A Marriage of Literacy & Tarot: A Chat With Brink Literacy Project CEO Dani Hedlund

3 cards from the Literary Tarot: 7 of Light, the World, the King of Quills

If there was ever a tarot deck that was designed for avid readers, the Literary Tarot is it. This deck, which is being published by the Brink Literacy Project, aims to seamlessly marry classic and modern literature in an innovative way. Each of the traditional 78 tarot cards represents a piece of classic literature which shares themes with the meaning of the card—and in a beautiful marriage of the old and the new, each of those selections was made by a beloved modern author. And when I say beloved, we’re talking about a star-studded cast of characters here! Some of the authors involved with the Literary Tarot project include Vita Ayala, Brian Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Kieron Gillen, Roxane Gay, Tini Howard, and Margaret Atwood—and that’s just to name a few!

The Literary Tarot launched on Kickstarter just yesterday, and it’s already a big success, fully funding nearly immediately and raising over $100,000 in just the first five hours of the campaign!

Promo image for the Literary Tarot, showing the box, guidebook and several example cards

We had the opportunity to chat with Dani Hedlund, the CEO of Brink Literary Project, about her vision for the deck and the creative team behind it.

Where did the idea for this project originally come from? What inspired the connection between literature and tarot?

From the outside, it sounds like a pretty weird concept, right? But for a group of geeks running a literacy nonprofit, storytelling is always on our minds, the more engaging the better.

This is why we’ve spent over a decade using comics as our primary teaching tool, publishing boundary-pushing stories with custom illustrations, and generally looking for any way to get people excited about reading and writing.

But the tarot idea wasn’t just a cool way to engage with stories, it also came as a Hail Mary fix to the gargantuan hole Covid punched in our fundraising budget.

You see, we can only do all the rad nonprofit programming we do—from working in max-security prisons to mentoring emerging creatives—because we throw a lot of in-person fundraisers, and we sell well in bookstores. Two things that instantly disappeared last year.

We needed to pivot, find some way to activate the literary community. And that’s when the tarot idea sparked—I’d love to take credit, but it’s actually my partner’s idea—and we wondered: What if we paired each card in the arcana with a classic story that embodies those themes…

Thus, the Literary Tarot was born.

What I didn’t anticipate was just how excited the literary community would get about this crazy idea, how many of our literary idols would join the team, “adopting” a card, bringing classics to life in new and gorgeous ways…

3 cards from the Literary Tarot: Judgement, 5 of Quills, the Moon

The list of creators involved with this project is so impressive! How did you get so many people involved and what was the response like?

Long before this project was even a daydream, Brink had been publishing some really stellar talent in our art and lit collection, F(r)iction. This baby’s mission is to elevate emerging and marginalized voices, all while bringing you the best comics, prose, poetry, nonfiction, and illustrations out there. And we’ve been very lucky throughout the years that this mission resonated with a lot of big names.

So when we had this idea to create a Literary Tarot, it was to these big names we went first.

I thought we might get a few to jump on board… but I massively underestimated the reception. Authors were so excited to jump on board, to unearth their favorite classics and really dig into what they loved about them. Most authors were totally new to tarot, but a few were long-time tarot lovers. (Jonathan Hickman, Celeste Ng, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Vita Alaya, and Margaret Atwood, for example, didn’t even need our help with their pairings. They knew the decks inside out!)

Every day I wake up and look at the roster for this project (over 50 of my literary heroes), I can’t stop smiling. It’s pretty easy to feel cynical, especially after the year we all had, but seeing how many people came together to fight for our nonprofit, to share their love of literature, and help us create something so unique and magical? Well, it’s a testament to just how great the literary community can be!

What’s your personal background with tarot?

A year ago, I had no background. I hadn’t even seen a deck in real life.

If anything, before we started thinking about this project, I’d go as far as to say I was against tarot.

Of course, then I really dug into my first deck, had my first reading—apparently, my partner was into tarot and I somehow just didn’t know—and I started to get… let’s say, “tarot curious.”

It had me on the art (tarot art is a special kind of magic) and I’m a big old gaming geek, so you can always sway me with cards and rules… but it took me a very long time, months into the project, in fact, to see the deep elements of tarot, the part that can act as a tool for self-reflection.

