For this month’s Reading into History book club, we’re celebrating Pride Month with author Phil Bildner who joins us online to discuss his latest book, A High Five for Glenn Burke. The book follows sixth grader Silas Wade, who’s researching former Major Leaguer Glenn Burke—the first openly gay baseball player and the man who invented the high five in the 1970s. Silas’s project about Burke paves the way for his own coming out story.
Read our interview with Phil Bildner below, and join us via Zoom on June 28 for our Reading into History Family Book Club! Register here.
You’ve written that A High Five for Glenn Burke is your most personal novel yet. What inspired you to write this book? Could you elaborate on what makes the story so personal for you?
Phil Bildner: Like the main character Silas, I loved playing ball as a kid. I grew up playing basketball, baseball, soccer, and tennis. But unlike Silas, I didn’t have the internet. I didn’t have his access to information, language, words, and ideas. All I knew is that as much as I loved sports, kids like me didn’t play sports. I didn’t know queer kids could play sports. So A High Five for Glenn Burke is the book I wish I had when I was 12. It’s the book that would’ve given middle school me so much hope.
Throughout the book, Silas finds solace and courage in researching and re-telling the story of Burke. Did you find yourself similarly invested in Burke’s life story during your writing process? Was there anything you learned from his experiences that surprised and/or inspired you?
A High Five for Glenn Burke actually started out as a picture book biography. I loved doing the research—reading his autobiography, watching the short film that was part of the ESPN documentary series 30 for 30, discovering old newspaper and magazine articles, traveling down YouTube rabbit holes. But my editor didn’t see the book as a picture book. He felt the age level was wrong. He was the one who proposed incorporating Glenn Burke’s story into a contemporary, realistic fiction middle grade novel.
In your opinion, has Major League Baseball become more inclusive today than it was in the 1970s?
Yes. Today, Billy Bean is VP & Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. in the 151-year history of MLB, Glenn Burke and Billy Bean are the only two players to ever publicly disclose they were gay. Six years ago, Billy became MLB’s very first Ambassador for Inclusion, and over the past three years, the ‘Shred Hate’ Bullying prevention education program he leads has reached nearly 200,000 students across 13 MLB cities and hundreds of thousands of people online.
You’ve written, “I wrote this book to help kids understand that coming out is not a moment. It’s a process, a journey. Often it’s beautiful, often it’s brutal. One moment, it’s exhilarating, the next debilitating.” Do you have any advice for your young queer readers who are embarking on or in the midst of this journey?
Be kind to yourself. Breathe. The fact that you’re embarking on this journey or already in the midst of this journey—know that you are brave, braver than I ever was at your age. Yeah, things are going to suck sometimes. Really suck. But on those days, always try to remember that things will get better. Things do get better. Because you’re telling your story. You get to tell your own story. And when you define your narrative, you get to be the hero. You are a hero.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
In this age of pandemic learning, I keep hearing how some teachers and parents are telling kids they need to be writing and journaling about this moment.No.
Young writers should be writing about whatever he/she/they wants to write about. If you don’t want to be writing about what’s happening right now, then don’t. Now more than ever, you should be writing about what matters to you and what you care about, not what someone else says you need to be writing about. That goes for everyone.
By: Ava Prince