The park was beautiful this morning but I’m paying for it now–the tissue box is nearly empty and my nose is sore from constant blowing. I’ve decided not to venture back out, which means today is the day I *finally* sit down and start working on my latest round of revisions. For the past month I’ve been working on three academic articles, all of which are to be published this year. One essay (on Richard Wright) was actually written while I was in graduate school in the late ’90s! I worked it into my dissertation and then recycled it again when they held the centenary conference on Wright in 2008. And now, in 2013, the essay is going to be included in an anthology on the brilliant but problematic (for me) African American author. Revising something you wrote more than ten years ago is hard, and converting a conference paper often means taking out all the conversational bits that personalized your point of view. Preparing these essays for publication reminds me why I don’t like academic writing, yet in my profession it’s a necessary evil so I’ve refrained from reminding my editors that “the personal is political.” The other two essays are on children’s literature, which also feels odd since that’s not my area of expertise, but once they’re published I will close that chapter and return to critiquing adult lit. I’m waiting on a contract for The Deep and another offer may be on the way…or not. So instead of ruminating on the possibilities I’m trying to remember what my agenda was when I first wrote these essays. I know I had a different voice in the ’90s, but was I a different person last summer? I don’t think so, but I was writing under duress after accepting a last minute invitation to contribute to a different anthology. Those editors wanted me to act like I wasn’t the author of my own books so I withdrew the essay and now have a chance to expand it for a Canadian journal. That also makes me a little uneasy, considering the cool reception I’ve received as an author in the Great White North. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Back to work…
Archive for the ‘Canadian writers’ Category
Posted in African American Literature, African Canadian literature, Canada, Canadian writers, children's literature, feminism, multicultural literature, racism in publishing, urban fantasy on April 28, 2013| Leave a Comment »
Posted in activism, African Canadian literature, Canada, Canadian writers, children's literature, creative writing, equity, interview, minority issues in publishing, multicultural literature, racism in publishing on April 21, 2013| 1 Comment »
I’m not on Twitter much but on one of my recent visits I discovered a young black woman who’s doing her best to promote diversity in the Canadian children’s publishing industry. I recently had an unproductive exchange with a book festival director in Toronto so I’m very pleased to share this interview with Léonicka Valcius.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a young black woman with fabulous hair. I have many passions: some serious (social justice, economic inequality, oppression) and some frivolous (food, fashion, entertainment). I just started my career as a publishing professional and I have two commitments: to be the authors’ advocate and to promote diversity in publishing. (These are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.)
As a black child growing up in Toronto, I never saw myself in Canadian books and knew nothing about opportunities in the arts. Describe your evolution from a girl who loved reading to a book blogger and publishing professional.
It was such a long, winding path. Very much a case of growing into who you were meant to be.
I am Haitian-Canadian. I was born in Montreal but grew up in Florida, and I didn’t see much of myself in books either. The sad part is I never thought to look. I have always loved historical fiction and SFF, so somewhere along the line I took it for granted that people like me were never princesses, or warriors, or explorers. It didn’t bother me at the time because I didn’t realize it was a problem. I lived and went to school in a predominately white area and was used to being the only black girl in the room. In that way, the books I read reinforced that reality. Even when I wrote my own stories they featured blond-haired protagonists.
In high school and university I practically stopped reading books for fun—I had so much school reading to do! But I stayed connected to other readers by joining FictionPress.com. Though I am not much of a writer, I had been editing for my peers for years and continued to do so online. So when I hit that point where I had to decide what to do with my life, I took a look at what I was doing with my free time. Working in publishing was just the logical extension of my passions.
It’s not exactly encouraging to hear everyone screaming “publishing is dead!” when you are in publishing school. And after being surrounded by people of color at Florida Atlantic University and then University of Toronto, returning to a predominantly white environment was jarring. But I didn’t know any of that before going in. Perhaps if I had, I would have been more reticent and assumed that “people like me” didn’t belong in the industry. My ignorance worked to my benefit in this case.
