Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘Overturned’

Helping new voices get heard: VAASL Conference 2017

IMG_0908Back in 2011,  I was invited to attend the VEMA conference, an annual gathering of school librarians in my state. The event was held in Richmond that year. I had one book out, Milagros, Girl from Away, and so, like a lot of new authors, I sat at a table by myself for most of the evening while other more seasoned authors signed copies and chatted up fans.

Here’s what I most remember of that night: one school librarian came to talk to me. Her name was Schenell Agee, and she listened patiently as I stumbled through my conversation about my work and diverse voices and Latino themes. She told me that she organized an end-of-year author event at her middle school. An author visit on the last day of school? I thought. Nuts. Still, we exchanged cards, and she told me that she’d keep me in mind for the future.

I expected exactly nothing. I was just grateful that someone had stopped by to ask me anything at all. Eventually, I did go to her school (Metz Middle) – alongside the amazing Floyd Cooper, as I recall. It was a fabulous school visit – not only for how well-organized it was, but also for all it taught me about why it matters to take risks on new writers.

A lot has happened since then. VEMA has changed its name to VAASL (Virginia Association of School Librarians). I’ve got a few more titles under my belt. And Schenell Agee is now the supervisor of professional development and library services for Prince William County. But as I drive to Northern Virginia this Friday to take part in the VAASL conference,  I’ll be taking with me what I learned from her and all the librarians I’ve worked with since then.

With Lamar Giles at the Highlights Foundation where we served as mentors last summer

Here’s what I mean. If we’re serious about changing the landscape of children’s lit by building collections that represent a wide range of experiences, then encouraging new authors – especially diverse ones – is vital.  These are largely new voices, just entering now, who might be sitting at tables by themselves somewhere. There’s no time to waste in getting these authors up and connected. Kids need and deserve to hear from them. The best way to do it is through librarians.

I’m using my workshop time on Friday afternoon to book talk 20 titles by a few favorites but also many up-and-coming Latino authors who had work published in 2017. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s as much as I could read in a couple of months. Book talking isn’t necessarily my best skill, but I’m going to give it a shot. And if I’m lousy at it, as least there’s a giveaway of much of the list. (Many thanks to the publishers who sent me freebies for this purpose.) Librarians are crazy busy, and it’s hard for them to keep up with the huge number of titles competing for shelf space. If I can introduce them to fresh names and faces, I’ll be satisfied. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely want librarians to stock my stuff on their shelves, too. But the truth is that the body of my work represents one voice – and only one. There are parts of the so-called Latino experience that I can’t tell, parts that someone else should.

Mutual fans – with Ruta in Tucson

On Saturday, I’ll be moderating and participating in How Books Connect: Views and Ideas from Five Favorite Multicultural Authors. Joining me will be people who need no introduction: Ruta Sepetys, fresh from adding the Carnegie medal to the list of accolades for her exceptional historical fiction, Salt to the Sea; Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg, long time buds and now co-authors of the well-received, This is Just a Test, and one of my dearest friends in this business, Edgar Award nominee Lamar Giles (Overturned.) Our plan is to talk the way five friends would over breakfast (except not criticizing runny eggs.) Our focus will be the way we use our books to tell stories of varied people in a way that combats erasure or stereotype.

Wendy and Madelyn about to take the stage at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC

So, if you’re a school librarian heading to Chantilly, I hope to see you this coming weekend. You can check out the full roster of events here.  Some amazing speakers are coming, and I’ll be sitting in on as much as I can!

 

Hey book lovers: A LitCrawl Comes to RVA

Sometimes, it pays off when somebody loses their mind.

That’s certainly true for Richmond, which is going to host its first LitCrawl on April 21 and 22, 2017 thanks to what founder Cheryl Pallant calls “writerly insanity.”

A LitCrawl is a city-wide event where readings and performances are led by area authors in a variety of venues, from prisons and bars to bookstores and record shops. It’s a movement that grew legs in San Francisco and is spreading far and wide (Here’s how other cities have done it.)

But how it reached us here in Richmond, VA, boils down to Cheryl, who was busy planning her wedding, writing a non fiction book and getting ready to publish both a book of poetry and a memoir about her time living in South Korea.

“I reached a point in my writing day when I needed a distraction. I too readily checked out Facebook and saw that a friend of mine was involved in a LitCrawl in Denver. I immediately recognized it as a great event and queried if anyone in Richmond was interested. Within an hour, I heard from about 50 folks saying yes.”

“Did I really need another sizeable commitment?”

Well, no, but she grabbed a few friends anyway and here we are….LitCrawl RVA

Now that authors are signing up and making plans for their contributions (website here), she’s sharpening her vision and looking forward to this becoming an annual event with sponsorship behind it.

For me, it’s exactly the right idea. Now more than ever, we want to come out strong for books as a nation. An event like this is free, fun and brings all kinds of people together. It adds to the many artful things that are defining Richmond these days and, more important, part of how we can make books part of people’s lives.

So  I grabbed a couple of friends and got busy.  I’ll be reading with my friends, Lamar Giles and Anne Blankman for our event, Criminal Minds YA. All three books (Overturned, Burn Baby Burn, and Traitor Angels) deal with murder and young people. (Why not?) We settled on reading in a former jail, in keeping with our grisly inclinations as writers. Have you been to RVA’s hostel? The HI used to be a women’s detention center, among other things. Now it is, hands down, one of the coolest places to stay, and brings young travelers from all over the world to our city.

 

rva-lit-crawl-2017-copy

So, if you like young adult and crime lit – if you love books and RVA and want to see more interesting bookish stuff continue – please join us.

Criminal Minds YA is free and open to the public

Where: HI Richmond Hostel, 7 N. Second Street (2nd Street, bet Franklin and Main).

Date:  Saturday, April 22.

Time: 6:30 PM (Don’t worry. We have snacks for you…)