Super Hero Writers

Last weekend Super Heros flew to Chicago to gather for SCBWI Prairie Writers & Illustrators Day. This year my conference posse grew from two writers to four, including one of my VCFA classmates. We happened to sit in the Maw-ha-ha section of the audience, but there are no villains in writing and illustrating for children.

Only Super Heros!

This year we kicked off the day with an inspirational keynote by author / illustrator Don Tate. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, check it out. I especially loved how his artwork grew and changed over time into his own unique style. New this year was a Skype keynote by Kirsten Cappy of on finding your audience, advocates, and being an ally in book marketing.

In my breakout sessions I learned about The Enigma of Voice from agent Linda Pratt, How Motivation Drives Story from Viking Children’s Books executive editor Kendra Levin, and Revising and Editing MG / YA from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers assistant editor Nikki Garcia. All wonderful presenters that I’d recommend if you ever have an opportunity to see them speak.

As always, there was learning for all levels of writers and illustrators, even those returning to the conference for the sixth time like me. I am always struck by what a vibrant, creative, FUN community SCBWI is, more so this year because I attended a much drier (but also very important) structural engineering bridge conference earlier in the week.

This year at Prairie Writers & Illustrators Day there was one Super Hero that kept popping up in every session and conversation: Diversity! Or “Writing the Other,” as it’s more frequently called in writing circles. This topic is more than a trend, it’s a new frontier the publishing industry has embraced.

I was glad to hear about the SCBWI-Illinois Diversity Initiatives, such as the auction of John Parra’s painting FRIDA on their website, the Diversity Has Many Voices buttons for sale at their events, the Diverse New Member Pathway, and the Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize. It was also reassuring to hear the big publishing houses all have diversity committees focused both on their employees and their authors / illustrators.

Change is slow, but know that progress is being made.

In my own writing life, I was recently selected for the Writing the Other focus workshop at my next VCFA MFA WCYA residency. Exciting, yet frightening. To prepare for this workshop, students will read diverse children’s fiction as well as online discussions of Writing the Other. Identity markers in diverse books include race, religion, sexual orientation / gender identity, physical disabilities, mental health disabilities, body type, generation, socioeconomic class, etc.

To prepare myself for this focus workshop, I’ve been listening to VCFA archived lectures on Writing the Other as well as checking out great resources available for everyone:

TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Blogs: A is for Aging, B is for Book, Disabilities in Kidlit, Reading While White, Latinx in Kidlit, etc.

Article: 12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (And The Self) by Daniel José Older.

Magazine: The Writer’s Chronicle: October / November 2016 Edition theme is Writing the Other

Book: Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward

Whatever form of media you prefer, this important information is out there.

Inform yourself.

This week especially, after an election that has divided our nation and struck fear in a large percentage of our population, have empathy for your fellow Americans and listen to their many voices.

About Jennifer Kay

Jennifer Kay is a KidLit author and Structural Engineer. She has a VCFA MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, is an SCBWI Rockford Network Rep, edits the SCBWI IL Prairie Wind, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America. Jennifer works as a writer, freelance editor, literary agency reader, and creative writing teacher.
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