Archive for the ‘awards and honors’ Category

If you didn’t attend the 2012 A Is for Anansi conference at NYU last weekend, you missed a chanced to meet the future president of the United States. Sirah Sow (left) was one of three outstanding teens that wowed the audience on Saturday morning’s “If I Ruled the World” panel. She and her aunt also attended the post-conference brunch where a smaller group of participants shared our impressions and suggestions with the two organizers, Jaira Placide and Rashidah Ismaili. Most of us agreed that our main challenge this year was attendance. The panels were tighter, the speakers were diverse and engaging, but ultimately we were preaching to the choir—and a small choir at that. It’s possible that the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy prevented some local people from attending, though I met one determined attendee who knew she was coming whether or not her power was restored. The US publishing industry is based in NYC, and white editors claim they’re desperate to find more black writers, yet how many of those editors took advantage of this FREE event? Did the storm prevent ALL of the major kidlit journals from covering the conference? This year four legends in the field were honored: Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings (right, photographed by Sandra Payne), Eloise Greenfield, and William Loren Katz. Will the readers of Horn Book, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly get to read about the honoring of these literary luminaries? They deserve to know about this one-of-a-kind conference yet I didn’t see any press in attendance. When my panel was over, Dr. Meena Khorana approached me and asked for a copy of my paper; Dr. Khorana is the editor of Sankofa: a Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature and they plan to cover the conference—but again, that’s preaching to the choir. How do we engage those who most need to hear our message? The presidential election is over, thank goodness, and the conversation has since turned to the shifting demographics in the US and the obvious anxiety of many members of the dominant group. In class I try to explain to my students that dominance isn’t tied to numbers—under slavery, small groups of whites controlled much larger groups of blacks. So when racial minorities combine to become the statistical majority in this country, it doesn’t automatically follow that whites will lose their dominance. White supremacy is so entrenched in our institutions that it will take decades to root it out. I think what we’re going to see over the next few years is a circling of the wagons—anxious whites fearing the loss of power and privilege will retreat further into their all-white world and do whatever they can to “keep the horde at bay.” Meanwhile, people of color and their allies will have to keep moving forward, holding fast to the belief that “we shall overcome someday.” On this rainy morning I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. But it was definitely energizing to spend the weekend with so many talented writers and scholars and activists (above: Tony Medina, Nnedi Okorafor, Michelle Martin, & me). Ibi Zoboi took this great shot of our fantasy panel, and I’m hoping she will do a write-up of the entire conference on her blog (below: me, Vicky Smith, Nnedi, Stacy Whitman, and Ivan Velez, Jr.).

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When I’m not feeling tired and overwhelmed by the many demands of May (8 school visits down, 11 to go), I would say I’ve been feeling quite blessed as of late. I got the Canada Arts Council grant last month, and then learned yesterday that I will receive a faculty development grant from my college. That means I *will* be heading to South Carolina this summer so that I can do the research required to FINISH Judah’s Tale. All I have to do now is finish the semester—two teaching days left, then exams…

I’ve booked my train ticket to Boston for this year’s Children’s Literature Association conference at Simmons College. Imagine my surprise when I checked the program and discovered that one of my novels is the subject of another presenter’s paper! Mary J. Couzelis will present “Confronting Whiteness in the Past and Present: A Wish After Midnight” on Thursday morning. My train arrives at 10am so I may not make it to the conference in time to catch her paper—but how exciting! And no doubt due to the fact that Michelle Martin, president of ChLA, wrote about Wish in her membership letter last fall…

Lastly, it’s that time of year again—the New Voices contest is underway. Visit the Lee & Low website for more information—and submit! If you’re an African citizen (or dual citizen), check out the Golden Baobab Prize.

