I must write all the things down before the amazingness escapes me!
So back in April I got an email blast from the Library of Congress about an all day event called From the Black Arts Movement to Cave Canem. I noticed that part of the day included a master class in children’s literature that required an application process – including a sample of your writing – to attend. I marked it on my calendar, but wasn’t sure I would attend because I would need to take the day off from work. However, after I noticed that Jacqueline Woodson would be involved with the class, I started filling out the application. The planets aligned and BAM, I got accepted to the class!
Kwame Alexander was the moderator of the event and is a dynamic speaker with a good sense of humor. He also dropped several gems about the literary world. One of those gems I got to witness in action. Alexander talked about the importance of networking and building relationships in the writing community.
Wait, let me back up a little. So I was sitting in the audience, listening to Jason Low talk about his 25 years of being a publisher of multicultural books. A sad statistic he highlighted during his talk was that 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, yet only 10% of books are by and about people of color.
A woman who had initially been sitting to my left, got up to sit in the seat to my right, because a pillar was blocking her view. Soon after that, a man sat in the pillar blocking seat. At some point, he moved too, and when he found a better seat I noticed that he looked familiar. It was Jason Reynolds. I met him briefly while he was signing ARCs of All American Boys at NCAAL9.
Okay, so back to what Kwame Alexander was saying about networking/community. You’ll notice that Reynold’s name is nowhere on the flyer advertising the event. He attended because Alexander invited him to come. Alexander took a detour in the scheduled program to talk about how they met and have kept in touch. Alexander ended up asking Reynold’s to come on stage for like three minutes and he talked about the process before the progress and how people are just now hearing his name in the literary world, but that he’d actually been a part of the writing community for 13 years.
And then Nikki Giovanni entered the room and I was beyond stunned! She let us know immediately how much that she loves Kwame Alexander. She went as far as to mention that her health was a bit compromised, but she wanted to come see him anyway. Clearly he is the king of cultivating a writing community. Side note: pillar chair was enchanted, because Kwame Alexander also sat down in it. Yep, I asked if we could take a selfie.
When Jacqueline Woodson came into the room I felt the energy shift. Everyone had been waiting for her arrival. The We Need Diverse Books organizers had given applicants a heads up that the program was extended a half an hour specifically to correspond with her schedule, so perhaps it was a collective relief to see that she had made it inspired that shift. Or perhaps it’s because she’s won ALL the literary awards. She read a excerpt of her new adult novel coming out in August, talked about Brown Girl Dreaming – it took her 31 drafts of that book before it was published, and did a Q & A session.
The most surprising thing I learned by what she shared was that she still takes writing classes, 30+ books under her belt, but still wants to be a better writer. Can you imagine how confident a teacher would have to be to instruct Jacqueline Woodson?
Woodson’s parting words to the audience was that we have the power to change the world everyday.