helpful to have already read Can Your Smartphone Change the World? and have an idea of how this complex tool can be productively used.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the book?

Something that was surprising to me, which I included in the Smartphone book, was Miley Cyrus’s work with the Pacific Wild activist group. This group is working in BC to protect wolves and preserve our province’s wilderness. I had no idea that Miley had been to BC – nevermind spent time in the forest working to protect BC’s wildlife! It was very cool to learn more about how her support was able to bring attention to the cause and accelerate its exceptional work.

Book cover for Can Your Outfit Change The World? by Erinne PaisleyTell us about Can Your Outfit Change the World? Why was clothing chosen as the next topic for the PopActivism series?

Can Your Outfit Change the World? is another YA how-to activist book which focuses more specifically on the impact of the clothing you choose to wear and how ethical fashion decisions can lead to a larger positive impact. I chose this as the topic of the second book because, just like your smartphone, clothing is something you make decisions about every single day. It’s a resource you already are engaging with that can be used to make a difference. I wanted to empower young people to know that they can create change in the world a lot more easily than they may have originally thought!

What challenges have you encountered in your journey as an author?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as an author has been self-doubt, especially as a young female author. (I was eighteen when I officially started the project with Orca.) I would never have finished this series or had the confidence to put it out into the world if I didn’t have such a strong support network around me. That is everyone from my mum to my editor to my roommates!

Do you make New Year resolutions? If so, what are you hoping to achieve this year?

The one tradition that my whole family keeps is making New Year resolutions each year. We get together (now via Skype) so YES, I for sure made some. My biggest one was to complete new book project from start to finish.

We’d love to see your #Shelfie!

I just moved into a new apartment in Toronto so I don’t have most of my books on shelves yet but these are a few. I was pretty amped about these “invisible” shelves I put up in my bedroom!

Invisible bookshelves hold up 4 stacks of books

Erinne Paisley’s shelfie featuring invisible bookshelves

What is your favourite thing to eat while writing and why?

My favourite snack to have while writing is coffee. (Does that count as a snack? Let’s just say it does…)

What do you surround yourself with when you write?

I write most productively in coffee shops – which I know is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason! I love having people around me who are also being productive or social. It motivates me to keep moving instead of getting distracted or taking too many breaks. I wrote most of the PopActivism series in Caffe Fantastico in Victoria, BC. Here’s a picture of that space.

Interior photo of Caffe Fantastico in Victoria, BC

Caffe Fantastico in Victoria, BC — Erinne Paisley’s preferred writing space

What is the one book that you wish you wrote, and why?

It’s hard for me to name a book I wish I had written because a lot of my favourite books are based on author’s personal experiences and often challenging ones at that. So if I had to choose I would probably say the Harry Potter series because it’s had such an immense impact on a generation and connected so many people, and if I wrote Harry Potter, I probably would know Emma Watson on a personal level by now.

What are you reading? Do you have any BC book recommendations?

Right now I’m reading The Morning They Came for Us by Janine Di Giovanni, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and I just finished up Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.

One BC book you should definitely pick up is Pride by Robin Stevenson! It’s great for any age, and it’s a beautifully created book on a topic that really matters, especially in today’s political climate!

Erinne Paisley is an activist, public speaker, youth content developer, writer, and student. She was awarded one of ten University of Toronto National Scholarships and is now studying International Relations at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She is the author of Orca Books’ PopActivism series.

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