Rika Aoki visited WIU students this last Thursday, and it was quite the treat. Ryka Aoki is an influential writer who is known for her support of LGBTQ rights. She did a number of reads from her books, Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo: A Hilo Song, and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. Ryka talked about love, life, and growing up transgender. Ryka uses her writing as a way of building the transgender community. She speaks to them and successfully spreads the message, “You are not alone.” This is a very important message for the LQBTQ movement as they now face one of their biggest hurdles.

In North Carolina, Republicans in the state legislature overturned the LGBTQ discrimination bans. This prevents any local governments from passing any non-discrimination ordinances. This means that students in state schools will be forced to use the restroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate. Many like Ryka believe this is a huge step back in LGBTQ rights.

Ryka’s books give LGBTQ individuals a voice; a chance to speak up over their oppression. Ryka’s ability to articulate her inner feelings shows an in-depth mastery over the written word. The enthusiasm with which she reads suggest a passion for the topics she writes about. There were moments within her readings where members of her audience were moved to tears. There were other moments in which they laughed out loud. In just one hour, Ryka Aoki managed to command the attention of everyone in the room. No one was checking their cell phones. No one was looking at their watch. For a full hour, a room full of college students was fully engaged. This is quite an accomplishment in today’s world.

Here I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Merrill Cole and the other members of the English department, and all those at WIU that made this reading possible. All of those who were in attendance, who got to listen to such an amazing writer share her passion with us, are eternally grateful. And a thank you to Ryka Aoki, for being one of the most influential writers of our time.