With the launch of The Literary Tarot campaign on Kickstarter this week, we got a chance to sit down with the CEO and founder of Brink Literacy Project, Dani Hedlund to find out all about The Literary Tarot.
Welcome Dani, thank you for taking the time to be with us, we are so happy that you could join us today.
My pleasure, Shabbir! I’m so excited to be here!
For some of our readers who may not be familiar with Brink Literacy Project, could please tell us about your nonprofit?
I sure can! Brink is a zany group of lit geeks, all working to increase literacy rates, foster a love of literature, and empower people living on the brink to turn the page toward a better future.
The nonprofit does that in a slew of cool ways. We teach comic book courses in maximum security prisons, nurture and publish the next generation of great storytellers (alongside some swanky industry legends) in our art and literature anthology, F(r)iction, and then we use those books in classrooms across the country, elevating diverse and marginalized voices.
It’s a real labor of love and we are almost entirely volunteer run (so imagine 40+ geeks scattered across the globe, all fighting for stories and art and education). We all love it, but man, our parents think we’re nuts!
What is The Literary Tarot?
The Literary Tarot is a full tarot deck that pairs each card with a literary classic that exemplifies the themes of said card. Who is a more classic Fool than Don Quixote? What’s a more ominous Tower than Lovecraft’s monsters? How could Death be any more transformational than a bite from Dracula?
But we didn’t get just anyone to make these pairings.
Some of the greatest living storytellers came together (icons like Margaret Atwood, Patrick Rothfuss, Roxane Gay, & Mark Millar) have joined our ranks to each pair a tarot card with a classic they love. They’re the experts on these literary gems, and they bring that knowledge, insight, and considerable wit to each card!
Working with a team of five incredible artists, we then brought each card to life with the intricacy and flair that has long enchanted tarot and comic lovers alike!
Can you tell us about the origins of The Literary Tarot?
Like so many literary classics (Bilbo stealing the One Ring, for example), the origin of this deck started with a theft.
The theft of an idea.
Listen, I’m not proud of it, but I did not come up with this concept. In fact, it was my partner’s idea. He tossed out a simple “hey, you should make a tarot deck, but like, literary themed” as an off-hand comment after dinner one day. Clever bastard.
But don’t worry, the nonprofit negotiated ownership of the concept from his grasp through the payment of him getting to do one of the first cards (if you’re curious, he paired The Scarlet Pimpernel with the Five of Ink, won bragging rights for the end of time, and I do the dishes a lot now… okay, I intend to do the dishes a lot, that’s the same thing…right?).
We understand that you are working with a huge amount of incredibly talented people for The Literary Tarot, can you tell us who these people are?
To be honest, I’m still in shock about the author roster. There are over 60 authors already attached to this project, all of whom are at the top of their game and, despite being some of the busiest humans alive, found time to donate their insights, wit, and words to create this deck to support our nonprofit.
Not all of them are tarot gurus (in fact, most aren’t), but all jumped into this mad caper anyway, excited to merge storytelling and art in a new, weird way.
But you probably wanted more names, eh? Well, I’m going to do a terrible job of this, because frankly, there are just too many to list, but here’s a wee taster…
The creatives who have jumped on board are the who’s-who of modern storytellers, from the greats we grew up to comic creators who couldn’t stop winning awards, getting film/TV deals, or enchanting the hell out of us to save their lives (Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kieron Gillen, Marjorie Liu, G. Willow Wilson, and so many more).
We’ve got horror writers (Benjamin Percy, Stephen Graham Jones, Victor LaValle), literary fiction and nonfiction leaders (Celeste Ng, Roxane Gay, Damian Barr), fantasy and sci-fi powerhouses (Lev Grossman, Rebecca Roanhorse, Leigh Bardugo, Charlie Jane Anders, Carmen Maria Machado), and crime author extraordinaires (Chelsea Cain, Hart Hanson, and Simon Tolkien). Hell, we even have the comedic brilliance of Joel Kim Booster and the journalistic force of Talia Lavin.
And that big old list leaves out 40 other bestselling, boundary-pushing powerhouses (that I’m already kicking myself for not mentioning, but damn you, Shabbir, I need to stop typing!)
In conclusion: They are all amazing, big-hearted, brilliant storytellers, and I am humbled and shocked and awed by every last one of them.
It sounds like the project has been a lot of hard work getting it up to this point, has that been the case?
You know those people who chronically underestimate how much time something will take? Yeah, I’m that person.
Since January, my brilliant team and I have put in thousands of hours, helping each author nail their pairings, meticulously creating the art, researching classics like it’s finals week at uni!
But the real VIP t-shirts go to the team of celeb authors. Many of whom didn’t just donate their time to creating their unique literary pairing—some (like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Lev Grossman) went the EXTRA mile and jumped in to help us grow the roster, get the word out, and suffer through being guinea pigs as we ironed out the pairing process.
So yes, it’s a lot of work. Though, to be honest, it’s hard to think of it as work when you get to make something this cool…
What has it been like dealing with all of these incredibly talented people?
I’m not gonna lie: juggling this many creatives on a high-stake project with a billion moving pieces is…ah…complicated.
But honestly—I know this makes me sound like a total sap—all our creatives are just so kind and brilliant and inventive that it’s been a damn joy. It’s like having a front row seat to see how my favorite writers’ minds work.
And let me tell you, this front row seat is intimate, because the way our authors are choosing their classics and cards is so personal to them. Makes sense, right? Think of your favorite classic. If you were asked to come on this project, you’d choose something formative, right? A book you loved as a kiddo? A text you poured over at uni? Something you’re obsessed with right now?
I’d have to get really jaded to think the magic of that process didn’t outweigh a bunch of complicated spreadsheets and legal nonsense and strict deadlines. And, if we did our jobs right (which I sure as hell think we did), our readers will get to sit in the front row with us, not only witnessing these amazing portals through literary canon, but also getting to experience how each card unlocks portals within themselves.
Why did you go down the route of crowdfunding for this project?
I’m a big fan of crowdfunding. Not just on the nonprofit side (though we have run a slew of Kickstarter campaigns for F(r)iction) but also just as a creative.
The idea that we can engage the people who actually want the things we are making in such a cool and intimate way is pretty damn cool. Backers are more than just buyers. They’re (to use a gross nonprofit word) stakeholders.
Sure, more than a hundred baddasses came together to make this deck. But with crowdfunding, thousands (she says, hoping she’s not being too optimistic) will help us bring it to life, sharing their excitement, experiences, and insights. We even have fun things planned through which our backers will help us make some major decisions for the deck, so not only are they sitting in the front seat, they are also co-directing the show.
That’s pretty cool, eh?
Do you have a favourite Kickstarter reward?
Well, my favorite reward is a stretch goal, so I’m sworn to secrecy. But I can talk about my second favorite.
There’s a Reader Tier on the campaign where you’ll get the literary tarot box set AND our upcoming ARCANA themed issue of F(r)iction.
And that baby is an explosion of magic. Stories and art about stage magicians tapping into real magic, apocalyptic worlds with prophetic visions of whales, an intimate memoir about a tarot reading that changed everything…
And like all issues of F(r)iction, diverse debut talent is published beside some of the biggest names in the game.
That’s a lot of magic, metallic foil and custom art, and some of the best fantasy writers out there…all in one tier! How can you go wrong?
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
Thanks for reading! I swear I’ll learn to talk less someday (lies!).
We would like to say thank you to Dani for taking the time to chat with us about The Literary Tarot. We would like to wish the whole team at Brink Literacy Project the best of luck with their campaign.
To support the campaign, visit Kickstarter: The Literary Tarot campaign