I am also incredibly blessed. I was only able to afford publishing school and six months of internships because I live with my parents. I don’t pay rent. I don’t pay for food. My parents signed for my loan and covered my transportation costs when money was super tight. For people without those luxuries, getting into publishing is especially difficult (but not impossible).
Getting my job was a combination of hard work, support from my network, and divine intervention. My job is fast-paced and sometimes stressful but I love every bit of it. And how could I not? I get to share books with kids! I work for Scholastic Book Fairs Canada. I am the Junior Product Manager for their French division, Festival du Livre. I’m essentially a book buyer and marketer rolled into one. I purchase French children’s books, which are then sold in French book fairs hosted by schools across Canada, and I promote these books and the fairs through print and web marketing.
I fell into children’s publishing by accident. In fact I distinctly remember actively avoiding it. I thought it was too specialized, too idiosyncratic and that it was not the place for a beginner like me. But of course, God’s plans were greater than mine. Even though I love children’s books personally, and I loved my visit to the Scholastic offices, I still said “probably adult fiction” when people asked what type of books I wanted to work with. Then Ali McDonald, the children’s literary agent at The Rights Factory (where I had my first internship,) took me to the Festival of Trees. I’m forever in her debt.
I still try to blog here and there but I’m not nearly consistent enough to call myself a book blogger. I just try to engage with people who love books, both online and in real life.
You seem to be connected to the US children’s literature community. Compare the diversity and activism you see in the US to that in Canada. Are the challenges and/or solutions the same?
I’m only as connected as the internet allows me to be, though I am trying to learn as much as I can. Like in many industries it is useful to watch what the US is doing in terms of kidlit in order to get a heads up on upcoming trends.
Insofar as the challenge is to increase diversity in all levels of publishing (from the characters in the books, to the writers, to the people working in the pub houses) then yes, the challenges seem the same to me.
The differences emerge in visibility. The conversations about diversity in US kidlit are easy to find on various social media platforms. In Canada it seems to be considered a non-issue, especially because Canada clings to this rosy reputation for being open and multicultural. I have initiated every conversation about diversity that I’ve had in Canada. That said, there are many groups who are quietly doing the work to fix the problem.
What would you say to a black child in Toronto who has a vague interest in leading a “literary life”?
Read! Read everything, question everything, then read some more. Use the library at your school or in your city to look for black writers who write books similar to those you already like.
And write! I’m especially fond of fanfiction because it can be a great writing exercise. You already have the foundation of a story so you can be creative. What would happen if the protagonist was black? Was a girl? Was poor? Rich? Lived in the past? Lived in the future? The possibilities really are endless.
Finally, talk to your friends about the books you read the same way you’d talk to them about a movie you saw. Sharing your ideas helps you solidify your opinions or consider another point of view.
Posted in African American Literature, Brooklyn, Canadian writers, Caribbean literature, children's literature, creative writing, education, fantasy, interview, kidlit blogs, libraries, minority issues in publishing, multicultural literature, race & gender, self-publishing, speculative fiction, urban fantasy, young adult novels on April 10, 2013| Leave a Comment »
Last week I interviewed Kelbian Noel, a YA spec fic author that I met while I was up in Toronto. Yesterday Kelbian returned the favor by featuring me on her blog, Diverse Pages. Here’s one of the questions I was asked to consider:
DP: Have you always written about characters of color? What challenges (if any) have you faced in doing so?
ZETTA: When I took a creative writing class in high school, I wrote a picture book that featured white characters. Fortunately, I was failing that class and so wound up dropping it. In college I had my first black professor and he introduced me to the work of Jamaica Kincaid; that changed my academic focus and as I discovered more black authors, I began to write about people of color. I went through a process of “decolonizing my imagination” and it did take some time for me to develop authentic characters that came from the community where I lived. For a while I worried that readers would feel my characters weren’t “black enough,” but the more I traveled and the more widely I read, the easier it became to create credible, diverse black characters.
On Monday I met with a group of amazing young poets at the Brooklyn Public Library and one young writer showed me a picture book she had self-published–all her illustrations showed white children. I hope she finds a “mirror” for her black female self in my books. You can read the entire interview here.
