This weekend I ventured to New Orleans for the first regional SCBWI conference (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) aptly named the JambaLAya KidLit Conference.
What an amazing conference complete with lots of books to buy (thanks to Octavia Books) and lots of food to eat (beignets, jambalaya, and king cake!) The conference took place in the classic Academy of the Sacred Heart School on St. Charles Ave. The halls smelled of fresh flowers. The wood floors sparkled. The air felt academic and deeply Catholic.
I met authors, illustrators, and editors, my rock stars. Cheryl Klein, editorial director at Lee & Low Books and author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults led two talks, one on “Purpose, Premise, and Promise” and one on revision techniques. During both of these talks, I had important realizations about my works in progress.
A highlight of the day was meeting Angie Thomas, the author of the new #1 best selling YA book The Hate U Give. Angie is from my home town, Jackson, MS, so I had to take a picture with her. Angie was so humble. Her fame has been rather a whirlwind. She read to us a portion of her editorial letter. This helped me understand that even best selling authors have major issues in their novels that need to be worked out.
I wish I took better notes at conferences, but with some speakers, I just want to sit back and listen. That’s how it was with Whitney Stewart. Whitney has traveled the world and written nonfiction books about the Dalai Lama and Walt Disney. She has been lucky in her life to have nonfiction projects find her. Her stepfather handed her letters that led to the book Mr. Lincoln’s Gift, a tale of artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s life spent in the White House during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. More recently she found letters that her mother-in-law had in storage about her two brothers who were both German soldiers killed in WWII. More than luck is Whitney’s ability to turn these pieces of history into literature.
I was privileged to sit next to her at dinner Saturday night and share real experiences. Whitney has not yet been able to write about her survival of Hurricane Katrina. She spent five days in the Tulane Medical School and was rescued by helicopter. Some experiences take a long time before they become literature.
I could write so much more about this amazing day. At this point I’ll save more reflections for another day, another slice.