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Last night before leaving work I checked my email and found an unpleasant message from across the border. I didn’t bother to respond and instead headed straight to the bakery where I bought a slice of banana cake. I could have done grading on the train ride home, but instead I mused over that email and the neverending drama that is my relationship with my sister. I’m heading to Toronto next week and my mother arranged a little get-together but now I’m pulling out. What’s the point? If you can’t be genuine in your relationships, then you might as well keep your real self to yourself. I got home and found my mailbox crammed full of books–I ordered 25 of Ruth Chew’s 29 books and three or four arrive every day. When I’ll find time to read them all, I don’t know, but the semester wraps up in three weeks and I’m already trying to make a work plan for the summer. I’ve got *18* school visits lined up for the month of May. And I should find out soon whether or not I got the grant to finish Judah’s Tale; that will involve spending a week in South Carolina in July studying maroon communities and rice plantations. I’ve booked my flight and hotel and will be heading to Nevis in June; I’m *really* looking forward to that trip, even though I’ll have to work on a conference paper while I’m there since I’m presenting at ChLA the day after I get back. Then I have a chapter to write on black magic in NYC parks. And then there’s Nyla’s story…

But as I sifted through all the packages I found in my mailbox, I noticed a plain envelope from the Canada Arts Council. Ever since I applied for a grant last fall, the CAC has been sending me stuff; my grant proposal was rejected in March, so I don’t generally bother to read the promotional material they send out. But before chucking this envelope into the recycling bin, I opened it and read the opening lines:

You recently received a letter from the Canada Council for the Arts advising you that your grant application for the Grants to Professional Writers – Creative Writing program was highly recommended. We are now pleased to advise you that your request will be funded.

I read it two or three times before finally moving AWAY from the recycling bin. I don’t understand how this happened, and I plan to call them today to double check, but I am thrilled! And humbled. I don’t have a particularly good history with my homeland, and I try to keep my expectations low to avoid further disappointment. But this grant will enable me to spend a month or so in Ontario researching my ancestors—those who passed for white and those who stayed black. As I scraped the icing off my banana cake last night, I thought about my sister and our ongoing feud—maybe my relationship with her will teach me something about my ancestors. They chose different paths, disowned one another, and—it seems—never looked back. But there had to be moments along the way when those siblings had doubts or wanted to reconcile. I’d like to believe that, at least, though I know that “passing” requires the fair-skinned family member to cut ties completely. I want to write a book about Nevis—two books, actually. And then there’s my academic proposal to write about black magic in YA lit. Something’s gotta give. I love cake but sometimes you have to take a few bites and push the plate away…

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The Youth Media awards were announced yesterday at the midwinter ALA convention. You can find a recap of all the winners and honorees at the ALA site. The Coretta Scott King Award recipients are listed below. I’m eager to see Kyra Hicks’ analysis of the CSKs—each year she points to trends that force us to ask just what the award does to promote excellence in African American children’s literature. If the same people win the award year after year, are we really making progress? If the pool of black-authored books isn’t expanding, do we really know what excellence looks like? And are the CSKs making a difference? I’m still working on my analysis of black Canadian authors and it’s clear that since 2000, despite some black authors winning major literary prizes, only TWO debut authors entered the publishing arena. This would seem to disprove the theory that recognizing excellence leads to greater opportunities for all writers of color…


Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:

Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator of “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans,” is the King Author Book winner. The book is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Two King Author Honor Book recipients were selected: Eloise Greenfield, author of “The Great Migration: Journey to the North,” illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; and Patricia C. McKissack, author of “Never Forgotten,” illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon and published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award:

Shane W. Evans, illustrator and author of “Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom,” is the King Illustrator Book winner. The book is a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership.

One King Illustrator Honor Book recipient was selected: Kadir Nelson, illustrator and author of “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans,” published by Balzar + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement:

Ashley Bryan is the winner of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime achievement. The award, which pays tribute to the quality and magnitude of beloved children’s author Virginia Hamilton.

Storyteller, artist, author, poet and musician, Bryan created his first children’s book in first grade. He grew up in the Bronx and in 1962, he became the first African American to both write and illustrate a children’s book. After a successful teaching career, Bryan left academia to pursue creation of his own artwork. He has since garnered numerous awards for his significant and lasting literary contribution of poetry, spirituals and story.

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In case you haven’t yet heard, Walter Dean Myers has been named the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! He has given an interview over at School Library Journal:

What’s your platform for the next two years?

“Reading is not an Option!” is my platform. The value of reading has escalated in my lifetime. As a young man, I saw families prosper without reading because there were always sufficient opportunities for willing workers who could follow simple instructions. This is no longer the case. Children who don’t read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.

