|Shannon Gibney was born in 1975, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was adopted by Jim and Sue Gibney about five months later, and grew up with her two (biological) brothers, Jon and Ben.
Shannon, father Jim, little brother Ben, and older brother Jon, camping in Michigan, 1978.
Shannon has loved to read and to write as far back as she can remember. When she was in second grade, she started making “books” about her family’s camping trips, and later graduated to a series on three sibling detectives in fourth grade.When she was 15, her father gave her James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a book that changed her life and made her see the possibilities of the written word. The novel took a long, difficult look at relations between Blacks and Whites, the poor and the rich, gay and straight people, and fused searing honesty with metaphorical beauty. After this experience, Shannon knew that she needed to read everything Baldwin had ever written, and also that she wanted to emulate his strategy of telling the most dangerous, and therefore liberating kind of truth, through writing.
High school was a time for tremendous growth for Shannon, as she had the opportunity to attend Community High, a place that nurtured independence and creativity. At Carnegie Mellon University, Shannon majored in Creative Writing and Spanish, graduating with highest honors in 1997. She was awarded their Alumni Study/Travel Award, and used it to travel to Ghana to collect information for a short story collection on relationships between African Americans and continental Africans.
At Indiana University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, Shannon honed her understanding of the basic elements of story-writing. She was in Bloomington from 1999 to 2002, and earned an M.A. in 20th Century African American Literature, as well as her M.F.A. while she was there. As Indiana Review editor, she conceived of the literary journal’s first “Writers of Color” special issue, and brought it to fruition, also in 2002.
Shannon has called Minneapolis home since 2002. She moved there right after completing her graduate work at Indiana, and took a job at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the state’s oldest Black newspaper. A three-year stint as managing editor of this 75-year-old publication introduced Shannon to the vibrant, growing, and diverse Black community in the Twin Cities, and also gave her vital insight into the inner-workings of a weekly newspaper. When she left in 2005, Shannon had written well over 100 news and features stories for the paper.
The Bush Artist Fellows Program took Shannon’s daily life in a new direction. In 2005, she was awarded a grant, which allowed her to quit her job at the Spokesman, and devote most of her time to her creative work.
Photo by Kristine Heykants.
After completing her Bush fellowhip in summer 2007, Shannon joined the faculty in English at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) in the fall, and became Full-Time Unlimited (FTU) faculty there in 2009. She lives with her son Boisey, and daughter Marwein, in the Powderhorn neighborhood of South Minneapolis.
Shannon’s Young Adult (YA) novel SEE NO COLOR was published by Carolrhoda Lab, a division of Lerner Publications, in November, 2015, and subsequently won a 2016 Minnesota Book Award in the category of Literature for Young Adults. She was also awarded a $25,000 2015 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers, administered by the Loft Literary Center. She used the funds to support work on a family memoir, tentatively titled Love Across the Middle Passage: Making an African/African American Family.
Other publications this year include a short story in the Sky Blue Water anthology of children’s literature from Minnesota writers, the opening essay in the critically-acclaimed and popular A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota anthology, edited by Sun Yung Shin. The Star Tribune published an excerpt of Shannon’s essay “Fear of a Black Mother,” which you can read here.
In 2017, look for Shannon’s short story “Salvation,” in Eric Smith’s new anthology of adoption-themed YA lit, Welcome Home. It details the journey of a Haitian international adoptee, who is “rehomed,” after his white adoptive family relinquishes him. Her essay “Racial Harassment in the ‘Post-racial’ Era: A Case of Discipline and Resistance in the Black Female Body,” will appear in the upcoming Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education anthology, edited by Anthony Nocella and Erik Juergensmeyer, as well.
Shannon is currently at work on her second YA novel, Dream Country, about more than five generations of an African descended family, crisscrossing the Atlantic both voluntarily and involuntarily. She is thrilled to be working again with Andrew Karre, this time at Dutton, the editor who brought See No Color to fruition. Dream Country is slated for release in 2018.
Finally, Shannon recently learned that she will be awarded a Minnesota States Arts Board grant, to complete work on her essay collection in-progress, American Perversions: Race, Class, and Caste in the Academy, detailing her experiences as an outspoken woman of color in hostile locations. She will host a panel and workshop with local women of color academics on writing/telling their stories later next year.