Adiba Nelson named Pima Library's first Black writer in residence

Adiba Nelson is the newest writer in residence at the Pima County Public Library. From Sept. 13 to Nov. 18, the freelance journalist, author of two books and disability rights activist will host workshops and one-on-one sessions with local writers of all “stripes, ages and genres.”

“I was pretty shocked when they said I’d be the new writer in residence,” Nelson said. “I have really big dreams but I guess I just never — you know, I’ve lived in Tucson for a long time and sometimes I feel like Tucson forgets that I’m here and that it doesn’t think of me in that way as a contributing author for the community. So, it’s really humbling and it’s a big honor.”

En español: Adiba Nelson nombrada la primera escritora en residencia negra de la Biblioteca de Pima

Nelson aspires for her work as the library’s writer in residence to extend to the community as a whole.

“As someone who is a Black parent, an Afro-Latin parent, someone who is parenting a child with a disability, I try to bring that perspective to the community,” Nelson said. “I try to bring awareness about how things that are happening in the country and locally affect people with disabilities. For example, streets and city beautification and sidewalks and potholes and I think of all the disabled people that I see using their motorized wheelchairs in the bike lane because we don’t have sidewalks. So I’m always trying to get folks to think about things and in all of my work, I strive for people to be able to see the humanity in themselves and others around them.”

Nelson’s memoir “Ain’t That A Mother” is currently being developed into a TV series and she serves as the creative consultant and executive producer for the project. 

She is the author of “Meet ClaraBelle Blue,” and her two upcoming books, “Oshun & Me” and “Hazel’s Best Day!”, which are slated to be released in winter 2024 and winter 2026 respectively. Her work is largely centered on BIPOC identity, disability and the intersectionality of both. 

Her workshop programming is a reflection of Nelson’s passions. The first workshop will be on Friday, Sept. 29, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Woods Memorial Library. 

It is titled “Oh, To Be a Kid Again” and it will be an opportunity for writers to learn the basics of crafting a children’s book. 

“Show Me What Ya Got: Memoir as Burlesque” will take place on Saturday, Oct. 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the YWCA Tucson, 525 N. Bonita Ave., and it will be about “the nitty-gritty of what it takes to write a memoir.” 

Last, but not least, “Sofrito For the Masses: a BIPOC Workshop,” which will be on Saturday, Nov. 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Woods Memorial Library, will be all about the publishing industry and how to crack into it as a BIPOC writer.

“The reason I wrote ‘Meet ClaraBelle Blue’ was my daughter. I really wanted her to see herself in a book,” Nelson said. “How many books about disabled Black characters are on the shelves? I could count them all with one hand and have four fingers left.”

“Oshun & Me” follows the story of a young Puerto Rican girl and her mom and their exploration of heritage and what it means to be Afro-Latinas. She was inspired by Beyoncé’s song “Hold Up” and the imagery of the Yoruba goddess of love and sensuality, Oshun. The other side of her inspiration lead her to her aunt who practiced Santeria and traditional Catholicism “interchangeably.”

“Usually, when people think of Puerto Rican women, they think of J.Lo. They don’t think of people who look like me,” Nelson said. “MacMillan is actually going to publish the Spanish version of the book at the same time and it is being translated by a Puerto Rican translator and so, it’ll be in that Puerto Rican dialect.”

“Hazel’s Best Day!” will follow the story of a little girl named Hazel who is excited to attend a Disability Pride parade with her friends. 

As writer in residence, Nelson will host eight 30-minute one-on-one sessions each week at Murphy-Wilmot Library. They will be hosted on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Registration is available on the PCPL website.

“I’m mostly excited to see what people will bring,” Nelson said. “I don’t think people realize how they look when they talk about something they are passionate about. They light up.”

Nelson’s creativity extends beyond writing. As she works on the TV series inspired by her memoir, she said it is
possible to chase dreams without sacrificing the other facets that make
her, such as her her freelance
journalism, burlesque performances and being a mom.

“One of the best anecdotes my therapist ever gave me was that
if I were in the middle of the ocean and I was drowning, how much would
I ask for help?,” she said. “And I said that I would scream and kick and fight for
my life because I’d be drowning. And my therapist said, ‘Well, you are
in the water. Why can’t you ask for help? My daughter’s
father and I are great at co-parenting and if I need to go out of town, I
could ask him or my mom, when she can, for help.”