Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Most Likely to: Win the Nobel Prize for a Graphic Novel
Favorite Quote: “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.”
― Anita Brookner, A Start in Life
What do you do when you’re at a Junot Díaz reading and Junot, the literary genius that he is, begins dropping gems like a clumsy jeweler? Most of the room would be focused on the floor, trying to pick up what was being put down. Kate Gavino is different. Instead of scrambling for loose gems, she thanks the writer by giving something of her own: an illustration accompanied by a quote of theirs that resonated with her.
On the surface it’s a simple concept. But ask any writer who’s appeared on Last Night’s Reading—Kate’s platform for documenting all the individual writers who have said something she’s kept—what it feels like to see themselves on her page, and you’ll understand why Kate is so important to the world of literature. As someone who was bestowed the honor of appearing on LNR, I can tell you simply: I was hype! In that instant, I was reminded that, even when you feel like no one is paying attention to what you have to say, someone always is. This is the essential form and function of Last Night’s Reading. It’s Kate’s way letting writers know we’re valued.
What is your earliest memory associated with what you do now?
I had a notebook I kept in the car when I was 7 or 8, and I would speed-draw the most mundane things we drove past: fences, houses, street signs, gas stations. I wanted to remember everything.
When did your occupation become real to you? Like, this is what you knew you were going to do?
When I went to Pratt to study creative writing, it was the first-time other people took my work seriously. As professors and fellow students, they were just doing their job, but to me, this was groundbreaking. Since they read my work seriously, I began to take myself seriously. I slowly acknowledged that I was indeed a writer, and later, an illustrator.
How does Brooklyn/your neighborhood particularly inform your work?
After living all over Brooklyn, Ditmas Park is the quietest neighborhood I’ve lived in. The house I live in was built in 1920, and I’m sure it’s haunted. Since much of my work consists of holing up in my room at my desk, I get easily spooked by the noises the house makes, but so far nothing too bad has happened. Brooklyn ghosts seem pretty chill.
What do you feel is most challenging about being where you are now?
Sometimes there’s a disconnect in my brain between how much I work, and how seriously I take myself. I’ll stay up many nights working on something, only to brush it off later as “just a thing” I finished. I need to give myself more credit sometimes. I work my ass off.
What’s most rewarding?
I create art for myself, but I can’t deny that seeing my family proud of my accomplishments makes it infinitely more satisfying. I’m the kid of immigrants, and they influence my work so much; it’s important to me that they feel a part of it in some way.
5 spots in Brooklyn people should know about?
Central Library: Everyone knows about the beautiful front gate and Plaza, but after working there for over two years, I know the secrets of its many dark, dusty basements and the treasures of its hidden vaults. It’s my favorite place in Brooklyn, and when I eventually become a Brooklyn ghost, this is the place I will haunt.
BARC Shelter: I adopted my dog from this shelter, and before that, I volunteered regularly to walk the dogs that lived there. The people who work there are the best of Brooklyn, and the dogs are the best in the city. After Hurricane Sandy, the most therapeutic thing I did everyday was walk over to the shelter and take the dogs on long, meandering walks along the East River.
Mike’s Coffee Shop: This is the diner every Pratt student goes to freshman and sophomore year, but I continued to go there well after I graduated. It has the best counter service in the borough, and Lyle, the owner, is always there to direct you to an empty seat. This is how I first got to know Brooklyn.
Book Thug Nation: This is my favorite used bookstore in Brooklyn. They have an excellent fiction section, along with a good selection of graphic novels and records. This is the kind of bookstore you want to be in to escape the cold and spend a good hour or so, browsing through every James Baldwin book they have.
Greenwood Cemetery: The best part of living in Ditmas Park is that it’s a short stroll to the cemetery. In Spring, the trees are in full blossom, and in winter, it becomes the perfect place to imagine you’re in a Belle & Sebastian video. I’m a fan of taking long walks to work out my anxiety, and I can’t think of a better place to do this.
What’s your most significant accomplishment to date?
I completed and published a book in 2015. It was a dream of mine since a kid, and now I get to do it again with Sanpaku. The act of publishing a book requires so many people to have faith in you, that pulling it off seems like a miracle sometimes. And that it all depends on me, hunched over my desk for hours, giving myself marker-induced calluses? Not intimidating at all.
Who/what inspires you?
Aside from the usual books, music, and movies (Victor Hugo and Anita Brookner; indie pop and 90’s R&B; Wong Kar-wai), my grandparents inspire me the most. Sanpaku, the graphic novel I’m working on now, is dedicated to them. I was raised by them, yet knew so little about their previous lives in the Philippines when I was growing up. They loomed so large in my early life, that this is my way of spending a little more time with them.
Where do you see yourself in the next 30 years?
I want to continue making graphic novels, comics, and illustrations, whatever that form may take. I want to write books about mental illness and depression. I want to write dumb comics about my obsession with the French Revolution. I want to be the official illustrator of the Westminster Dog Show. I want to continue using words and art to siphon off my energy and anxiety onto the page.
What’s next for you?
My graphic novel, Sanpaku, comes out on August 11 from Archaia.