Nikki Grimes has a great post up on her blog, Nikki Sounds Off.
Recently, an acquaintance, one I have not set [eyes] on in years, casually asked me to drop in on her class as a favor and conduct a story hour with one of my books. When I declined, explaining that school visits are something I do professionally (i.e., something for which I am paid), she became very snippy with me. Sigh.
In the days that followed, I found myself wondering if she’d be inclined to ask a carpenter, one who had not laid eyes on her in years, no less, to drop by and build her a bookshelf, just for the fun of it. Or if she’d ask a doctor to drop in and give her an exam, for free, just because, you know, he lives nearby. Somehow, I don’t think she would. Nor would she expect free services from any other professional, including another teacher, which is why her snippy attitude rubs me raw.
This is a topic that comes up pretty often when I get together with my artist friends since we’re often asked to perform/present/provide for free. And it’s hard to say no because so many of the kids we work with come from homes, schools, and communities that don’t have a lot of money. Since we’re women of color, we sometimes refer to it as part of “the black tax”—the extra amount you’re expected to pay because of your race. But according to the white authors and illustrators chiming in on Facebook, this isn’t specific to any race or gender. I’m not entirely convinced, but then I only know how “uplift ideology” works in the black community; if you’re a black professional, you’re expected to “give back” even if—as Nikki Grimes points out—you’re doing school visits and author talks to make ends meet. I do one or two free events every month, but I can’t meet every request for free books and presentations. It’s also not fair to the schools that scrape together money to pay my honorarium—sometimes by holding bake sales! I love being an author and wish I could place a book in the hands of every child, but that simply isn’t the reality—especially in this economy. If you’re looking for ways to raise money to pay for authors visits, check out this great list by author Adrienne Elhert Bashista; she also lists several corporations (Target, Walmart) and art councils that help sponsor literary events in your community. Authors of color already face so many challenges on the road to publication; please think twice before you ask us to share our expertise for free.