Posted in African Canadian literature, Brooklyn, Canada, Canadian writers, creative writing, fantasy, kidlit blogs, mixed-race identity, multicultural literature, religion & spirituality, self-publishing, speculative fiction, urban fantasy, young adult novels on April 1, 2013| 3 Comments »
Kelbian Noel was born on a warm June night in Moncton, New Brunswick. From a very young age, she loved to read. She found herself engulfed in novels by Janette Oke and L.M. Montgomery, but never seemed to find herself in the pages. At the age of 11 she declared she would simply have to rewrite them and become the youngest author in history. Decades later, having studied writing in college and pursued it as a career, she rediscovered her hobby. She is excited to introduce The Witchbound Series to the world with hopes readers will love the beginning of this saga as much as she does.
Kelbian lives in Toronto, Ontario with her two children. She is the founder of Diverse Pages and blogs there often in the company of some pretty cool people.
Kelbian’s first two novels are available *now* under special pricing. On April 1, Sprung will be available for $0.99, and Roots will continue to be free until the end of the day! Visit the author’s website for more information.
Re-released on March 15, 2013, ROOTS (book one) introduces Baltimore Land, a biracial (African American and Native American) girl who, for the past two years, has lived in Utah with her Wiccan parents. She’s deeply averse to her parents’ religion and believes the only purpose Wicca serves is to make her life miserable.
After she receives a message from her twin brother, who disappeared prior to the move, she runs off to find and ultimately rescue him. But she soon discovers her exile to that small Utah town was the direct result of who she is, what she can do, and the danger it could bring to her and the lives of her family and friends. Baltimore must learn to embrace her identity in order to keep herself safe, but it may mean letting her brother go for good.
SPRUNG (book two) will be released on April 1, 2013. In Solana Beach, California we meet Skye Jackson, a seventeen-year-old girl who believes everything Baltimore never did. Ever since she was introduced to it, magic has come easily to Skye. She uses it for everything from extending her curfew to her personal GPS. But when she decides to teach a guy a lesson in order to avenge her friend, she comes to the realization that there’s a lot more to her powers than she bargained for.
In a race to fix her mistakes, Skye stumbles across a family secret which reveals a twisted destiny that may mean giving up magic forever.
SMOLDER (book three) is set for release this coming August. At least that’s my hope! Currently, there is a contest taking place on my website. Readers can take a stab at guessing the name of the next Elemental. So I won’t reveal it here, but I will tell you a little bit about Elemental #3.
She’s a Latino orphan from Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from high school, she decides to spend the summer learning more about her family. Her magical journey leads her to a historical building, a long-lost family member, and a destiny that makes her more than she ever believed she could be.
The fourth book in the series is entitled SURFACE, and takes place in Hawaii. The fourth Elemental is a bit of a know-it-all. Well versed in the girls’ destiny and purpose, she leads them to their final battle.
The fifth book is still untitled but recaps the first four stories from the point of view of Ramon, a character readers will come to know well throughout the series.
2. Tell us about your childhood in the Maritimes. How did you evolve into the writer you are today?
I fondly remember, and still visit, the tiny town of McKee’s Mills, but vaguely remember time spent in Turtle Creek, New Brunswick and then on Ben Jackson Road in Nova Scotia. One of my earliest memories is when we lived in Scot’s Bay, Nova Scotia. I can still recall that little house on the hill, with a mile long driveway, tire swing, and cows in the pasture beside it. I was four or five when we moved.
We ended up in Lockeport, Nova Scotia after that, where Dad was called to serve at the Baptist church in the middle of town. We were the only black family in Lockeport, as far as I knew. Those were some formidable years, but still filled with great memories. Our house overlooked the harbor and had a huge forest of bamboo-like plants we called Roman Sailors in the back yard. We’d go crashing through those in the summertime, playing “scouts” after hours of riding our bikes around town. It was that time (mid-eighties) and that kind of town where kids could pretty much roam free.
