Early the next morning as the coffee kicked in, we took our seats to hear from our first Keynote, author Kate Messner.
She spoke about her endless curiosity with enough energy to substitute for a second cup of coffee. She not only encouraged us to be curious, but offered practical tips on how to cultivate wonder in ourselves: Don’t be afraid to call or email strangers for information. Allow yourself time to chase ideas. We laughed at stories of her misadventures and we cringed at the pictures of snake surgery. She was so funny, and then she got vulnerable. Bravely, she told the crowd how hard it was, even as an adult, to face being victimized as a child. Instead of bowing, she made the decision to use those experiences as a way to reach out with her novel, “Chirp,” knowing that to help other girls who feel powerless, she had to first take back her own power. We cried, then we laughed again, then we stood and clapped our hands pink.
My first breakout session (there were many to choose from in advance) was an author/agent/editor panel. Author Lesa Cline-Ransome began by answering
questions about her writing process, and I can honestly say that I’ve never considered writing non-fiction until I heard her speak in this session. Agent Alexandra Penfold spoke next, easily convincing me with her knowledge and expertise that I absolutely want representation and that, in a perfect world, it could be her. Connie Hsu spoke next about the job of an editor as it pertains to the previous two, which sounds dry except she is hysterically funny and effortlessly engaging. I left this session realizing how little I knew about the business side of the industry, and thankful to have a better grasp.
After a quick lunch that, for me, involved zero eating but lots of emailing, we were back for the second break-out. In my choice, focusing on marketing strategies, we heard from Laurent Linn and Chrissy Noh, Art Director and Marketing Director for Simon and Schuster, respectively. They gave great advice on how to market your projects and practical ways of reaching larger audiences. I took so
many notes to squirrel away for a
couple of years from now when, hopefully, I will have lots of use for them. Author Peter Brown also spoke and, with his nonchalant, semi-jaded (in a good way) personality and occasional swear, made me feel less like a mutt in a room full of poodles.
Our final speaker of the day was Jerry Pinkney, who’s career accomplishments take up significant scroll space on Wikipedia. His illustrations are detailed and thoughtfully researched, focusing on fairy tales and legends. His newest book though, A Place to Land, was a look at the historical moments leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.
To get the behind-the-scenes on such an important project is so motivating, and really gave insight into why this man is such a legend. And, once again, the seemingly underlying thesis of the event was to highlight our ability to bring awareness to the disparities plaguing our society right now. On top of all that, this guy is so modest and genuine, listening to his presentation felt bittersweet.
A buffet (and drink ticket!) were waiting for us down in the lobby. We broke off by region and got to connect, trade info with, and pick off the plates of the other author/illustrators in our area. Even without having much interaction with the other groups, I have to say that the Michigan/Ohio region was easily the best table, and we laughed as we exchanged art school anecdotes and portfolio woes. It felt good now knowing I had a more geographically concentrated support system that I could put faces to.
After dinner, we had our choice of socials to break off to- a peer critique group, a first time attendee party- I chose the Illustrator’s Social. Maybe it was the smaller group, maybe it was the inherent like-mindedness, or maybe it was that drink ticket, but we were in high (and loud) spirits. We meandered around the room and found ourselves in circle after circle, discussing TV shows that inspired us as kids and unlikely favorite artists, laughing openly as if we had known each other for years. It felt nostalgic, like chilling with my cohort in college, but instead of the 7th floor at Kendall, we were in Ballroom 2 in New York.
By the end of the social, a good handful of us had decided the night was too young, and we met in the lobby to lock arms and trudge to a dive bar 10 blocks away.
We filled up a fourth of the main floor and compared life notes that had nothing to do with illustration. We learned goofy trivia about each other- one of us was a clairvoyant, one of us was a rock climber, several of us had kids, some believed in aliens, one of us had renamed herself, and all of us loved to talk smack. We drank, we ordered a pizza, we dropped off in little groups to hit the hay. By the time we made it back to the hotel, our hearts were full, and we knew it was worth it, despite the 3 hours of sleep that lay between us and the morning.