But, in the end, the largest cracks in my skepticism just came from making this deck.

From working with authors I’ve respected my whole life, listening as they pulled the same themes from books I love—books that had shaped me—into each tarot card, well, the connection became undeniable.

How silly for me to believe, with every fiber of my being, that stories have the power to change lives… but not see that tarot is just another form of storytelling, one that sparks that same connection, the same critical thinking. One that, if we are brave enough to look inward, can help us see ourselves and our choices clear.

So, yeah, let’s consider me converted.

Do you have a favorite card in this deck?

Favorite card in the deck is simply impossible to choose—so many brilliant pairs, so perfect they make me smile every time I look at the deck—but I am really taken by the cards in this deck that surprised me.

For example, Marjorie Liu paired Beowulf with the Queen of Quills (focused on Grendel’s mum), something I never would have thought of but just couldn’t love more. Same for Simon Tolkien (yes, that Tolkien), who paired Treasure Island with the Chariot, so now I can only see the Hispaniola barreling across the ocean no matter what deck I pull her from. Man, even Stephen Graham Jones’ pairing of “The Monkey Paw” with the Three of Swords gets me every time. Seeing Mr. and Mrs. White, crying with all that blood money in their hands, just heartbreaking. Makes me almost more afraid to draw that card than the Tower. Almost.

What 4 suits does the Literary Tarot use instead of the traditional suits? How did you choose those?

Renaming the suits was something that we were really excited about. You see, we wanted every aspect of this deck to be steeped in the literary. The production side of that came easily: we built a custom book box to hold the thing, so the deck could feel like an ancient tome we pull out from some magical library.

A preview of the Literary Tarot box, which looks like a thick tome
The custom “book box” for the Literary Tarot!

So, of course, we wanted to apply that to the suits. For all the tarot newbies out there, each of the four suits in the minor encompass different parts of the human conditions. Cups deal with our inner world, imagination and intuition. Pentacles deal with the material world. That sorta thing.

So we brought that same logic into the world of creating great stories (and then, you know, took us back a hundred years in technology, since it was a classics deck, after all), and renamed the suits as Quills, Ink, Light, and Parchment!

The Brink Literacy Campaign focuses on “fostering a love of literature, increasing literacy rates, and using storytelling to empower underserved communities.” How do you hope the Literary Tarot will support those admirable goals?

Great question, Jamey! First, let’s get the obvious one out of the way: it will help with funding. As a small, mostly volunteer-run nonprofit, funding is always an obstacle. Hopefully, enough crazy cats come out to support this deck, so we can keep running great programs in populations that need it most

In particular, we’re hoping to support our Frames Prison Program (which brings comics into max-security women’s prison, increasing literacy rates, but more importantly, helping to change the stories these lassies tell about themselves), our educational programs in high schools and universities, and our work with F(r)iction, elevating emerging, diverse, and boundary-pushing storytellers!

But, money aside, we also hope that the Literary Tarot works as an amplifier for more people to get excited about storytelling.

Maybe we convert some tarot loves into readers. Maybe lovely people like all of you see this interview and think what we are doing is cool, and maybe want to get involved? Maybe these cards remind you how much you loved some literary classics, and you crack open the spine of those old tomes.

As long as people are reading, critically evaluating the world, and empathizing with the people around them, we’re all happy little lit geeks.

The Literary Tarot will be funding on Kickstarter through June 30th, 2021, and also includes the chance to get a special tarot-themed issue of F(r)iction called “Arcana” which will ship in the fall, in advance of the deck’s ship date of April 2022.

Jameson Hampton

Jameson Hampton

Jamey is a non-binary adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they’d have time to visit every coffee shop in the world. They write code, like plants, record podcasts, categorize zines and read tarot cards. Ask them about Star Wars or Vampire: the Masquerade if you dare.

One thought on “A Marriage of Literacy & Tarot: A Chat With Brink Literacy Project CEO Dani Hedlund

  1. What a great idea to link classical literature with Tarot archetypes. This really has a lot in common. And I like the fact that the project is inspired by an important humanitarian goal. And it is especially impressive that so many perfect authors have been brought together.

Comments are closed.