The Birthday Party Pledge team couldn’t agree more! We’re almost ready to launch our site…

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Last night I had the honor of attending an awards ceremony at NYU’s Institute of African Affairs—the indomitable Maya Angelou was there to accept an award from OWWA (the Organization of Women Writers of Africa). I’m new to the board of OWWA and definitely felt out of my element (yes, I wore cute shoes that hurt my feet) but this past week has been pretty difficult and it was wonderful to be in a room full of folks who love literature and cherish black women’s creativity. I was responsible for interviewing folks with my Flip camera and before my batteries died, I managed to capture Maya’s acceptance speech. Jayne Cortez, co-founder of OWWA, introduces her husband, sculptor Melvin Edwards, who presents Maya with one of his works of art; Maya then sings, recites poetry, and shares words of wisdom about making the most of your talent and time on this earth:

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We got some very good news yesterday: BIRD has won the West Virginia Children’s Choice Award! Last year Diary of a Wimpy Kid won, so I’m really honored that the children found merit in our book. The competition is open to books published within the past three years that meet the literary standards adopted by the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association for Notable Books:

  1. Have high literary merit.
  2. Have qualities of originality, imagination, and vitality.
  3. Have an element of timelessness.
  4. Reflect the sincerity of the author.
  5. Have sound values.
  6. Have a theme of subject worth imparting to and of interest to children.
  7. Have factual accuracy.
  8. Have clarity and readability.
  9. Be appropriate in subject, treatment and format to the age group for which it is intended.

Then I looked on Amazon and noticed that a new review of WISH had been added. It’s actually from a teacher who allowed her two students to post these evaluations of my novel:

Review 1: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot was an interesting book. It is about a girl, Genna, and how she is in a bad neighborhood and she wants out. She gets more than she bargained for when a wish sends her back to 1863. This book gives you a good look at some of the things that happened around the Civil War-era.

When Genna is in the world of 1863, she has to learn to fit in, work, not say what is on her mind, and find a way out. In the book, it shows you how everyone who was not white was treated.

This book has good information about the Civil War and a good story!

Review 2: A Wish After Midnight was an eye-opening book. Even though some parts in the beginning were a little intense, the historical part gives a great view on the start of the Civil War. The main character, Genna, shines a light on the difficulty of being a black girl in the 1800s while continuing to hope and work toward a positive and educated life for herself. This book has so many twists and turns that it keeps you on your toes as you await the next turn of events. A Wish After Midnight is a great segue into thinking about the Civil War because the number of perspectives you get from people with very different backgrounds and ideas. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone 13 or older who is looking for a book that really brings out the tensions and worries of people during the Civil War. From: Books R. Cool

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Congratulations to Rita Williams-Garcia and all the other winners and honorees announced at today’s ALA midwinter meeting!  You can find a list of all the winners here; to read more about Rita’s motivation for writing the Coretta Scott King Award-winning (and Newbery Honoree) One Crazy Summer, check out my three-part interview (Part One, Part Two, Part Three).  Bryan Collier won the Caldecott Honor Award, and Eric Velasquez won the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award.  Congrats everyone!

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When I think about the Canadian publishing industry, that’s generally the phrase that comes to mind: a few black writers take up a whole lot of space, and are fed (with opportunities, award, grants, etc.) until they choke the pond and make it impossible difficult for new writers to emerge.  Now, the question is: whose fault is that?  The handful of successful black writers?  Or a system that prefers to create an exclusive club by rewarding only a few talented people?  According to the ALA site, it was never the stated intent of the Coretta Scott King Award to increase the number of black authors and illustrators working in the field of children’s literature:

Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society.

The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.

But shouldn’t widening the field be one of their primary goals?  Does it make sense to promote the same authors and illustrators over and over again?  Ari is asking these and other provocative questions over at Reading in Color; check it out and contribute to this conversation…

In other news, One Crazy Summer won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction—congratulations, Rita Williams-Garcia!!!

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Ok, so it’s just one list for one year, but it’s still very exciting to know that THREE black women authors made Amazon’s Top Ten Sci-Fi/Fantasy list!!!  Congratulations, ladies!  You can read my rave review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here; I recommend Karen Lord‘s beautifully written Redemption in Indigo, and I’m planning to read Nnedi Okorafor‘s Who Fears Death (which has been optioned for a film!).  Charles Yu also made the list—you can read The Rejectionist’s interview with him here.

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