On Saturday, April 8, I caught a 7:19 am train from Philadelphia to New York City to attend the annual The Color of Children’s Literature conference hosted by Kweli Journal. According to Kweli’s website, the all-day conference promised to be “an excellent opportunity for writers and illustrators of color to learn, get inspired, and network with others in the industry.” Kweli delivered on this promise.
The first person I met when I arrived was the publisher of Tu Books (the imprint of Lee & Low Books that is publishing my first middle grade novel). I learned from her that my publication date has been moved up, so that was exciting news. We later had lunch together, where she introduced me to a number of writers and editors, including my editor. So, networking with others in the industry: check.
Three authors and one author-illustrator started off the day by speaking on a panel entitled “Why We Create Now.” While their experiences were varied — for example, Karuna Riazi shared that she has encountered Islamophobia her whole life and wants her books to help those who are discriminated against feel welcome; Traci Sorell explained that there are many different Native American tribes with different cultures and beliefs, and she hopes her books show that Native Americans should not be put in a box — they were also universal. Every community has families, and everyone is ashamed of something. The speakers (in addition to Riazi and Sorell, the panel included Cozbi Cabrera and Zoraida Cordova) encouraged us to tap into those universal themes when we write our specific stories. Later in the day, keynote speaker Cynthia Leitich Smith spoke about the need for “authentic diversity” in children’s books, the fact that “silence speaks” when certain communities are underrepresented in literature and in history books, and how any kid can be a hero everyone cheers. Inspiration: check.
The conference also included many simultaneous workshops on craft and marketing. They covered topics on: writing picture books, plotting, developing multidimensional characters, writing process and revision, submissions and queries, worldbuilding and structure, nonfiction, and many others. Learning: check.
I have a full time job that has nothing to do with writing children’s books, and sometimes I slip away from my writing and get consumed in the other parts of my life and work. Attending a good writing conference every now and then can be the spark I need to get me to start a new writing project or to delve into revisions of an existing one. The Kweli conference was just what I needed, and I look forward to attending again next year.
What about you? Is there something that helps you get back on track when you’ve gotten sluggish in your writing routine?