Memories of Lockeport are still firmly engrained in my mind: the “haunted” house just up the street, my first teacher (Ms. Nickerson), first best friends (Sarah and Gina), the beach, the waves, the smell of the salt water. Of course,those are accompanied with some less desirable ones. Like the first time I was told I was different from the other kids. My lips were bigger, my skin darker, and my parents talked funny. I was called the “N” word on the first day of school. I was five and didn’t even know what it meant.
Like most ministers’ kids, I had to learn to adjust and adapt to new surroundings very quickly. The years from age eight to fifteen were spent in rural Nova Scotia. In the small town of Morristown in the Annapolis Valley we were again the only black family around for miles. And there were still formidable experiences to be had. But, for the most part, the people in that town were accepting and I felt like I belonged. This is where I first discovered my love of writing. I spent hours in a cow pasture adjacent to our house, behind the church and right next to a graveyard. There was an oak tree in the middle of the field and I’d sit under it with a blue writing folder, loose leaf paper, and a pen.
My mother had been selling Christian books through one of those mail order companies. That’s when I discovered Janette Oke “Christian” romance novels. My sister introduced me to L.M. Montgomery. Every Anne of Green Gables book she brought home, I read too. I also read The Babysitter’s Club and R.L. Stine (my first intro to Speculative Fiction). But in all of those series, except for one (thank you for Jessi, Ann M. Martin!), there was no one who looked like me. I decided I’d just have to write those kinds of stories myself.
After we moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was excited to finally be around people like me. Only after years of living like and amongst “the other half,” I didn’t fit in. I was the Black girl who acted like she was white. That was fun. But I didn’t let it get me down. I was who I was and I liked it.
My first job was in the Halifax North Memorial Public Library where my love of books was fed on a weekly basis. I couldn’t get enough. But for years I forgot about my writing endeavors until I started studying it in college. In my first year, I was introduced to the works of Octavia E. Butler (who quickly became my favorite author) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Still, it wasn’t until my final year during a Literary Theory class that I picked up a pen again and started writing a story, based on a dream, about werewolves in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve never stopped.
Name: Kelbian Noel
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Education: B.A. Professional Writing & Communications Studies
School: York University
Major: Professional Writing
Occupation: Author & Freelance Writer/Editor
Books: Kindred, Blood and Chocolate
Writers: Octavia E. Butler
Quote: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
Posted in activism, African Canadian literature, book festival, Canada, Canadian writers, children's literature, equity, fantasy, minority issues in publishing, multicultural literature, racism in publishing, self-publishing, speculative fiction, urban fantasy, young adult novels on March 31, 2013| 4 Comments »
It actually feels like spring here in Toronto—for once I’m not shivering through my visit, though I am wearing a hoodie I borrowed from my cousin. She’s out having Easter dinner with her in-laws so I thought I’d take a moment to blog. I’ve got way too much sugar in my system; in addition to Easter chocolate we’ve been snacking on English toffee and vintage candy from our youth, and yesterday I had the ultimate butter tart (no raisins!) at a cafe where I met African Canadian author Kelbian Noel. I’ll be posting an interview with Kelbian tomorrow to coincide with the release date of her second speculative YA novel, Sprung. Despite my sugar consumption, right now I’m feeling bitter and here’s why: Kelbian and I spent most of our time together bemoaning the difficulty of getting published while black in Canada. We also tried to develop some strategies for breaking through the color barrier, and one idea was to propose a panel to the coordinators of an established literary event. There’s an annual book festival in Toronto called Word on the Street and these are the stats they proudly share in their brochure.
