Who are you? What should we know about you?
My name is Traci Thomas and I am the host and creator of The Stacks, a podcast all about books and reading. I was born in Oakland, CA and now live in Los Angeles with my husband, Mr. Stacks, and our identical twins, The Mini Stacks.
The Stacks podcast and Instagram are hugely popular. Tell us how you got started.
Back in late 2017 I read Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson, which I absolutely loved. The book is incredibly readable and tells a history that I knew so little about. Since no one in my life remembered much about the Uprising, I looked to see if there were any podcast episodes on the book, and I only found two episodes: one was very intellectual and pretentious, and the other was a law-based podcast. It got me thinking that maybe there was a way that I could create a space to talk about books from a different angle.
To research, I spent time listening to many book-focused podcasts and found the space to be dominated by white voices (no surprise). I also found the tone of the shows to be either super casual/jokey three women in a book club vibe, or super high brow book critics talking. Nothing felt smart while still being approachable or taking into account the world as I have experienced it (think race, pop culture, politics, etc). Moreover, there were so few books by Black authors or authors of color being discussed. I wanted to create something that was about the books I was reading and to discuss them in a way that I wanted to discuss them.
In early 2018 I decided to try starting my own book podcast. I asked my most well-read friends to be early guests and went from there. It was very impulsive. I had no business plan, my only goal was to make the best show I could. I spent many nights watching youtube videos around searches like “how to record a podcast”. I was a real newbie.
Your personal identity and belief system is very much intertwined with your podcast. You set clear boundaries and expectations for your community and amongst your non-negotiables, you say “Reading is political.” Tell us more about this.
I say this for a slew of reasons. Mostly I like to remind people that reading is political because there was a time in America’s history, not that long ago, where my ancestors were not allowed to read. There were laws against it, and there have been subsequent laws that weaponized literacy. To be able to read is a gift and it is an act that is steeped in a deeply political history.
There are also conversations about the content of books which can also be very political. Some books are obviously political, they’re about immigration, or mass incarceration. Then there are the books that claim to be for escape, that erase race, disparities, etc. from the text in an attempt to be a “fun read” or a “beach read”, but I argue these books are political too. They are political in what they leave out. It is an act of politics and privilege to choose to ignore the world we live in in favor of comfort.
You’ve had so many incredible guests over the last 3 years! How do you decide who to have on the show/What do you look for in your guests?
I get a lot of submissions for guests, and my guiding light is, am I, Traci, interested in talking with this person? Am I genuinely curious about them and their work? If the answer is yes, then I go for it. If not, I pass, because if I don’t care I don’t think my audience will. Not to mention, if they’re an author I have to read their book, and that can be a big time commitment if I’m not interested in what they write about.
I’m also always trying to audit and make sure the show is inclusive and has a wide range of guests coming to the show with different experiences. Whether that is occupation, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whatever else. Hearing from all sorts of people makes the show so much richer, and it is what makes me still love this work after 3+ years.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in getting The Stacks off the ground? How did you overcome them?
I was lucky because I thought this was going to be a little hobby. I didn't have plans to make money or start a real business. So everything that has come up to this point has been a huge surprise. I think the challenge now is that I didn't plan for this and now I'm trying to convert this passion project into a business on the fly. I had no prior skills in marketing or branding or financials, and so now I'm learning on the fly. Which is made exponentially harder by also being a parent to twins in the middle of pandemic.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to monetize their passion?
Ask for what you think you're worth (and if you're a person of color double that number). Don't get too caught up in the reasons you shouldn't be paid. There are a million people who can and will tell you no, go ahead and tell yourself yes.
What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?
I’m a book nerd, which means authors really are my celebrities. Kiese Laymon, Jason Reynolds, Samantha Irby, they are my rockstars. That being said, I recently had Quentin Tarantino on the podcast which was a major WOW moment. I mean, he’s wildly famous and his team reached out to me, which was a nice ego boost. I also had the privilege of having Desus and Mero on the podcast, and I’ve been a big fan of them for years, and they were just as funny and warm as they seem.
Fill in the blank:
If you haven’t read it/them yet, you must read…(Include 1-4 must reads)
AHHHH I hate this question, only because I like to pick book recs based on people and their tastes. I take recommending books so seriously, I get immense joy from recommending a book and that person coming back to me and saying “I LOVED the book”. So with that disclaimer here are a variety of books I love that I hope you’ll love too, and if you don’t, don’t tell me.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Seek You by Kristen Radtke
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
And since I’m always recommending WAY too many books, check out The Stacks Bookshop for lists of my favorite books of all time, recent faves, and books I’m looking forward to reading.
The last book I just couldn’t put down was…
I really loved Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. It’s investigative journalism about the Sackler family who created OxyContin. It will make you so mad. I had Patrick on the podcast and he was a great guest!
The thing I love most about reading is…
I’m so curious about just about everything, so reading helps me learn, and more than that, gain understanding about people, places, events, you name it!
Beyond professional accomplishments, you’re also a badass twin mom! How do you make time to read as much as you do, while taking care of your twins, recording a weekly podcast, and managing a business? (Asking for a friend ;)
You know I’d love to know myself. It has been hard in the pandemic. I thought we would be able to hire help, but Mr. Stacks is a doctor which means it was just too high risk to bring anyone else into our home.
Our little ones are 19 months and full of so much energy. I didn’t anticipate being a full time stay at home parent, but with the pandemic that’s been the case, so I spend a lot of time with them and they are just wild.
I’m lucky that my mom loves us and has the time to come down to LA once a month to help out for a week or two. I also steal a few hours when Mr. Stacks gets home from work or on the weekends. The truth is, it isn’t ideal, but I love what I do, and it gives me purpose and direction I don’t get from parenting. I couldn’t do it without help, that’s for damn sure. Oh, and to-do lists.
How does reading enter into your life with your children? What’s your favorite book to read with them (or what is your reading routine with them?)
They’re very into books. They’ll hand me a book and grunt at me until I start reading it and as soon as I finish they give me the sign for “more” until I start over. We also read a book a night as part of our bedtime routine. I love I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers. The twins love Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault and Bill Martin Jr. and Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
Finally, we’re so glad you found us! You tagged us in your stories rocking you Kibou, and we’ve been following you ever since. What are your favorite outings with your little ones (and Kibou)?
I bought my Kibou off an IG ad and never looked back. I take it with me everywhere (with or without my kids)! We go on A LOT of walks. I average about six miles a day. Sometimes we just walk around the neighborhood or we’ll go to the park or grocery store. I carry my iPhone in my Kibou and use that time to listen to audiobooks (yes, audiobooks are 100% reading) and podcasts. It’s the only time I can really get any work done while my children are awake.
And what’s in your Kibou right now?
iPhone, headphones (not the wireless kind, I’m a bit of a luddite), some type of lip moisturizer, lotion, bandaids, sunglasses, mask, credit cards, keys, a pen, hair ties, my Kindle, hand sanitizer, baby snack.
One of our favorite recent episodes was Episode 173 “LIving with Less with Christine Platt” aka the Afrominimalist as she redefines “minimalism.”
Be sure to subscribe to The Stacks wherever you get your podcasts to listen to the soothing sounds of Traci’s voice and all the thought-provoking conversations she has with her guests each week.
& PSA: The Stacks Book Club also offers amazing book recommendations, a different perspective that we might otherwise get from many mainstream book clubs, and a meaningful and fun way to engage with the content.
Thank you, Traci for taking the time to talk with us and for all that you share via The Stacks and your Instagram @thestackspod.