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I’ll be presenting on March 29th in the Youth Program…

THE ELEVENTH NATIONAL BLACK WRITERS CONFERENCE HONORS NIKKI GIOVANNI, ISHMAEL REED,
DR. HOWARD DODSON AND NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS, HONORARY CHAIR

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, will host the Eleventh National Black Writers Conference (NBWC) on Thursday, March 29 through Sunday, April 1, 2012, on the college campus at 1650 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. Centered around the theme “The Impact of Migration, Popular Culture, and the Natural Environment in the Literature of Black Writers,” the 2012 Conference will honor literary and cultural icons Kenyan-born writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o; poet, novelist, essayist, and publisher Ishmael Reed; poet Nikki Giovanni; and Dr. Howard Dodson, former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Hailed by best-selling author Walter Mosley as “the most significant gathering of Black writers in the country,” the NBWC is the only gathering of its kind in North America. “Black writers and artists are natural cultural explorers and investigators,” said Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Director of the National Black Writers Conference and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature. “Their works reveal the importance of memory on our concepts of self and family; examine the impact of popular culture on our personal lives, belief systems, and traditions; and chronicle the effects of our actions on our natural environment. They use the power of words and the literary arts to stir our imaginations.” Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams, Honorary Chair of the Conference, reminds us that “Perhaps one of the most powerful things that we have as human beings is not only the spoken word, but the written word that lasts forever.”

Black Writers Conference

Highlights of this year’s Conference will include a poetry presentation by South African Poet Laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile; a conversation with author and broadcaster Tavis Smiley; and a roundtable discussion and critical response to Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention with Haki Madhubuti, Herb Boyd, Ron Daniels, and Michael Simanga. This year’s Conference will also devote a day to film screenings by Black filmmakers. “Films are our words in motion; every film begins with the written word. There are many films that are adapted from books to begin with, so to include them in the Conference is a natural and organic evolution,” added Dr. Greene.
Since its inception in 1986, the National Black Writers Conference has consistently attracted a stellar roster of writers and scholars who have been featured in panel and roundtable discussions; youth and elder writers’ workshops; talkshops on fiction, poetry and drama; film screenings; and author readings and book signings. Confirmed participants for 2012 NBWC four-day lineup include authors, poets, and publishers such as Haki Madhubuti, Sterling Plumpp, Tavis Smiley, Herb Boyd, Patricia Smith, Camille Dungy, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Nnedi Okorafor, Lita Hooper, the Rev. Conrad Tillard, William Jelani Cobb, Tony Medina, Maulana Karenga, Teju Cole, Bernice L. McFadden, Elizabeth Nunez, Karen Hunter, Sofia Quintero, Keli Goff, and Joan Morgan, among others.
Ishmael Reed, on speaking as to why we need to continue to present National Black Writers Conferences, recounts, “In 2009, I published a story that was translated from the first Alaskan language to become extinct in the previous year. This is what happens to a culture that loses to the inexorable forces of assimilation…. The National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College is needed and is more than a gathering of scholars and writers; it is a meeting of resisters.”
This year’s Conference has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts; Con Edison, Barnes & Noble Inc., New-York Historical Society, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, New York Council for the Humanities, CUNY Office of Collaborative Programs, Office of the Provost, Medgar Evers College, CUNY, and Hachette Book Group.
For media credentials and/or to schedule interview requests, contact Joy Doss at East West PR, 646-489-4432, joy@eastwestpr.net. For further information about the National Black Writers Conference, for updates and pre-conference programs, call 718-804-8883 or visit the Conference website at http://www.nationalblackwritersconference.org.

About the National Black Writers Conference

Sponsored by the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, the National Black Writers Conference (NBWC) provides emerging and established writers, literary scholars, critics, agents, publishers and booksellers, as well as the general public, with a forum to share the writing published by Black writers, discuss the trends and themes in Black literature, and identify the major issues and challenges faced by Black writers and those in the business of reading, publishing, and selling Black literature.
Initially inspired by the late John Oliver Killens, the Conference has been held at Medgar Evers College since 1986. John Oliver Killens was a writer-in-residence and professor at Medgar Evers College from 1981 to 1987. The first NBWC held at Medgar Evers College, a year before Killens’s death on October 27, 1987, focused on the social responsibility of the Black writer. Each subsequent Conference was built on the previous one, attracting a national and international audience. The Conference is currently held biennially; on alternate years, literary symposia are held.

