20 Questions with Kelly Jensen

Kelly Jensen

20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.

As a former teen librarian, Kelly Jensen has a passion for young adult literature—but her intrigue doesn’t stop there. As an editor at Book Riot, as well as the author and editor of the YA anthologies Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, (Don’t Call Me) Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health, and the forthcoming Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy, Jensen is dedicated to creating smart books for teens and beyond, since everyone deserves smart and informative literature.

Jensen’s writing has featured on Bustle, in Bust Magazine, at The Writer’s Digest, The Huffington Post, at Rookie Magazine, The Horn Book, BlogHer, School Library Journal, and many other places. She co-hosts the popular YA book podcast Hey YA with Eric Smith and is a regular co-host on Book Riot’s All The Books podcast with Liberty Hardy. Jensen also writes the twice-weekly “What’s Up in YA?” newsletter for Book Riot, which reaches nearly 60,000 inboxes.

For this week’s edition of 20 Questions, I got to speak with Kelly all about Body Talk, how being female on the Internet is hard, the best and worst parts of being an editor, the best books she’s read in the last year and, most importantly, why shoes are foot prisons that ruin our feet.

Was there a specific life event that sparked your love of books and writing?

Not that I can remember! I always loved reading and writing.

What’s your favorite part of being an editor?

I love seeing pieces that others have worked on and being able to offer just the right questions or insights that turn it into something incredible.

Favorite book of all-time?

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. I reread it every few years and still love it, and I’ve been to Alliance, Nebraska, one of the key locations in the book. The last reread I did of the book made me realize now that all of the main characters were younger than me, which was weird since they all used to feel so much older than me.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

No is a complete sentence!

The last series you binge-watched?

I definitely watched all of the new Baby-Sitters Club series on Netflix over the July holiday weekend. I don’t watch much television or movies, but I did get sucked into this one. (The other one that I get sucked into is Ink Master, but I get to it when it streams).

Body Talk is the third in a series of anthologies celebrating voices on stigmatized issues. Which part of editing and publishing these books are you most passionate about?

When I was a teen librarian, I was disheartened by the nonfiction for teen readers. There was a good number of “report books”—pricey, not especially engaging books about Hot Topics that young people use for writing reports—but not a whole lot of recreational nonfiction. That has changed in the last decade, and I’m glad to be able to be part of that shift. Teens deserve smart books, too.

If you could meet one celebrity, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I have zero interest in meeting anyone famous. I always tell the story of when I worked as a telecounselor for my college, wherein my boss assigned me to call a prospective student because I was the only person who wouldn’t get worked up about calling the home of a famous person. It was Bill Paxton’s son (funny because Twister IS my favorite movie).

The most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

I took a boat paddled by a man across the Rio Grande, then took a donkey up a huge hill, to visit the Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

Favorite movie of all-time?

Twister!

You’ve been an editor at Book Riot, the largest independent literary site in North America, for several years. What is the most challenging part of being an editor for a large publication?

In the first few years, the harassment and horrific comments from folks on social media and on site were awful. There were many times I needed to take time off to just recent and be able to do it again. It’s not easy being female on the Internet, especially when you speak out against injustice and misogyny.

If you had the chance, what is one superpower you would give yourself?

The ability to travel wherever I want to just by wishing it so (and without having to drive there or get on a plane or a train).

The best book you’ve read in the last year?

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry or Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid or Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson. All three have a good bit of humor in them while also being deeply personal and human stories about growing up and coming into yourself. The former two are ones I did on audio and adored in that format.

One song that you will never be sick of?

Kodachrome” by Paul Simon.

Your Twitter handle is @veronikellymars. Where did that originate? Are you a Veronica Mars fan?

I got the name before I ever watched the first two seasons of the show (I stopped there). It was a nickname someone gave me because I am really good at tracking down information that I need. I’m not super attached to the show or fandom, though!

Heels or flats?

Flip flops. Shoes are foot prisons and ruin your feet.

Favorite time of day and why?

5:00 AM because it’s quiet and early and full of potential.

If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?

Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine! She’d write something beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I’d like to be remembered as being good but also being tough.

One thing that’s been keeping you sane during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yoga. I’ve been teaching for a number of years and have a 500-hour certification. I’ve been teaching a LOT of yoga, as well as practicing with my many teachers around the Midwest.

You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?

I call Matt Nathanson my pal, and that’s because I feel like he is after falling in love with his music in high school. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a piece for Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and I’m always so appreciative of how thoughtful and socially forward his thinking and actions really are. He loves books and reading, and I’d love talking with him about that, about good music, and how much great profanity there is in the English language—we’d have many good laughs.

One thing that’s inspiring you the most right now?

Nature. No matter what is going on with humans, it continues to follow the cycles it always does. The trees know to be big and green right now, as much as the birds know to be taking care of their babies.

Follow Kelly Jensen on Twitter and Instagram, and buy her new book Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy, on sale August 18th wherever you buy books.