- 65% Female, 34% Male
- 63% of our visitors have an annual household income of $50,000 and greater
- 28.3% of our visitors have an annual household income of $100,000 and greater
- Our visitors come from a range of age demographics (total number of visitors 215,000):
Under 17 – 18% of visitors
18-24 years – 14% of visitors
25-34 years – 20% of visitors
35-44 years – 16% of visitors
45-54 years – 13% of visitors
55+ years – 20% of visitors
- 72% of our visitors have completed college/university
- 33% of our visitors have completed postgraduate studies (This is up from 30.9% in 2011)
- 73% of our visitors are from Metropolitan Toronto
- 27% of our visitors are tourists from outside the GTA
- 80% of our visitors describe themselves as avid readers
- 85% of our visitors consider The Word On The Street a key cultural event
Now, close your eyes and imagine what this book festival looks like. A third of the visitors are middle-aged; the vast majority of visitors are college-educated and a third have advanced degrees; nearly two-thirds are middle class and one third of their visitors make more than a hundred grand a year. Kids account for a fifth of the visitors, but if they’re brought by these highly educated, wealthy adults, chances are they aren’t struggling with literacy. In case you don’t know the city of Toronto, let me share some other stats:
Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities. In 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Toronto second, behind Miami, Florida, in its list of the world’s cities with the largest percentage of foreign-born population. Miami’s foreign-born population is dominated by those of Cuban and Latin American descent, unlike Toronto’s foreign-born population, which is not dominated by any particular ethnic group.
The 2006 census indicates 46.9% of Toronto’s population is composed of visible minorities; 1,162,630 non-Whites, or 23% of Canada’s visible minority population, live in Toronto; of this, approximately 70% are of Asian ancestry. Annually, almost half of all immigrants to Canada settle in the Greater Toronto Area. In March 2005, Statistics Canada projected that the combined visible minority proportion will comprise a majority in both Toronto and Vancouver by 2012.
- 2006: 46.9% (South Asian: 12.0%, Chinese: 11.4%, Black 8.4%, Filipino 4.1%, Arab/West Asian: 2.6%, Latin American 2.6%, Southeast Asian 1.5%, Korean 1.4%, multiple 1.3%, not included elsewhere 1.0%, Japanese 0.5%)
Poverty is also on the rise in Toronto, with almost 25% of the population living hand to mouth:
Toronto’s poverty rates are higher than the provincial and national average. Overall, recent immigrants fare the worse with nearly half (46 per cent) in poverty. One in three children (under age 15) is living in poverty and 31 per cent of youths (15 to 24). Housing costs is the big driver, with almost 47 per cent of all tenants paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Another 23 per cent pay an astonishing 50 per cent or more on rent.
So. Let’s revisit the stats for Word on the Street. I’ve never attended or presented at this event, but feedback from attendees seems overwhelmingly positive. Yet does this literary event accurately reflect the 21st-century city of Toronto? Are they actually achieving their objectives if their attendees represent such a small (and privileged) slice of the population? Do you think their featured authors reflect and/or are likely to appeal to people of color (who make up 50% of the city’s population)?
The Word On The Street Toronto is a non-profit organization that celebrates Canadian reading and writing, and champions literacy, primarily through a free, annual outdoor festival.
- To ensure that the people of Toronto know about the annual festival, and value it as having the best and broadest offerings within the Canadian publishing industry.
- To ensure that The Word On The Street helps Toronto become 100% literate through its effective support for literacy awareness and programs.
- To ensure that The Word On The Street Toronto is a valuable and vital event for the Canadian publishing industry and a top choice for Canadian authors, publishers and booksellers.
Right now I’m thinking it’s not worth my time to approach the organizers of this event. I may send them an email, however, and hip them to Pop Up—a nonprofit in the UK that brings literature to communities that are too often ignored by big splashy book festivals…
Posted in activism, African American Literature, Canada, Canadian writers, children's literature, Coretta Scott King Award, creative writing, equity, fantasy, historical fiction, history, minority issues in publishing, multicultural literature, racism in publishing, self-publishing, speculative fiction, young adult novels on January 30, 2013| 16 Comments »
My grandmother was an ardent admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A “colored” woman raised in Canada to pass for white, my grandmother proudly displayed a framed copy of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the wall of her home. As a teenager in Toronto I took a class on American history in order to learn more about the “Negro” ancestors my grandmother so often discussed, and I was devastated when she made a gift of the speech to my frivolous older sister. I was the one teaching the Civil Rights Movement to my high school classmates; I was the one who could recite portions of the speech by heart. My grandmother did give me her carefully preserved copy of Life magazine and though I admired Mrs. King’s sorrowful yet elegant profile, I still harbored resentment over the allocation of the speech. That piece of parchment went from a place of honor in my grandparents’ manse to the wall of my sister’s apartment; it hung next to the stereo, which blared lyrics by Jay-Z that would have made Mrs. King blanch. It took years for me to realize that my grandmother gave Dr. King’s speech to the granddaughter who needed it most. I wrongly thought that my investment in social justice entitled me to inherit the framed speech, but my grandmother knew that I was ready for something more and she was right—by my last year of college I was critiquing the “I Have a Dream” speech in the campus newspaper.
