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  • NYS Writers Institute

Innosanto Nagara: "Oh, The Things We're For!"

"I’ve always tried to balance my focus on what we must fight against with what we must build in its place."

-- Innosanto Nagara

We checked in with activist children's book author and graphic designer Innosanto Nagara at his home in North Oakland, California.

Born and raised in Indonesia, Nagara is the author and illustrator of the national bestselling alphabet book, A Is for Activist.

Julia Alvarez said, "Finally! A sassy and heartwarming board book to teach our children the alphabet of humane values." NPR said, "Every letter is the definition of a different social movement. For F — kids learn about Feminism, when we get to G - kids learn about the meaning of grassroots organizing and why it's important. This beautifully illustrated ABC book uses rhyming and alliteration to get your little reader excited about social change."

Nagara's new book is Oh, The Things We're For!, a rhyming, boldly illustrated vision of a better world.

Publishers Weekly said, “With Seussian rhyme, Nagara crafts a progressive call-to-arms about social justice topics, including universal health care, climate change, free public education, and prison abolition… [T]his primer offers a useful starting point for readers seeking to begin conversations about social justice.”

Purchase Oh, The Things We're For! from the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza:

Nagara's new-wave board books encourage children to grow up with confidence, and to be proactive citizens who are passionate about causes from environmental issues to LGBTQ rights and civil rights. He is the founder of the Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio in Oakland, California.

What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

If I’m optimistic, in the bigger-picture I -- like everyone else -- am looking forward to the decreasing influence of Covid in our world. Hopefully achieved through best practices that result in the least human suffering along the way. On a very personal level, I’m looking forward to diving into my next writing project.

What is your biggest hope for America in 2021?

That social movements can begin the shift from our (necessarily) defensive stance to building the future we’re for (just like my book says).

What's the most important thing we can learn from the pandemic?

That we need universal healthcare.

What activity are you most looking forward to enjoying after pandemic restrictions are lifted?

Visiting my parents in Indonesia.

Is there anything on Earth that you find unexpectedly beautiful?

That’s a difficult question for me. I’ve been into the natural world since I was a kid. I originally moved to the US to follow my childhood dream of being a naturalist. Philosophically, I believe we can and should find beauty in all things. So nothing should be unexpectedly beautiful — if it’s unexpected that’s only because it’s a reflection of my bias. That being said, I really love fog!

What new social or technological development excites you the most?

I’m a co-op geek. I get most excited about efforts that embed democracy deeper into our everyday institutions. Worker-Owned Cooperatives, Cohousing Communities, Local Currencies, and so on. The many creative and innovative ways that we can shift our social and economic structures to allow each of us to bring our whole selves—not just to survive, but to thrive. In other words, I’m excited about taking the project of tearing down kings and dictators and bringing it to all corners of our work and social lives.

What did you most enjoy about writing Oh, the Things We're For?

I’ve always tried to balance my focus on what we must fight against with what we must build in its place. Hopefully that’s reflected in all my books, but it was fun to be able to really dive deep into all the great ideas that people have put into practice and to imagine a day when everyone has access to them. All my books are in some way collaborative projects. I always work with families and kids (and sometimes whole classrooms) to make sure that what’s in my books really resonates. And this book was particularly fun to test-read because it is the most interactive.

What idea, subject or field are you most looking forward to exploring in 2021?

My next project is actually a book about graphic design for social change. That was (and is) what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years. When I started Design Action Collective in 2003, it was always meant to be seen as a replicable model to bring effective visual communications tools to the movement for social justice. But the day-to-day always kept us focused inwardly. So now I’m looking forward to compiling the lessons and philosophies and inspirations and best practices that have guided my work over the decades and making them accessible to everyone else hoping to use their creative skills for social change.

Visit Innosanto Nagara's website at and on social media at:


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