Writing in Color

Kweli

3rd Annual Color of Children's Literature Conference

Scrolling through Instagram,  I came across a conference in New York that seemed too niche to my interests to be true, the Color of Children's Literature Conference--an event dedicated to writers of color who write diverse stories.

The conference was only a month away and the timing was right, so I registered and booked a flight from LHR to JFK. It was held at the CUNY Graduate Center downtown Manhattan. Aside from Africa Writes, this is the only other writing conference I have ever attended. I arrived and stepped up to registration, gave my name, checked my belongings, headed to the continental breakfast table, and entered a large room which was nearly full even though it was 40 minutes before opening remarks. Scaling the room, I tried to find a friendly table where I could sit and chat with attendees. There were definitely a diverse group of people; professionally, ethnically, and with varied interests and aspirations within the industry. Sat at my table was one Black Ph.D. neuroscientist who wanted to get into writing picture books that focused on STEM topics. Another woman I met was a Black tax lawyer who wanted to illustrate. It's always so awkward and nerve-racking to attend these sort of things alone. But eventually, I settled in and got into my element. 

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There were break-out sessions for published and unpublished writers that followed separate interests tracks: 1. Publishing, Community, & Culture 2. Novels, 3. Illustrated Books & Nonfiction, 4. Intensive. Participants were free to mix and match sessions as it related to their interests. The conference was attended by industry pioneers and well-decorated writers such as Angela Johnson (keynote), Joseph Bruchac, Renee Watson, Rita Willams-Garcia, & Tonya Bolden, to name a few. It wasn't a large number of attendees, which made it easy to network with people. The biggest take away for me was listening to the experiences of authors.  Zetta Elliott spoke to me directly. Like me, she self-published books because she believed that certain stories ought to be told whether or not traditional publishers agreed. She's also published books through traditional publishers. When I wrote Janjay, I did not even try to explore traditional avenues because I believed in myself, my writing abilities, and my story, so I went for it. Of course, I would love to have a book published by a large publishing house one day (if only for the experience) but like Zetta, I'm not going to forget my core audience and hope to continue to tell stories that need to be told. There are so many challenges in writing as a person of color because let's face it, the industry is run by White women.

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I had the opportunity to meet Vashti Harrison whose book "Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History" is a best seller on Amazon. Vashti was kind, humble, and encouraging. Another win for the conference. I definitely plan to attend next year and take full advantage of all the events around the conference.

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