Since penning that editorial twenty years ago I have worked to develop my skills as a black feminist cultural critic. In 1994 I reversed the migration that brought my African American ancestors to Canada in 1820. Unfortunately my grandmother passed in 2002, months before I earned my PhD in American Studies from NYU; my dissertation, which focused on representations of racial violence in African American literature, was dedicated to her. I currently teach courses on race, gender, and sexuality in the Center for Ethnic Studies at BMCC, a community college in lower Manhattan that serves mostly immigrant and working-class students of color. Many are reluctant readers and so I’ve had to develop innovative ways of introducing them to black literature, which they wrongly expect to be irrelevant, outdated, and uninteresting. In addition to my teaching I’ve published scholarly essays, short fiction, and poetry in various anthologies, and my plays have been staged in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. I’ve also published three books for young readers—one of which, BIRD, won numerous awards after its publication in 2008, including a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for the illustrator, Shadra Strickland. Though she hoped at least one of her grandchildren would follow in her footsteps and become a preacher, overall I think my grandmother would approve.
I speak to hundreds of school children every year and my author presentation always begins with the shiny stickers on the cover of BIRD. Here in the US, children always know who Coretta Scott King was and they know that, like her husband, she believed in justice and equality for all. We talk about the way awards draw attention to a particular book and often ensure that it won’t go out of print. Then I ask the children to guess how many books are published in the US each year. Once we settle on the figure (about 5,000), I ask the children to guess what percentage of those books have black authors. They’re natural optimists, children. Most of the students I meet attend majority-black schools—urban schools that are just as segregated as those that predate the Civil Rights Movement—and it’s not uncommon for them to have black-authored books in the classroom. So there are always gasps of amazement when I hold up three fingers and inform them that less than 3% of all the children’s books published each year are written by authors who look like them. I add that Asian American, Latino, and Native American authors each represent less than 1% of the total, leaving 95% of all books for children written by members of one racial group. “Does that sound fair to you?” I ask and invariably I hear a chorus of indignant NOs in response.
When I saw the list of CSK Award recipients on Monday, I wondered what Coretta Scott King would think. I never had the privilege of meeting Mrs. King and all I know about the award is what I’ve read on the ALA website. I know that in 2009 the CSK Book Award celebrated its fortieth anniversary, and I do believe that black authors and illustrators are better off today than they were in the “all-white world of children’s books” of the 1970s. But when we look at the small number of authors and illustrators who seem to win a CSK Award year after year after year, are we looking at a picture of real diversity? Is the award helping to increase the overall pool of black authors and illustrators, or is it merely upholding the status quo by feeding a few big fish in a very small pond? Publishers no doubt realize the committee’s seeming preference for books about Dr. King and Rosa Parks and (a few) other historical figures. Does an editor’s desire to win yet another shiny sticker deter her from publishing other authors of other kinds of books that also “demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values?”
The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.
Self-published author and quilter Kyra Hicks has conducted an analysis of the award recipients and her findings indicate that the past four decades have produced a sort of winners club, an African American artistic elite whose insider status affords them creative opportunities too often denied their emerging and/or aspiring peers. It would seem as if the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, “occasionally given for young authors or illustrators who demonstrate outstanding promise at the beginning of their careers,” was developed to help remedy this situation and yet it was not given out in 2011 or 2012, which puzzles me. The African American authors and illustrators at The Brown Bookshelf annually publish a list of 28 contributors to the field of black children’s literature. Is it possible that the CSK Book Awards Committee found no one worthy of recognition for two consecutive years?
