Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams joins Zibby to discuss her first children’s book, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words, inspired by her own lifelong love for books and words. The two talk about the real-life spelling bee and teacher that helped bolster Stacey’s confidence, where she finds her courage to put herself out there on the campaign trail and on the page, and, of course, their go-to ice cream flavors. Stacey also shares how her family started and continues to foster her passion for books and what she plans on working on next (besides her 2022 campaign).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Stacey. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Stacey’s Extraordinary Words.

Stacey Abrams: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I read this to my kids who did not know what a spelling bee was until this book because I guess we don’t even do them anymore, really. They loved it. They asked me to read it again. I was really excited. They were really excited I’m interviewing you. When it hits home with kids, you know you have something good. Bravo.

Stacey: What are their names?

Zibby: I try not to say their names in public, but they’re eight and seven.

Stacey: Please tell them I said thank you.

Zibby: I will. I have older kids, but they’re past the picture book stage. Although, are we ever really past the picture book stage? I’m not.

Stacey: I’m still stuck there.

Zibby: I’m stuck there too. I love picture books. Why did you write this book? Why now?

Stacey: I love children’s books. My mom was a librarian when I was growing up. She had a subspeciality in children’s literature. Plus, I literally would take naps in the stacks surrounded by books. I’ve always loved books. I loved reading. I love words. When the opportunity came to write a children’s book, a picture book, I wanted to do it because I think it’s tough. I think it’s a hard thing to do to take these concepts and to not only reduce the words but not the impact, but also do it in a way that is exciting and compelling and holds the attention of a four or five or six-year-old. Having nieces and nephews, I know how difficult that it. It would be the pinnacle of my achievement as a writer to get them to pay attention to something I had to say.

Zibby: That is the pinnacle of any grown-up’s achievement when it comes to kids. Just pay attention for a little bit. That’s all we need.

Stacey: That’s it.

Zibby: In the book, which is based on you, it’s about a young girl who has this amazing ability to spell and is great with words and also deals with people who don’t necessarily accept her for what she’s like, which I found to be a really compelling part of the story. Talk a little bit about your experience with that emotion as a child and how you think that’s impacted you going forward.

Stacey: In the author’s note, I talk about the fact that I skipped a grade, which sounds great when you’re an adult. When it happens, it actually occurred in the middle of the beginning of my school term. I was a first grader for a little bit of time. Suddenly, I’m taken out of my classroom and put in a new space, have to learn new people. I was a quiet kid. I was a little awkward. It was overwhelming to me. Luckily, my second-grade teacher saw that. She realized that I loved reading. She allowed me to read all of the books in the class instead of having to try to acclimate too quickly. That was one of the pieces. The other was that as a quiet kid, being invited to be in front of a whole audience was overwhelming, but to get to spell, that part I understood. It was this introduction to public speaking and to competition but in a way that was very comfortable as a kid who liked reading. I think the biggest piece for me as I was writing it was also just remembering how hard second grade was, how you’re starting to understand cliques and community, but also the importance of friendship and standing up for one another. This book was an opportunity for me to explore all of those things using the spelling bee as the starting point.

Zibby: My kids are in first and second grade. When I read them the part about your skipping a grade, they looked at each other in horror. They’re like, “We could be in the same class?” I was like, “No, you guys are not skipping a grade. It’s all good.” When I was listening to what you said, it’s so nice that you were in an environment where your awkwardness was addressed. Your shyness could be sort of mitigated by the presence of books. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had that option at crowded parties or something now as adults?

Stacey: I know, exactly, if there was a little sign that said “Introverts to the library.” We could all sit in the room together and ignore each other.

Zibby: It would be great. We could read a little bit, chat about the book. I guess that’s book club in a nutshell.

Stacey: Impromptu book clubs.

Zibby: Impromptu book clubs, exactly. This book is amazing. I bet it was so much fun to write. Did you have so much fun writing it? I should ask.

