For weeks, the Votes for Women project has been telling stories about women in Nashville whose names you probably know — community leaders, CEOs, the heads of local nonprofits.
But what about other women in Nashville? They're also at the heart of what Nashville Public Library (NPL) does every day — and the issues, challenges, and opportunities they experience are at the core of the Votes for Women mission.
So, as we approach the summer 2020 opening of Votes for Women, we're taking time now to introduce you to women whose names you might not yet know ... but whose stories, insights, and accomplishments are worth discovering.
A Woman of Many Roles
Jessica Young wears a lot of different hats.
As a mother, author, and teacher, she plays a daily game of juggling responsibilities.
The key to making it work, she has found, is balance, and focusing on the process rather than the end result. But, as it is for countless women, achieving balance is something she’s always working on.
“I draw strength from my kids — I’m in awe of them. Being a parent has heightened my motivation to focus on things that matter,” Jessica said. “Yet, I sometimes struggle to find a balance between different roles and aspirations. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I want what I do to be my best. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to settle for good enough in one area to be better in another. It’s a constant push and pull.”
Discovering Her Path
Jessica was raised in a creative environment that fostered her love of art, dance, music, and other artistic pursuits. In college, she double-majored in art and psychology, a unique pairing of creative and helping disciplines. After earning her Masters in Expressive Therapies, she moved to Tennessee in 1994.
While the relationship that initially brought Jessica to Nashville didn’t last, her love for the city did, and she decided to make it her home. Taking a job at Vanderbilt, she spent the first few years of her professional life as a school-based counselor.
The work was gratifying, but emotionally challenging. She loved working with children, but she missed art. In 2001, she earned her teaching certificate and became an elementary and middle school art teacher in Williamson County. She still loves sharing the creative process with students through author school visits and teaching preschool art part-time.
It Began with Blue
By 2004, Jessica had married, become a mother, and continued to share her love of art through teaching.
Yet, for all that, she still didn’t feel completely satisfied. Jessica didn’t just want to teach art — she wanted to create it.
A trip to NPL gave her the inspiration and a new medium: words.
“I checked out some picture books to read to my son, who was a baby, and saw that they had changed a lot from the ones I remembered reading when I was a kid,” Jessica said. “I fell in love with them. And I thought, ‘Maybe I could do that.’”
Inspired by her experience teaching art, she started playing with a seed of an idea that would become her first book. The finished work, My Blue is Happy, explores how colors evoke different emotions in different people. For the little girl at the center of the story, blue makes her feel joyful.
“I remember looking at the painting The Old Guitarist by Picasso at the Frist Center on a field trip. I was struck by the sadness of his Blue Period. I love the color blue — to me it’s a happy color. I’ve always struggled to understand subjectivity and perspective, how people can have such disparate views, and I think that influenced my writing too,” Jessica said.
Published in 2013, My Blue is Happy was awarded the 2014 Marion Vannett Ridgway Award and was a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title in 2014. It was included in the Library of Congress Center for the Book’s 52 Great Reads list in 2013, among other honors.
The Shifting Landscape of Women and Words
Since publishing My Blue is Happy, Jessica has continued to write books for children that challenge them to explore their world.
But she doesn’t believe that everything in the world is how it should be for women.
“I see more children’s books written by women and featuring prominent women, and broader choices for women’s roles and lifestyles,” Jessica said. “Yet, women are paid 80% of what men make. Many women struggle with self-identity and how others perceive them (social media isn’t helping). And often, our society devalues things that are traditionally feminine — things involving creativity and nurturing children.
“There’s still a lot we need to do.”
At NPL, the questions of what work still remains for women, and what comes next for creating true equality, are at the heart and soul of Votes for Women. Set to open later this year, this interactive ideas lab will explore the evolving nature of womanhood and equality through the lens of the suffrage movement and the history of women’s rights.
The exhibit will tackle complex, evolving issues that may not have easy solutions. To help answer some of the questions we’re exploring with Votes for Women, we asked Jessica for her insights.
What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?
I want to see the choices and roles available to women continue broadening. I want to see the pay gap and power gap close. And I want us to readjust our expectations for and appreciation of women on a global level.
What does the right to vote mean to you?
I recognize that it was a long struggle to win the right for women to vote. It means we can join with others to create change on local, national, and global issues that affect us. It’s an important step toward equality — a way that, collectively, we can have an impact and make our voices heard.
What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?
That’s a hard one — too many options to choose from! I wish I had the power to travel through time and solve problems before they start. (But in a way, I kind of time travel when I’m writing!)
Explore the Worlds of Jessica Young at NPL
With a plethora of great stories already available, and more titles coming soon, you can enjoy all of Jessica’s works for yourself at our library. Here are just a few to get you started.
(Author's Note: NPL presents facts as shared with us by those featured in our stories. While we make every effort to verify any information shared, these posts should be used for entertainment and reference only.)