Perhaps it is easier to look backward at the past, which is familiar and safe, than it is to look forward where new possibilities—frightening to some—extend across the shifting terrain of the future. Yet the recent presidential election revealed the danger (and ultimate futility) of holding onto a romanticized version of the past, and the 2008 election of Barack Obama demonstrated that eventually the old guard must yield to the new. The publishing world is gripped by upheaval right now and many steadfastly cling to old models for fear of embracing innovation and developing new traditions that will respond to and reflect the realities of the twenty-first century. With so-called minorities expected to make up the majority of the US population in thirty years (minority babies already constitute the majority), what can the CSK Book Awards Committee do to ensure that equity—an ideal cherished by Dr. and Mrs. King—is not undermined by the children’s publishing industry? If 95% of children’s book authors were men, white women across the country would mobilize to create change. But where is the outrage over racial dominance in the children’s literature community?
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
In the past I have defended the CSK Award against claims that writers of all races should be eligible. With less than 3% of the publishing pie, though we constitute 13% of the US population, I felt that black authors and illustrators deserved something to call their own. Today I am less convinced of the relevance of the CSK Awards and wonder if I ought to revise the portion of my author presentation that claims the award reflects the values of Dr. and Mrs. King. The award-granting process is often controversial and generally shrouded in secrecy, though a 2010 article in School Library Journal lifted the veil on the Caldecott Medal. The CSK Book Awards Committee considers all genres, I believe, but the Caldecott focuses on
one genre illustrated books only and still jury members can expect to review more than 700 titles each year. I am not entirely convinced of the link between quantity and quality in books, but there is something to be said for competition and I think creativity truly flourishes when more (and more kinds of) people are invited to the drawing table. As television’s numerous talent competitions demonstrate, the US has a deep pool of gifted individuals who are simply waiting for an opportunity to shine.
Last year I received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to write a family memoir about my African American ancestors; I am anxious to explore the social pressures that first led them to flee slavery in the US only to further escape into whiteness in order to avoid racism in Canada. In my country of origin, an average of two black authors manage to publish a book for children each year, making a race-based award like the CSK impossible. Things are better here in the US, which is why I chose to relocate, but after more than a decade trying to publish my twenty manuscripts for young readers, I’m ready to throw in the towel and move on. I am close to completing two young adult novels, both speculative fiction, and once they’re done I plan to leave the world of children’s literature behind. I am disappointed by the complacency of so many individuals and institutions that claim to have children’s best interest at heart, yet I am encouraged by the fact that a small group of activists is currently in the process of reviving/reinventing the Council on Interracial Books for Children. I will do what I can to assist with the launch of this endeavor, and I hope its emphasis on social justice will truly honor the transformative vision of Dr. and Mrs. King.
Posted in Africa, African American Literature, Canada, Canadian writers, Caribbean literature, children's literature, conferences, creative writing, feminism, LGBTQ, multicultural literature, race & gender, race & politics on January 24, 2013| 1 Comment »
Third Conference on Women Writers of African Descent
Will Honor Jayne Cortez &
Feature Angela Davis, Sapphire, Evelyne Trouillot, and 50 others
this May in Accra, Ghana
New York, NY – The Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) and New York University, in collaboration with the Mbaasem Foundation, will present Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue – An International Conference on Literature by Women of African Ancestry. This major conference will put writers, critics, and readers from across Africa, the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean in dialogue with each other in Accra, Ghana, May 16‐19, 2013.
The public can help support authors’ participation at
OWWA is deeply saddened by the loss of its President and Co‐Founder, Jayne Cortez, the amazing poet, performer, and activist described by The New York Times as “one of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement.” Cortez was the driving force behind the first two Yari Yari conferences, and OWWA and NYU’s Institute of African‐American Affairs have committed to presenting the third Yari Yari as scheduled in Jayne’s honor.
The conference will consist of panels, readings, performances, and film screenings, and will be devoted to the study, evaluation, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. Fifteen years after OWWA’s first major conference, Yari Yari Ntoaso continues the dialogue of previous Yari Yari gatherings, which were the largest events of their kind, putting hundreds of women writers and scholars of African descent in dialogue with thousands of people. Confirmed participants come from more than a dozen countries, and include individuals who have been Poet Laureates and won a variety of other awards. (See the list of participants below.)