Stacey: I did. It’s a great departure from other books I’ve had to write. Although, the plotting was more complicated than I thought it would be. In my mind, I knew I wanted to write the story. I knew the themes I wanted to include. Reducing it down to that number of words but giving all of the pieces and then picking the words to use, it was a little terrifying, but it was also exhilarating.

Zibby: I actually have a children’s book coming out with Penguin Random House in the spring, in April. I tried doing it as well. My editor was like, “Okay, this is written for far older kids.” I was like, “No, it’s not. My kids totally got this.” Yes, the challenge of reducing, that’s always the hardest part, I’m sure with your other books too. Editing, some people love it, but I think it’s hard. It always makes it better, but I think it’s hard to slash and burn those words.

Stacey: Especially when you have so few to start with and you fall in love with every word or every line that you come up with. Then you realize you’re the only one who loves it. Let it go.

Zibby: Obviously, in addition to writing and writing this, and then you have Level Up coming out and While Justice Sleeps and all of the things that you’ve done, you also have your whole political career. I should say you have your whole political career and then all of this. When do you make time? When do you find time to write? When’s your favorite time to write? How do you integrate your writerly life with your political life?

Stacey: I love writing. Once it became a vocation as opposed to a hobby, I treat it the same way that I treat anything else I do. I understand my deadlines. I know my writing patterns. I don’t have certain times of day I carve out. I write to the project. When this was due, I knew what I wanted to do. I had some deadlines I had to hit. Working with the illustrator, Kitt Thomas, meant that I had to have the book written in time for Kitt to be able to illustrate it. When I’m writing — for example, I’ve got a book due next year. I’ve got a schedule laid out. I set my schedule. I give myself a certain number of days when I’m supposed to write and I’m not going to do it. I’m just going to blow it off. I build in my writer’s block. I really try to practice plotting it out, knowing what I’m trying to do. I give myself benchmarks along the way. I treat it like any other obligation. It’s both something I love to do, but it is something I am obliged to do. I need to treat it with the importance that it holds.

Zibby: I actually just interviewed someone who said she actually puts the scenes that she’s going to write into her calendar. Had you heard of that before? That’s one level up.

Stacey: That’s impressive. I do a storyboard. I will list out each chapter. I’ll know which scenes are in each chapter. I do a chapter a day because I know how long it takes me to write a certain number of words. My job is, on the day I have that chapter due, I’ve got to get it done. It can take me half the time. It can take me twice the time, but that’s the day I have to finish the chapter.

Zibby: Wow. Do you worry at all, being a public figure, how your words are going to be received? Do you ever get into your own head about that?

Stacey: Always. Absolutely, but that happens when I have to speak out loud. Look, on the campaign trail, there are going to be commercials that take my impromptu, extemporaneous language out of context. That’s when I haven’t had a chance to think about it so much. When you know you’ve had time to practice and it can still go horribly wrong, that is always a bit of a nail-biter, but I trust the words. I trust editors.

Zibby: Running for office and leading and all of that and putting your words on the page, all of these are really brave acts. How do you drum up the courage on really bad days? Do you have bad days where you just don’t want to get out of bed, days where you’re like, nothing’s ever going to get done? How do you regroup and go back to this position you’ve created for yourself of this trailblazer?

Stacey: I appreciate the characterization. Not to quote myself, but part of the story comes from when I did the spelling bee and this idea that instead of thinking about each day as these cinematic moments where something is going to succeed or fail, where the world will crash down around me or I will rise into the stratosphere, it’s every day. Every day, you’re supposed to do. Every day, you’re supposed to be. That means some days you’re going to be great at it. Some days you are going to be terrible at it. There’s always another day. That next day is a day to either fix what you broke or build something new. You have to give yourself permission to have some days where you don’t do anything, accomplish anything, or think anything important. I look for days. I treasure those days. I horde those days when they come. That’s how you create the resilience to get through the days that are harder, the days when someone says something inappropriate about you or mischaracterizes who you are or the day when you did it to yourself and you really should’ve slept in.

