Steven Igarashi-Ball has performed as Miss Terra Cotta Sugarbaker for about a decade.
Photo: Steven Igarashi-Ball
Photo: Steven Igarashi-Ball

Drag Queen Storytime comes to Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System

A new kind of storytime for children — in which drag queens read books at public libraries — has gained popularity in some American cities in recent years.

And now, one such event is coming to Atlanta.  

Next month, Miss Terra Cotta Sugarbaker will read her favorite stories to young visitors at the Ponce De Leon Branch. It is the first event of its kind for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, and possibly the first at any library in the metro area. 

Steven Igarashi-Ball has been a drag performer for about two decades, and has performed as Miss Terra Cotta Sugarbaker for half as long. Igarashi-Ball, who works in development at the nonprofit AID Atlanta, said he’s performed at local LGBT clubs, spoken at colleges in drag and hosted numerous fundraising events. 

"Still, this collaboration may be what I wind up being most proud of,” he said in an email. “Our world is diverse and beautiful — and I think that only positive things can be gained by reinforcing to children the power of loving yourself and accepting others for who they are.”

About a year ago, some of Igarashi-Ball’s librarian friends began telling him they wanted to host a drag queen storytime in Georgia, but lamented that “they didn’t think that their library system was progressive enough to host such an event,” he said.

MORE: An insider's guide to Atlanta drag

Meanwhile, AFPLS staff members had also caught wind of the phenomenon. Inspired by its message of inclusiveness, Marketing and PR Manager Claudia Strange sent out a call out for interest to the branches. The Ponce de Leon branch was the first to respond.

“Ponce was willing to take the chance on this new idea,” Strange said, adding that it seemed like the best fit for the first occasion. “A similar event was held over at Ponce City Market and the interest on Facebook alone was off the charts.”

Strange was referring to a drag queen storytime event at Posman Books with Edie Cheezburger in mid-July. A couple of months before that, Avid Bookshop in Athens hosted a Drag Queen Story Time Extravaganza

The Georgia events follow the success of the New York- and California-based Drag Queen Story Hour, created by writer Michelle Tea and Radar Productions in December 2015.

Realizing there’s “clearly an audience for the concept,” Strange said she began searching for a drag performer “willing to use G-rated language for a storytime with children.” She was connected with Igarashi-Ball, whose first job was as a bookshelver at the Buford-Sugar Hill branch of the Gwinnett County Library, and “everything else just fell into place.” 

To hear him tell it, “the stars aligned.”

AFPLS’s Facebook event has received an unprecedented response compared to its other storytime announcements. 

“We expected a few negative remarks, but so far we’ve only received one not so positive response,” Strange said. 

The event will be held Sept. 30th at 3 p.m. at 980 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE. Miss Terra Cotta will read books including Todd Parr's “Be Who You Are” and Leo Lionni's “A Color of His Own.” Afterwards, children can make Wonder Woman-style superhero masks and fancy dress bookmarks.

Ponce De Leon Branch Youth Services Librarian Haley Sheehy is the event coordinator, with help from Strange and Branch Manager Anne Vagts. 

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In other news:

The rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker, a Vietnam veteran and drag queen in San Francisco.

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