OWWA is actively fundraising to cover the costs of Yari Yari Ntoaso, and the Cortez/Edwards family encourages donations in Jayne’s name to OWWA. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/318981 or mailed to P.O. Box 652; Village Station; New York, NY 10014.
Yari Yari Ntoaso is FREE to everyone who wants to attend; attendees should register
online at http://www.owwainc.org where information about travel discounts and logistics are also available. Updates will be posted regularly on OWWA’s Indiegogo site and Facebook page.
OWWA Mission Statement:
The Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc (OWWA) was founded in 1991 by Jayne Cortez of the USA and Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana for the purpose of establishing links between professional African women writers. OWWA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary organization concerned with the development and advancement of the literature of women writers from Africa and its Diaspora. OWWA is also a non‐ governmental organization associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI). Board members include Louise Meriwether, J.e. Franklin, Maya Angelou, Rosamond S. King, Margaret Busby, and Maryse Condé.
Confirmed Participants as of January 2013:
Anne Adams (USA) – Scholar of African literature
Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana) – Fiction writer, OWWA CoFounder
Esther Armah (Ghana, UK, USA) – Journalist, playwright, radio host
Bibi Bakare (Nigeria) – Publisher
Samiya Bashir (Somalia/USA) – Poet
Sokhna Benga (Senegal) – Novelist, children’s author
Tara Betts (USA) – Poet
Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad & Tobago/USA) – Scholar of African diaspora literatures &
Prof. Joanne Braxton (USA) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
Margaret Busby (Ghana/UK) – Editor, publisher
Gabrielle Civil (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, poet
Jayne Cortez (USA) – Poet, OWWA CoFounder
Angela Davis (USA) – Scholar of prison abolition
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (South Africa) – Poet, performer
Latasha N. Diggs (USA) – Performer, poet
Camille Dungy (USA, SFSU) – Poet
Alison Duke (Canada) – Filmmaker
Ira Dworkin (US/Egypt) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
Zetta Elliott (Canada/USA) – Fiction writer, scholar of literature & publishing
Donette Francis (Jamaica/USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature
Gladys M. Francis (Guadeloupe/USA) – Scholar of African & Caribbean literature
Kadija George (UK/Sierra Leone) – Publisher, poet
Wangui wa Goro (Kenya) – Translator, poet
Philo Ikonya (Kenya) – Author, journalist
Rashidah Ismaili (Benin/USA) – Poet
Tayari Jones (USA) – Novelist
Madhu Kaza (India/USA) – Fiction writer
Fatou Keita (Cote d’Ivoire) – Children’s author
Jason King (USA) – Scholar of music & popular culture
Rosamond S. King – Poet, Performance Artist, Yari Yari Ntoaso Conference Director
Kinna Likimani (Ghana) – Blogger
Fungai Machirori (Zimbabwe) – Blogger, activist
Michelle Martin (USA) – Scholar of children’s literature
Roshnie Moonsammy (South Africa) ‐ Arts administrator
Micere Mugo (Kenya) ‐ Playwright, poet, scholar of African literature & orature
Angelique Nixon (Bahamas) – Scholar of literature & tourism, poet
Wura‐Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria/USA) ‐ Performance artist
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) – Young adult novelist
Tess Onwueme (Nigeria)‐ Playwright
Hermine Pinson (USA) – Poet, scholar of AfricanAmerican
Sapphire (USA) – Poet, novelist
Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria) – Novelist, poet
Eintou Springer (Trinidad & Tobago) – Poet, playwright
Cheryl Sterling (USA) – Scholar of African & diaspora literature
Veronique Tadjo (Cote d’Ivoire/SA) – Novelist
Coumba Touré – Author (Mali) – Children’s author
Evelyne Trouillot (Haiti) – Novelist
Wana Udobang (Nigeria) – Journalist, blogger, radio host
Gina Athena Ulysse (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, scholar of Caribbean anthropology &
Crystal Williams (USA) – Poet
Christopher Winks (USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature