Many undergraduate students have toyed around with the idea of writing a book once or twice in their lives. The idea may emerge after a lengthy literature conference, or during a late night conversation in a dorm room involving several bottles of Depanneur wine.
For recent McGill graduate Jillian Giberson, however, the idea of writing a book before graduating university became more than just a late-night fantasy. In fact, during summer break in 2019, the former Arts student received an unexpected LinkedIn message that transformed the idea of becoming a published author into a reality.
“I was literally alone on Cape Cod. Other than working at a bookstore, I was doing literally nothing,” shared Giberson, speaking over Zoom from her Montréal apartment. “The professor from Georgetown slid into my LinkedIn DMs. He said, ‘Hi! I saw you’re a writer. You write for the McGill Journal of Political Studies. I would really like to bring this program to McGill, to Canada. Would you be interested?’”
Giberson then explained how she became involved with Creator Institute: an online platform that aims to empower aspiring creators. The program was created by Eric Koester, a professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Georgetown University. In addition to publishing books, the project aims to connect participants with mentors and coaches to produce podcasts, corporate programs, and other entrepreneurial projects.
“Okay, if you were a man would you be feeling like this?”
“I really wanted to write about social media and the role that it plays in American politics at a national level,” explained Giberson. “I spent a few months researching and writing, and I was feeling insecure [that] I was not the right person to be writing this… I asked myself, ‘Why am I feeling like this?’… That’s when I started talking to my friends, and they were like, ‘Okay, if you were a man would you be feeling like this?’”
It was this stroke of imposter syndrome that inspired Giberson to change the subject of her book. Rather than using her platform to discuss American politics, the young author chose instead to highlight the experiences of women who overcame sexism and self-doubt to achieve success in their careers.
“The format of the book is meant to tell my experience of writing a book… I start by chronicling my experience at McGill as a woman and as a student in political science and how I have grown into that and become more secure in my own place here.”
Giberson’s concept expanded again when she started talking to more friends about her project. “The more people that I talked to, suddenly I was getting, ‘You have to talk to my mom!’ ‘You have to talk to this person!,’” Giberson shared. “I weave in these stories as I recount my own experiences of writing it. It’s entirely non-fiction.”
Nevertheless is one part autobiography, one part mosaic of dozens of women’s experiences with harassment, misogyny and discrimination in professional environments. However, the wave of Black Lives Matter activism this summer has highlighted how sexism is often intertwined with racism and other forms of oppression in society.
In light of these anti-Racism movements, Giberson took conscious steps to ensure that the feminist perspectives in her book remained as intersectional as possible.
“I talk about Tarana Burke, the Black woman who actually started [Me Too]. I try as often as I can to cite women of colour in my resources…,” explained the author. “I felt like I was walking a very thin line of reaching out to women of colour and being like, ‘Can you speak on behalf of this?’ Without being like, ‘I’m tokenizing you.’…So my entire task was trying to get the most diverse group of voices I could.”
I don’t want to make it seem like my story and the narrative I’m telling is encompassing for all women, because it’s not.
Giberson’s research process reflects the stark reality of discrimination against Black women in North America. In Canada, Black women are overrepresented in part-time and low-income employment, and they often face job discrimination. In universities and colleges, Black women professors are underrepresented and underpaid compared to their white, male colleagues; in 2016, the average racialized woman professor earned 68 cents for every dollar made by a non-racialized male professor.
Still, the upcoming author was candid about how her perspective as an author might be limited. “I start off kind of acknowledging, ‘I’m a white woman! My experience is going to be very different than women of colour.’ I don’t want to speak on behalf of their experiences. That being said, I don’t want to make it seem like my story and the narrative I’m telling is encompassing for all women, because it’s not.”
The further I got in my degree, the more I realized how many voices there are that are missing.
Giberson went on to share how her own degree at McGill illuminated her to how academia can often be a discriminatory space. Both of her majors, political science and international development, are writing-intensive and helped fortify her communication skills. Yet, perhaps more saliently, these undergraduate courses exposed Giberson to how women’s perspectives are often excluded in academia.
“One thing I learnt during my time at McGill is that you can go your whole university experience without having a reading by a woman. And when it is a reading by a woman, it’s usually specifically addressing gender issues. The further I got in my degree, the more I realized how many voices there are that are missing.”
Nevertheless is slated to be released in December 2020. Before then, however, Giberson is raising funds to cover various publishing costs on the website Indiegogo. The website includes a multi-tiered, pre-order system, in which one can acquire various bonuses for ordering the book in advance. These perks include a personal, signed copy of the book, a thank-you card, and even involvement in selecting the book’s cover.
Speaking eagerly over Zoom, the young writer considered the possibility of a curious reader stumbling upon her project in a bookstore in future years. I asked Giberson who she imagined this potential customer would be.
“If I could think of one single person it would be who I was when I was eighteen and starting university and coming to McGill. I think for any young woman who is starting university on the precipice of her academic and later professional career…any woman who needs to be told, ‘You got this! Your voice is valid!’”
You can preorder a copy of Jillian Giberson’s Nevertheless and support the publishing process on the Indiegogo page here.