Zibby: Sleep is always nice. What is your coping? What’s your go-to vice on a day where you’re trying to make yourself feel better? I go to chocolate, FYI. Where do you go?

Stacey: Chocolate is important. I watch an inordinate amount of television. Television makes me extraordinarily happy. I let myself read anything I want. I believe in ice cream.

Zibby: Favorite flavor?

Stacey: Häagen-Dazs’ white chocolate raspberry truffle. It is so delicious. It is amazing.

Zibby: I have literally never had that.

Stacey: It is awesome.

Zibby: I’m into this McConnell’s caramel brownie swirl stuff. Delicious.

Stacey: Ooh, that sounds delicious.

Zibby: This is so bad. I think about food so much. I’m now talking to you about ice cream. This is terrible.

Stacey: This, I think, is the sign of a good conversation. Absolutely.

Zibby: Oh, good. I would still, however, take a chocolate chip cookie over ice cream any day, I have to say.

Stacey: I love chocolate chip cookies, but it has to be the right consistency. It’s got to have that right crisp and the right chew to it. The perfect chocolate chip cookie, yes, could surpass ice cream.

Zibby: But maybe the ice cream is more reliable. Good to have these in our back pocket for the inevitable bad days. You’ve also been working on changing all of voting rights and this whole Fair Fight and all of this stuff. How do you drum up the energy for all of this? When are you doing that? How do you have the vision? Then when do you implement? Do you have this amazing team? How are you getting everything done?

Stacey: When I didn’t become governor, part of my responsibility was to think about what I would have done had I gotten the job. What things did I not like about the process? What things were broken in the system? I gave myself ten days off. Then I started creating these organizations. I think the most important part of the question is, I have this extraordinary team. I can think of things and I’m good at setting up structures, but I am exceptional at picking people who are smarter than me to do it. With each of these organizations or with the businesses, I have partners. I work with people. I do my best to be a good partner to them, to invest and to be a thought partner, but also to get out of the way. If you do your job well and you pick people who are better at it than you are, you become, eventually, superfluous. That is my mission, to be completely unnecessary in the things I create.

Zibby: I will be the invisible governor. You guys just get — .

Stacey: Not quite that invisible, but to be so good at leading that other people get to shine. They get to think. They get the credit. I get the job.

Zibby: I was literally just interviewing someone before we got on this Zoom. I was like, I just need someone who’s better than me at everything. I need you to be a better version of me. That’s really all I need.

Stacey: There are those who get afraid of that. I embrace it. Push me towards mediocrity. Make me work for it.

Zibby: I love that. What is your next project you’re working on? You said you were working on another book.

Stacey: The sequel to While Justice Sleeps, I’m working on that one. That’s due next year. I’ve also got this campaign thing I’m going to be working on because I’d like to get this job.

Zibby: I meant in the book space. Yes, I understand you’re running for election of governor.

Stacey: I’m going to work on that book. I’ve got a couple of other projects in the works. Then in the back of mind, I have a YA book that I started working on years ago and a children’s book for slightly older kids that I’d love to get back to eventually. Those are my writing projects.

Zibby: Amazing. So you won’t be too bored. Not too much time for TV. What words do you struggle to spell? Success, I’m always stumbling. Does it have two Cs? I don’t know. That’s one of my pitfall words. Do you have any words aside from the ones here? Any now, or are you a spellcheck —

Stacey: — I’m pretty good with words. I recently did a conversation with the young woman who won the spelling bee and misspelled a word. It was a Gaelic word. Now I’m reading Gaelic. I knew the word when she actually spelled it. I’m like, I’ve seen this word spelled so many times. I’ve just never heard it pronounced. It’s usually a word that has a phonetic spelling that is different than the way we hear it. My issue is that I’m always going to go and find the origin of the word. If I misspell it, I’m only going to misspell it once. I will always know how to spell chocolate because I did not know it had a second O in it. I’ve never misspelled chocolate again in my life. That is probably my nemesis. Misspelling words, I will go and find the way to spell it. I will make it part of who I am for all eternity.

