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Meet Tobi Harper

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tobi Harper.

Hi Tobi, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up as an out and proud queer kid in the San Fernando Valley with divorced parents and a total of three brothers, one mom, two dads, and one grandma. Half of my life was spent in a house with parents and three brothers, books, board games, animals, D&D, weekends camping, and no cable. The other half was in an apartment with my bachelor dad and younger brother, sports, TV, poker, late nights, and a library and rec park across the street. I enjoyed a safe and wild childhood, raised by a gaffer, teachers, professors, writers, poets, and nonprofit book publishers. I moved to Santa Barbara for university and became infused with political and queer knowledge before moving to San Francisco for grad school and finally blossoming into a butch dyke. After graduating with a master’s and working as a computer tech, I came home to Los Angeles to work with the nonprofit book publishers who raised me to love books and this amazing city.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Life has had its usual struggles: Being queer in the world, appearing visibly (and often “confusingly”) non-binary, engaging in questionable romantic relationships, and of course, these long and painful last few years that kept my younger brother and his fiancé in Vietnam two years longer than planned. Otherwise, the biggest struggle has been the lack of extended family and support that comes with those relationships. All three of my parents were abandoned by their own parents in one way or another and two experienced homelessness, so I am especially grateful for how much they have provided for me and my brothers with no support of their own.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am the marketing and deputy director of Red Hen Press, Editor and Founder of Quill, a queer publishing series of Red Hen, publisher of The Los Angeles Review, and instructor for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Editing and Publishing certificate. I specialize in editing queer literature and literary fiction and teaching people about book publishing and editing. I am most proud of my work with the Red Hen community of authors, readers, and supporters. Being raised in the creative arts, I love artists and writers and enjoy communicating with them and championing their work. I am most proud of my work when our authors meet their goals and dreams. I also curate for events in the Pasadena community, Los Angeles, and New York, and that puts me in touch with many kinds of different writers. I am told that my skillsets as an extrovert are what truly set me apart from many members of the literary community who are often introverted creative types who prefer to work alone. I find myself able to see the best in people and to work with them joyously and energetically.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
The continuation of the creative arts matters the most to me. The grind might pay the bills, but it won’t save our souls and it won’t give us reason to live. Seeing the magic that pours out of another’s finely honed craft and reading stories from the perspective of another’s equally complex mind is the fuel that keeps us all connected and alive. The arts speak to each of us in our individual cores and show us how unique we are in how we create and absorb it.

Skills in math and science increase when students are exposed to the creative arts, and high school drop-out rates plummet in the face of its gravity. Each song, mural, photograph, story, and poem holds a complex truth that cannot be calculated or quantified, and humans need this space to grow and feel without rulers and benchmarks. We thrive by finding parts of ourselves reflected in the experiences of others, and this is not possible without open access to all of the creative arts.

The continuation of the creative arts is key to the survival of a future worth fighting for.

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Image Credits
Both headshots by Captured by Emily C. Petrie

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