The biography of Rio Jsanea — a biracial 25-year-old who identifies with neither gender — could be subtitled "A Life in the Gap."

Born to a black police officer father and a mother who is a disabled Army veteran, Jsanea lives in the middle of several communities and conflicts. 

The LSU theater student from Plano, Texas, volunteered to become a living book to tell that story, part of The Human Library created by the East Baton Rouge Public Library. 

"I just want to share with people what that feels like because we have a lot of dichotomies in our culture — a lot of us and them," Jsanea said. "But it's a unique experience to ride the gap."

Can't see video below? Click here


At the Ebb and Flow Festival in April, a half-dozen living books were available for checkout from the library. Additional volumes of Baton Rouge's Human Library will be available Saturday, May 6, at the EBR Main Library, 7711 Goodwood Blvd. 

The volumes that composed the first Human Library were people with stories many would consider outside the mainstream in south Louisiana. There was an atheist, a parent of biracial children, a war veteran, a man who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Readers" got a chance to hold one-on-one conversations with them.

For 20 minutes on the sunny spring afternoon at the festival, Jsanea, with green hair and a pierced septum, sat on the Mississippi River levee and talked with Kathy Daigle, 69, and her husband, Wade Daigle, 71.  

To Kathy Daigle, the concept of The Human Library reminded her of the Ray Bradbury novel "Fahrenheit 451," when books are banned and people memorized the words of classics so they could keep the stories alive.

She contrasted the experience of talking with Jsanea with the book club she attends with friends.

"We just talk those books up one side and down the other, but that’s different," she said. "To have the author of the story right here is invaluable. We’re interested in learning more."

The idea of The Human Library began in 2000 when a Denmark-based youth organization called Stop the Violence developed a collection of living books for a festival in Copenhagen. They wanted the festival visitors to challenge their own prejudices, so the books offered an array of people with different beliefs and lifestyles. 

Their idea spread throughout Europe and across the world. In 2006, a library in Lismore, Australia, created the first permanent Human Library. 

In 2016, Baton Rouge experienced its most traumatic year in decades when, in early July, Alton Sterling, a black man, was killed by police and protests sprung up across the city. Weeks later, three local law enforcement officers were killed in an ambush, and three others were seriously wounded. The extensive flooding that struck the region in August inflicted even more stress.

The timing was right for Baton Rouge to have its own Human Library, said Ned Denby, a reference librarian who helped develop the program. It could help the community challenge its own stereotypes, she said.

"We wanted to create community-building events that let people talk to people with different perspectives and backgrounds," she said. 

More than 30 people applied to be living books, Denby said. 

Thirty-seven-year-old Chrissy Vincent, the white mother of biracial children with her black husband, wanted to tell her story in her own words. 

"I thought someone who might be willing to check out a book might be interested in learning more," she said.

The idea of making her story available to anyone who wanted to hear it was nothing new, Vincent said. She regularly fields questions about her family's racial identity. Becoming a living book gave her a chance to have a genuine conversation. 

"I put myself out there every day with my family, with my husband and children," Vincent said. "We want to witness through our actions tolerance, love and acceptance."

The Human Library

"Readers" can check out "Living Books," people who share their stories in one-on-one conversations.

WHEN: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 6

WHERE: EBR Main Library, 7711 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge

ADMISSION: Free and open to the public

Follow Kyle Peveto on Twitter, @kylepeveto.