|The only photo I took was of Kadir Nelson.
Another Texas Book Festival has come and gone. Sigh! Thousands of people crowded the streets surrounding the state capitol, where a tent city housed book sellers, music, children’s entertainment, and author readings and signings. Inside, seemingly every nook, cranny, chamber, and extension room of the capitol building was buzzing with sessions dedicated to literature.
It was difficult to choose which sessions to attend and oh how I wish I had brought something to take notes with. From memory, here are a few of my highlights.
From the session with Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg, I learned that a lifelong exposure to books (Casey’s father is Jon Scieszka,) and an openness to diverse cultures can benefit in ways you never imagine. And that having a passion for one thing, like travel or studies, can blossom into a cause and a passion. Their own new adult/YA book TO TIMBUKTU is not the only thing to result from an 18 month travel to nine countries. Their experiences inspired their nonprofit, Local Language Literacy, launching literacy efforts in less fortunate countries. You can get a peek at the story behind their book through this Publisher’s Weekly interview. Presentation-wise, I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed a more engaging and seamless tandem presentation. These two really can finish each other’s sentences.
From the session with Molly Shannon, I learned how powerfully personal tragedy can be transformed into comedy/art; how laughter can be healing; and how profoundly a parent’s presence, or lack of, can affect children. And how motherhood opens a new perspective about children. Her book, TILLY THE TRICKSTER, was released in September. Authors generally sneer at celebrities who knock out children’s books without dedicating years to studying the craft and paying their dues. But, I can’t help but like Molly Shannon. I hope, when I read her book, I’ll find 32 pages of quality.
From the Newbery panel, with Rebecca Stead (WHEN YOU REACH ME) and Kate DiCamillo (BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE and TALE OF DESPEREAUX,) I was fascinated by their individual writing journeys that led to their first books and to their Newbery winners. Rebecca is a busy mom and admits she has no regular writing schedule. Kate writes two pages per day. Period. As we all know, even when we’re not physically plunking our fingers on a keyboard, our minds are working the tedium of story elements.
I’ve heard Kate speak before, and I think she’s hilarious. This time I was most struck by how much a single college experience informed the rest of her writing career. When a professor held up her essay about a homeless man to share with the class, she was all puffed up with self-importance, thinking she was the greatest writer of all times. Then the prof. said he didn’t choose it because of good writing. Ouch! He chose it because the writer “saw.” It was a great way to drive home the fact that writers need to pay attention to details. We need to see the people or details that are generally unnoticed.
(Want to take a peek at Kate’s early drafts for BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE? Click here. And here.
From Kadir Nelson, who spoke about his newest book, HEART AND SOUL: THE STORY OF AMERICA AND AFRICAN AMERICANS, I learned that art can return figures to history that should have been there all along. And that family history can often be filled with history of a grander scale, lost to humble memories if not captured and recorded. And that writers and illustrators must really love the project they are working on. If not, it will show in the work.
In the nonfiction panel, we heard the stories behind the stories from Chris Barton about CAN I SEE YOUR ID, Jeanette Larson on HUMMINGBIRDS: FACTS AND FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICAS and Elaine Scott on SPACE, STARS, AND THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Panel questions varied from research journeys, to organization, and how the intended reader age influences the writing process.
Finally, I was reminded how much I appreciate this remarkable talent-rich community to which I belong. More specifically, my fellow authors and illustrators active in the Austin SCBWI Community. From the moment I parked in the capitol garage, to the end of the day, I was shoulder to shoulder with colleagues as eager to soak it all in as I was. Between sessions, we exchanged notes, shared photos, stood in lines, laughed. To my Austin SCBWI peeps, and you know who you are, this journey wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful without your friendships. Thank you all.