A few months ago, I applied to and was awarded the Chris Clark Fellowship, a grant offered through the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. I used the money to fund my way to the National SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) 2020 Winter Conference in New York City. During the months of preparation all the way through the end of my trip, so many of you have reached out with kind words and well-wishes, many of you asking how the trip went. In an attempt to give all the details to as many of you as possible and at the same time, process the experience, I decided to journal (or blog… whatever this counts as). So without further ado, here is what happened:
I left on Thursday, Feb 6, hopped on a Greyhound bus in an attempt to be responsible to our environment (ie. if you don’t have to
fly, don’t fly). It was a relatively uneventful trip, and I listened to a lot of podcasts. Even sleeping wasn’t a problem, as I had two seats and could make myself comfortable. When we arrived the next morning, we were immediately greeted in the station by two teenage boys playing a public piano. It was as if the city was saying, “Welcome to New York, there is magic everywhere.”
Luckily, the Grand Hyatt hotel, where the conference was taking place, was only a few blocks away and able to check me in early. Up to the 26th floor- it felt like I could see everything.
After unpacking and a quick run in the wellness center, it was time to drop off my portfolio.
There were a number of volunteers waiting to take our portfolios, something that unexpectedly shook me a little. It felt like dropping your kid at preschool for the first time- you know that they are in good hands, but it’s hard to trust somebody else to care as much as you do.
To ease the unease, I grabbed a coffee. Then, a quick hour-long nap later, I was sipping the now-cold cup of coffee and exploring the city (More on New York in a later post).
That evening at the Golden Kite Awards, accomplished author and SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver opened the night with a charming welcome. Award-winning author Kwame Alexander then gave a moving introduction for Children’s Book Legend James Patterson. The levity with which Patterson spoke did not discount the weight of his message- Reading Saves Lives. He put up slides of statistics and reminded us of the incredible responsibility we have in giving kids something they want to read. It was riveting. I mean, the guy has sold 300 million copies of his books- you can’t help but listen as hard as you can.
Soon, it was time to announce the winners. They were:
(Middle Grade/Young Reader Fiction)
Padma Venkatraman, for
The Bridge Home
(Picture Book Text)
Ashley Benham Yazdani for,
A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park
(Nonfiction Text for Younger Readers)
Elizabeth Rusch, for
Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet
(Picture book Illustration)
Hyewon Yum (written by Muon Thi van), for Clever Little Witch
Nonfiction Text for Older Readers)
Deborah Heiligman, for
Torpedoed: The True Story of the
World War II Sinking of
“The Children’s Ship”
(Young Adult Fiction)
Julie Berry, for Lovely War
(Sid Fleischman Humor Award)
Remy Lai, for Pie in the Sky
As each recipient came to the stage, they eloquently offered up their thank you’s and thoughts about their book. I was struck over and over again by the passion each writer had for their subject: climate change and environmentalism, empathy and education, socioeconomic and racial disparities. Whatever the topic, it was difficult to stay unmoved and impossible to deny the love poured into these projects. These are not just books, these are invaluable messages, our little way of changing the world. It was beautiful and made me feel profoundly un-alone.
After the final applause, we moved to the adjacent ballroom, which had been transformed into the Portfolio Showcase. Tables of work formed rivers of people, slowly flipping through and marveling at each other’s talents and hard work. We sipped champagne and ate chocolate covered strawberries, taking the cards that spoke to us and congratulating each other on a good show. My ever-competitive inner monologue took a frenzy of mental notes while trying to stay louder than my voice of self-doubt.
Golden Kite Winners were signing books, and I snagged a copy of Mario and the Hole in the Sky for my daughter. When it was my turn in line, I told author Elizabeth Rusch about our two year journey with Sonia’s vision and that therapy often included focusing exercises. I told her about the microscope she had gotten for Christmas and the excitement it had triggered in her. And, though there was a line behind me, Elizabeth took the time to connect, showing that her passion was not limited to her acceptance speech. I want to be like her.
With Day 2, and the official beginning to the conference only a few hours away, I carted myself back up to my room to watch The Late Show and try to sleep.