By Laura Latzko
Former Miss Gay Arizona America Nevaeh McKenzie is known for her glamorous gowns and big production numbers. The drag queen is going to break into a new market in January with her drag storytime event.
The first edition, entitled New Year, New Read: a Drag Queen Storytime, will take place on Jan. 5 at Changing Hands Phoenix bookstore.
McKenzie wanted to create an event outside of bars that would appeal to a different audience. “We’re just looking to get the community together to read, enjoy arts and crafts and spend time with each other, especially after the holidays and the new year,” McKenzie said.
The bookstore’s Phoenix location also hosts costume, baby and pre-school/elementary-level story time hours for children. In the past, Changing Hands has held a story time event with gender-conforming storytellers called “Glitter Magic.”
Brandi Stewart, children’s book buyer and children’s event coordinator for Changing Hands, said the new event will fit in well with the current storytime offerings. "The store is always looking for ways to be more diverse. So, this event allows us the opportunity to diversify even more. I hope that everybody feels welcome, that they have a good time and that they leave feeling inspired and love for the community,” Stewart said.
McKenzie plans to make the drag story time a regular event, offered multiple times a year. In addition to the storytime hour, there will also be arts and crafts activities and a raffle. Proceeds from the event will benefit youth organization one n ten.
McKenzie attended one n ten youth groups when she first moved to Phoenix as a teen. “I don’t think I’d be where I am at without that organization. I don’t think Nevaeh would have existed without that organization. Anytime that I can give back and hopefully lead a new wave of entertainers to give back to their community, it’s a great feeling,” McKenzie said.
The host will be joined by former Mister Phoenix Pride Dee Jae Galaxy and Empress XI Sophia Sinclair. Galaxy plans to add to the show with live singing and guitar playing, and Sinclair will dress up as different characters.
McKenzie said the story time hour will provide new avenues for drag performers to engage with the public. “I think this is another step in the evolution when it comes to tying drag entertainers into the community,” McKenzie said.
Reading to children isn’t new to McKenzie, a former kindergarten teacher in her daily life. From experience, McKenzie knows children can be a highly-critical audience. “There’s no filter with them, no sense of obligatory kindness. They either like you, or they don’t,” McKenzie said.
During the event, the drag performers will read books that promote values such as inclusiveness, tolerance, and self-awareness. McKenzie hopes the event will get children more interested in books and encourage families to have their own story times at home. “I think when you get children at that age, it sets a platform for the rest of their lives,” McKenzie said.
Audiences can expect to hear new interpretations of fairy tales, which won’t present a damsel in distress or knight in shining armor. Changing Hands Phoenix will also have a display of other books centered around similar ideals.
The story time hour has been in the works for the last year and a half. Other readings on the East Coast and in the Mid West inspired McKenzie to want to bring a similar event to Phoenix. Other drag storytime events have gotten backlash on social media. McKenzie said thus far, she has only received positive feedback about her event, but she won’t let any negativity stop her anyway. “I’ve never been afraid to stand up for my beliefs and stand up for what is right,” McKenzie said.
A brunch at Southern Rail Restaurant, a neighboring business, will follow the story time hour. Families are encouraged to make reservations for the story time and brunch, as spots are expected to fill up quickly.
The following are storybooks that McKenzie cites as some of her favorites: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw. For Galaxy, it's The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and Marla Frazee.
New Year, New Read: a Drag Queen Storytime takes place on Jan. 5, 2019 at 10 a.m. at Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W. Camelback Road.
$5 donation plus fees for a family of four — reservations highly encouraged.