Zibby: Whoa. Watch out, words.

Stacey: There you go.

Zibby: You will not be misspelled again. Don’t get too close. Oh, my goodness, that’s amazing, reading Gaelic. Preparation is the key to everything, right?

Stacey: And mild obsession, just a little bit, not quite, not full-blown, just a little bit.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. How was it working with your illustrator?

Stacey: Kitt is amazing. The way they conceptualized the words that I had on paper and brought them to life — there were a couple of moment where, when I saw the images, I went back and said, this was what I was thinking, and just this instant response. There was never a debate about it. It was things I didn’t even know I wanted, but the minute I saw it — there’s an image you’ll see in the book of when the cat is bating down onomatopoeia. That’s just such a lovely way to conceptualize it. It wasn’t in my head, but now that it’s there, of course, I’ve always thought of it that way.

Zibby: You’re obviously a natural storyteller. Do you inhale stories as well from other people? If so, what do you love to read?

Stacey: I read voraciously. I have a book club with my siblings. There’s six of us. We circulate through books. I usually am reading two or three books at a time. I read almost everything. I do not read horror because I remember what I read, and I don’t want to be afraid of myself. Horror is not quite my wheelhouse, but science fiction, traditional literature. You name it, I’ll read it. I love nonfiction as well. I’ll read just about anything as long as it’s a good story.

Zibby: Do you have anything that’s been amazing lately, you couldn’t put down, kept you up at night?

Stacey: I just finished reading The Need by Hellen Phillips, which you may like. I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s this sort of sci-fi, not quite. It’s about a scientist and her two kids and the travails of motherhood. There is a little bit of horror in it, but not the overarching theme, which is a lot of fun. One of my sisters gave me a book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which was one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while.

Zibby: Huh, okay. Adding it to my mental list here. Excellent. Why do you want to be governor? Are you scared of it at all? Are you at all scared? Does it intimidate you?

Stacey: No. Being governor is about leveraging the power of our collective investment in each other to make sure that everyone gets what they need. You can’t fix people’s lives. That’s not the role of government and should never be the ambition, but you can create access. I want to be governor because too many people are denied access because of their zip code, their background, because of their access to power. I grew up in a family that didn’t have access, that had to claw at every opportunity, and most often didn’t get what they’d earned. My calling is to do what I can to make sure people have health care, just the basics. If you do the basics right, the world becomes such a different place. I’m a beneficiary of that. My parents, despite not growing up in places that treated them with the respect they were due, they were able to carve out access. Not everyone grows up with Robert and Carolyn Abrams. My calling is to do what I can for others so that it doesn’t matter who your parents are or who they’re not, that we all get the same start. We can’t guarantee a finish, but we can guarantee that everyone gets a chance to try.

Zibby: Sorry for making you give the whole speech again.

Stacey: No, it’s okay.

Zibby: I wanted a personal recitation of it. That was awesome. Thank you.

Stacey: You’re very welcome. It’s practice.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Stacey: Number one, start. So often, and you’ve probably experienced this, we get caught up in what we want the story to be. We forget to start writing it. It is never going to be what you thought it was in your head until you get it on paper. Once it’s on paper, you realize it may be better than what you were conceptualizing. Two, writer’s block is real. Accept it, but don’t let it defeat you. Three, know that it has to come to an end, but it should be the end you want, not the end that you just stumble into because you’re tired of writing.

Zibby: I have somewhere to be. Time for more TV. I’m going to end it right here. This is good enough. That’s the problem with books. You can just keep making them better and better and better. Blessing and a curse. Stacey, thank you so much for chatting. I will think of you. I’m going to go try this ice cream now. I will think of you as I enjoy. It was lovely to meet you. Best of luck.

Stacey: Zibby, this has been a delight. I look forward to finding the perfect chocolate chip cookies that can supplant my ice cream addiction.

Zibby: Send me the link if you find it.

Stacey: Absolutely. I’m on it.

Zibby: Bye.

Stacey: Take care.



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