Can We Talk About Connecting Authors to Students?

(Note – this is a long and important post. But there is a chance to win books for your classroom at the end, so keep reading.)

Oh. My. Goodness.

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A couple of days ago I tweeted a photo of a letter I’d received.

In follow-up tweets I explained that it breaks my heart not to have the time to answer letters like this. I love engaging with readers, I love that they reach out to authors. But I’m on deadline, and won’t have time to write back until this student is halfway through 9th grade.

Plus, I’ve already provided many of the answers to these questions on my website; writing advice and interviews and general questions.

I always make time for correspondence (written letters, email, and private messages on social media) from readers who are victims of sexual violence, bullying, eating disorders, depression, etc. In addition to that, this year I have to write two books, spend months on the road giving presentations, hold Skype visits, do other author-business things, as well as hang out occasionally with my family. There are simply not enough hours in the day to do it all.

This makes me feel HORRIBLE.

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It was a hard thing to admit publicly, but I write a lot about hard things. My alternative would have been to keep ignoring the problem, which I’m sure frustrates the letter-writers who are waiting on a response, especially when their grade hinges on it.

I tweeted this because I wanted to interact with teachers to see if we could figure out a more practical solution. I did not expect my timeline to blow up.

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Most of the comments were kind and supportive. A number of my fellow authors retweeted the original post, and added their own frustration with this situation. One received 150 letters this week. Another had to remove all of her contact info from her website to stop the flood of mail that she has no way of answering. Every author has had the experience of getting letters which explain that hearing back from the author is a requirement for the student to get a good grade. Finding the time to answer student letters is a huge problem for many kidlit writers.

Some commenters were not supportive. I don’t think they like me very much.

“It makes you look like you’ve stopped feeling really lucky to have what you have and enjoy the acceptance and bridge you’ve forged between girls and their secrets. Seriously.”

“Young writers often have these questions and want a personal reply not info from a website.Take the time to give it instead of complaining. Nurture young writers!”

A few people responded defensively, angry that I had “blamed teachers.” Which was not my intention at all.

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The thing is, we all care about kids; kidlit authors and illustrators, educators, families – we dedicate most of our lives to creating and/or providing books to children and teens because we value literacy and care deeply about young people.

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The model of students writing to authors is several generations old now. It started long before social media, author websites, book festivals, or Skyping. It began when authors stayed home to write books, and publishers took care of marketing and publicity. The world of publishing has changed drastically since then. There are few authors who have the time or resources to answer every single letter that comes in.

What hasn’t changed is the need for students to connect with authors.

So, my friends. Can we talk about this?

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A number of educators provided solutions in my Twitter feed. Some have their students write notes to authors in which the students say what they felt about the book, but without questions, or the expectation of a response. Others tweet class projects – if the authors see the tweet and Like it, that’s a bonus. Still others take advantage of the resources on author websites and other places (for example if your students are researching Jacqueline Woodson, be sure to check out  Poetry Foundation  and CBC Books ).

A couple of years ago I made pre-printed postcards that thanked the student for writing, but explained I didn’t have time to answer questions… but honestly, it felt kind of cheesy to do that.

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Given that authors do not have time-turners (except possibly J.K. Rowling), how can we best engage with students? What kind of classroom model makes sense, given the changes in publishing and technology of the last decade?

I’d love to know what you think about this. Please leave suggestions and comments below. And thank you for listening!

PS – for those of you who read all the way through this, here’s your reward. I will give a book to the first 10 classes who post a comment to this blog with at least 10 good questions that I haven’t yet answered on my website. Teachers, if you respond to this, please include a mailing address.

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#KidlitWomen at the Crossroads of Rage and Hope

We have started speaking up. That’s the good news. Women in children’s literature – as in many other professional and social communities – are speaking up about sexual violence, harassment, pay inequities, and other areas where we’ve been overlooked, under-respected, and marginalized.

We’ve demanded fairness from conference and festival organizers. Started the conversation about who gets paid what and why promotional budgets and award committees favor men. Asked the women in educational communities to take a hard look at the way some of them fawn over our kidlit brothers at the expense of women. Talked about how we sometimes uphold patriarchal attitudes ourselves without realizing it, and pondered how to identify the places we need to improve.

Lots of important, private conversations have grown from out this public discussion. Conference and festival organizers seem to be responding to the call for gender- and racial diversity, though we’ll have to see if their actions reflect their promises. I know I’ve been chatting with the people at my publishers about these issues and more. I suspect many of you have, too.

I’ve been disappointed that the issues facing women of color continue to take a back seat in many of these conversations. Laurel Snyder’s No White Panels pledge was an overdue response to the problem, but we need to do much, much more to create a community that is equitable, accessible, and comfortable for everyone.

White feminism has a well-deserved shitty reputation for ignoring and harming women of color. I’d like my fellow white ladies of kidlit to recognize that women of color face all of the issues that white women face PLUS systemic institutional racism. As much as we want men to own their privilege and balance the scales of justice, we must recognize that white women have the same responsibility.

As more women gain enough confidence to speak up about being sexually assaulted or harassed, I’ve begun to see and hear some disdainful muttering from women my age. There seems to be a generational divide between what women in my cohort (older than 50) believed constitutes harassment and how younger women see it. Women of a certain age have been fighting these battles for a very, very long time. If you are 25 and angry about this, just imagine your rage level if you were 65.

But if you’re 65, imagine what it feels like to be 25 and have older women criticize you for complaining about harassment because it isn’t as physical or intense as what you endured.

It’s not a competition, my friends. Let’s not get sucked into the damaging game of comparing our wounds and ranking them.

The last three decades have brought change, thank goodness. But change doesn’t impact everyone the same way. The legal definition of consent and the notion that professional spaces like conferences and writing classes are not hunting grounds for sexual partners are new concepts for some. Not everyone is up-to-date on the evolving legal and ethical definitions of harassment.

People who are constantly marginalized sometimes absorb the disrespect and hatred aimed at them. They then turn it on others as a way to ease their own pain. If you feel yourself doing this, dig for the roots of that emotional violence. Give yourself the time and gentle care that you need to heal.

Our strength lies in our shared understanding of injustice and our common commitment to providing children with the best books possible. If you’re feeling ouchy about any aspect of the discussions this month, reach out and talk to someone about it. If someone reaches out to you, listen with love.

I am so grateful for all of you, for the women who have written about these topics, talked about them, reflected on how we can create change, marched, knitted, and somehow, in the middle of all this, continued to write and draw. I’m grateful for the men who are supporting us, too – we see you guys and are happy to have you walk beside us.

Let’s continue to speak up, to listen, to raise up each other’s work and to use this energy to change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Laurie Teams Up With DC Ink!

Laurie is delighted to announce that she’ll be working on a graphic novel about Wonder Woman for DC Ink!

DC has recruited a lineup of notable YA and middle grade authors to write the books, among them: Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak), Melissa de la Cruz (Au Pairs), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints), Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer), Minh Lê (Let Me Finish), Ridley Pearson (The Kingdom Keepers), and Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat, the creative duo that produced the DC Super Hero Girls graphic novels.

The book will be called Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, and will publish in 2019. Check out the full details of DC’s announcement in Publishers Weekly.