About the Center for Black Literature

Founded in 2003, and spearheaded by Dr. Brenda M. Greene, the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, was established to expand, broaden, and enrich the general public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the value of black literature; to continue the tradition and legacy of the National Black Writers Conference; to serve as a voice, mecca, and resource for Black writers; and to study the literature of people from the African Diaspora. It is the only Center devoted to this in the country.
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Today I gave my last Black History Month presentation for the Brooklyn Public Library. An auditorium full of 8th graders! Each class was named for an ivy league college, and one boy from Dartmouth came up to talk to me afterward—he had developed a sequel for SoS! “What if the netherbeings pursue Nuru into her realm, and in order to fight back, Nuru turns D and Nyla and Keem into supernatural beings, too! Then, once the netherbeings are defeated, the three kids can return to their own world but they get to keep some of their supernatural abilities!” I urged Steven to write that story himself and he said, “But that’s plagiarism.” (love this kid) “Actually, it’s called fan fiction, and it’s ok to write about other people’s characters so long as you take credit for writing it.” A writer is born!

I was quite surprised when I got home last night and found that the AmazonEncore team had sent me a bonsai tree to celebrate the publication of SoS—I know very little about bonsai trees, but figured out that this one is a braided money tree from Central America! It even came with a gold dollar coin wrapped around the trunk…

Ship of Souls has gotten two more great reviews. Our first Canadian review is up at Amy Reads and Em at Love YA Lit had this to say:

At just 132 pages, Elliott does an impressive job creating a cast of complex and amiable characters, weaving in history, and conjuring up some magic like I’ve never seen before. I would gladly spend more time with D, Keem, and Nyla. Each are interesting, distinct characters, but even more so their chemistry and their growing camaraderie were enchanting. Elliott does a fabulous job of creating believable characters in realistic settings. In both of her urban fantasy novels, I’ve found myself intensely connected to the contemporary/realistic sections of the stories, before diving headfirst with the characters into the fantasy. In Ship of Souls, what starts off feeling like a contemporary fiction novel, eventually turns into an all-out fantasy adventure. The story is fast-paced, with short chapters and lots of action, making it a great choice for struggling readers or those craving a quick read that doesn’t lack in quality and depth. While Ship of Souls is a bit more MG than YA, with it’s complex character development, strong sense of place, beautifully imagined fantasy, and unique feel, it should find a home with many ages of reader.

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Today was EXCELLENT! I thought I might be late, and since I demand punctuality of my students, I was horrified at the thought of being late for class myself. But the insanity on the train subsided, there was no mile-long line for the elevators at school, and all three of my classes were fantastic. I love students who show up ready to learn—and to share! We discussed Wish in my neo-slave narratives class and the students had some really interesting insights. In between classes I checked my email and found a request to republish my essay on African Canadian writers. I also found I had been cc’d on this lovely message from the awesome librarian at yesterday’s school. Here’s some of what she said:
THANK YOU for bringing Zetta Elliott to our school yesterday!
The program was a huge success. We had over 200 students from both campus schools…in the auditorium together. Zetta kept them engaged for 45 minutes with her interactive presentation.
After the official program ended, she stayed and interacted informally with students in the auditorium and then accepted an invitation to visit their classroom on the 3rd floor, where I found her reading aloud from her new book to a group of enthralled 6th grade students.
Today, students have been coming into the library all morning requesting her books.
I highly recommend her presentation. I hope you are able to bring her to other schools.
I would also welcome the opportunity to have her return to our school to work on other projects with our students. Please keep us in mind.
Thank you again for providing our students with this valuable experience.
Tomorrow I go to a school in Bed-Stuy that I’ve visited several times before, and then I spend the weekend planning our launch party! I’ve made a flyer, which you can view here: launchflyer. More details to come…

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This introvert is taking a much-needed day of silence…yet as I walked around the park this morning, baseball cap tipped against the blowing snow, I marveled at the kindness of others. I did three “meet the author” presentations this week, and every time I left a school, I said a prayer of thanks for the Brooklyn Public Library. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share my work with so many students and educators—eight schools altogether, with one hundred students in the audience each time. On Monday the assistant principal in Sunset Park worked tirelessly to get me the equipment I needed for my powerpoint presentation, and then sat at the laptop herself and advanced the slides so I was free to interact with the students. On Wednesday I arrived at the school in Spring Creek and two members of the book club were waiting at the door, cameras poised to capture the moment. After my talk the librarian and parent coordinators hosted a nice reception that included *quite* a spread—and I got a call later asking me about how to order books for the school. Yesterday I was in a new school with a stunning auditorium, and the librarian filled it with a range of students—some top performing classes, some special ed. classes, some kids with special needs–and she, too, sat at the laptop so I was free to move around. Afterward as many teachers as students came up to thank me for my talk and to express interest in Ship of Souls. Those kind of moments always make me thankful for my early years in Canada—the warmth and openness of Americans wouldn’t mean so much to me if I didn’t come from a culture that’s markedly different.

Back at my job, my students were understanding when I had to rearrange our class schedule on Tuesday to accommodate a radio interview with Pia Lindstrom; I’m not sure whether we taped a twenty- or thirty-minute segment because the time flew by and I got to talk about SoS, my belief in magic, my love of history, and I even squeezed in a quote by Audre Lorde (whose essay I’d taught earlier that morning).

Now I have to turn my attention back to my conference paper for France. I found a grant that might help to pay for some of the expenses, but I need to submit the conference program and I can’t ask for that when the organizers are still waiting on my overdue paper…time to make the most of this day of silence—time to write.

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Sometimes when it’s cold outside you don’t really notice. By the time my walking tour ended yesterday, my imagination was ablaze—and my feet were frozen. But I didn’t become aware of that fact until I headed back to Brooklyn; I was too busy scheming and dreaming up another book! Cyrus Forman, park ranger at the African Burial Ground National Monument, gave a fantastic presentation yesterday that included a powerpoint presentation at the visitor center followed by a guided tour of the sites in lower Manhattan that were part of Maritcha Lyons’ world. Cyrus stopped traffic and led us through the streets surrounding the African Burial Ground; Maritcha was born where the ugly Manhattan Detention Center now stands; her grandmother had a home and a bakery there, and once welcomed Frederick Douglass as a guest; Maritcha’s father, Albro Lyons, ran the Colored Seamen’s Home at 330 Pearl Street (picture here), which was attacked in the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 (he also once lived in Seneca Village, the mostly black community destroyed to make way for Central Park). Carla L Peterson joined us for the tour (pictured with Cyrus above); she’s the author of Black Gotham and the great-grand-niece of Maritcha Lyons! There are lots of other great events planned for the rest of February, including another walking tour on 2/25. Check out the AFBG’s new social media site, and you can find a list of their Black History Month events on the CES blog.

I gave my first presentation on Ship of Souls last Friday. The students and staff at the North Star Academy were wonderful, and the kids were definitely intrigued by the chapter I read aloud. This morning I’m heading over to Prospect Park to take photos for my powerpoint presentation. Then it’s back to work on my conference paper. No one can stop time, but it’s so easy to lose yourself in the past when you’re walking around this city—the parks, the schools, the brownstones—all serve as reminders of another time, other generations who walked these same streets and dreamed their own dreams…I came home from the walking tour yesterday and found an email from my father’s cousin; I had searched for her unsuccessfully online, but found someone on Facebook that I thought was her brother…I sent him a message, he forwarded it to his sister, and she emailed me to offer the assistance I need to piece together my father’s family history. It’s hard to set the shovel aside once you start digging, but time doesn’t stop just because you’re caught up in the past. The semester’s off to a good start, I’ve got a radio interview on Tuesday, and three more school visits this week. Sometimes I feel like the sankofa bird—facing forward but always looking back over my shoulder…

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This is our second day of December rain but I’m still trying to feel festive—right now I’m baking cookies for my students and last night I hung my wreath on the front door. I also got a special delivery today—advance reader copies of my next novel! So far I’ve been presented with two covers and neither one fully captured the essence of Ship of Souls. It’s an urban ghost story so the cover needs to be gritty yet magical…they’re still working on it. In the meantime, this plain cover doesn’t thrill me but I’ll now be able to share the book with family and friends. If you’re an educator or librarian or book blogger and you’re already on my list, you should be getting your ARC in the next week or so (directly from the publisher). If we haven’t met but you’d like to check the book out, just leave me a comment.

Amazon made a big announcement this week and the reactions have been interesting. If you like my writing and want to check out Ship of Souls, you should know that some booksellers are vowing never to sell any book published by Amazon. I respect the right of others to stand up for what they believe is right—I just wish we could generate as much outrage over the racism that excludes so many unique voices from the traditional publishing industry. I also can’t help but wonder how many of those indie booksellers stock children’s books by black authors. How many stock books by Lee & Low—can you find Bird in those stores? And how many are open to self-published authors? I want a publishing industry where readers and writers have options. When one door closes, you’re not completely shut out because you can always try another. As I said in my acknowledgments:

I want to thank my agent, Faith Childs, who read the manuscript and responded with enthusiasm and encouragement. I also thank her for persisting in an industry where doors and minds are so often closed to writers like me.

Lastly I thank the AmazonEncore team for keeping their door open.

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Children’s Book Fair
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 12–4 p.m.
Image from Every-Day Dress-Up by Selina AlkoImage from Every-Day Dress-Up, by Selina Alko

Over 30 Brooklyn authors and illustrators will join us at this year’s book fair, featuring story books, picture books, and graphic novels. Come enjoy author readings, a game for children, and café service.

Participating authors and illustrators
Selina Alko, Ellen Bari, Artie Bennett, Cathleen Davitt Bell, Peter Brown, Melanie Hope Greenberg, Lisa Greenwald, Laura Lee Gulledge, Mike Herrod, Isabel
T. Hill, Tad Hills, Kate Hosford, Melissa Iwai, John & Wendy, Nancy Krulik,  Laura Ljungkvist, G. Augustine Lynas & Peter Vadnai, Meghan McCarthy, Torrey
Maldonado, Leslie Margolis, Matthew Myers, Johan Olander, Sean Qualls, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Fiona Robinson, John Rocco, Sergio
Ruzzier, Daniel Salmieri, Stephen A.Savage, Diana Schoenbrun, Steve Sheinkin, David Ezra Stein, Julie Sternberg, Colleen A.F. Venable, Dwight Jon Zimmerman

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Publisher’s Weekly did a nice report on the children and YA events from the Brooklyn Book Festival. We had such beautiful sunshine that weekend and now we’ve got days and days of rain…perfect weather for curling up with a book. I’m re-reading Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, which I didn’t especially enjoy the first time around but thought it would make a good addition to my neo-slave narratives course. The students did NOT like the first hundred pages; hopefully they’ll push on and search for meaning in the remaining 200 pages. I taught Wish last week—that was my first time teaching my own novel and it was a little uncomfortable for me. Do the students feel free to express their true opinion of the book knowing that the professor is the author? It’s easier to gauge an audience of strangers. At Thursday night’s reading at Outpost Lounge I was thrilled to meet a librarian who hosted my first author presentation back in 2009. I had connected with a group of literacy coaches and was invited to present Wish during their monthly meeting. I did a terrible job, if I remember correctly, but that librarian kept her copy of Wish and brought it along to Thursday night’s reading. We had a small, supportive group and we talked about the importance of asserting our voices in this distressing political moment—I read for Troy Davis, an innocent man whose voice was silenced by the state of Georgia earlier this week. Use your voice or lose your power—that’s how it goes in this country. Use it or lose it. I was proud to join the chorus of voices gathered by Toshi Reagon for the Word, Rock, & Sword festival.

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Tomorrow! Join us at Outpost Lounge for a reading and author Q&A with me, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia. It’s part of Word, Rock, & Sword, a week-long women’s art festival that features performances, screenings, classes and discussions at Manhattan and Brooklyn performance venues as well as yoga studios, cafés and bookstores, September 18-25. You can find the complete schedule here. Tonight at Brooklyn’s Restoration Plaza you can see Christy Turlington Burns’ directorial debut, No Woman No Cry:

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BBF

I didn’t sneeze once while I was out today and it was a glorious afternoon for a book festival. We had a great conversation about historical fiction, and it was a real pleasure meeting Judy Blundell, Nick Bertozzi, Victoria Sanders and TR (Tanya) Simon. There were lots of other authors on the plaza—I snapped a shot of Jacqueline Woodson and Christopher Grant. I even came home with a free BBF mug, which I promptly filled with honeyed tea…

Nick (with daughter Sabine) signing my copy of Lewis & Clark

me, Tanya, Judy, and Vicky

Jackie & Christopher

Don’t forget that you can see Jackie, Rita Williams-Garcia, and me at the Word, Rock, & Sword reading on 9/22. The festival actually starts today—check out the complete schedule here.

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