Day of Diversity, Pop Top Stage, Winter Storm: My ALA Midwinter Recap!

Me along with author/publisher Wade Hudson of Just Us Books

The past two weeks have been busier than normal in terms of travel. The previous weekend, I traveled home to Des Moines, Iowa to say goodbye to my grandfather. This past weekend, I went to ALA in Chicago. Next weekend I head to NYC to blog for SCBWINY! Here’s a recap of my time at ALA:

On Friday I participated in the Day of Diversity: Dialog and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming. It was held at the American Library Association Midwinter conference in Chicago, hosted by Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), in partnership with the Children’s Book Council (CBC). It was an invitation-only event, a who’s-who of influential industry giants bought together to discuss strategies to ensure that all children have access to diverse literature.

Initially I’d been invited as a facilitator to a discussion group, but I passed. This being my first time to participate in an event like this, I wanted to sit back, take it all in and learn. There will be other opportunities, and now that I know how things work, I’m confident that I could lead discussions at events like this in the future.

Debbie Reese and Cynthia Leitich Smith
Debbie Reese and Cynthia Leitich Smith

The day involved listening to lively panel discussions, speeches, presentations, and breakout sessions where conversations continued. The day ended with a call for action where attendees were asked to set goals in order to move diversity forward. Little did we know that the ALA Youth Media Awards in the following days would move the needle forward a bit.

On Saturday I spoke about my upcoming book, POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL on the Pop Top Stage. The stage was on the side of the exhibit hall, but was large enough to be a centerpiece and clearly visible from everywhere on the exhibit floor. My audience began relatively small but grew to a full house as attendees were drawn to my words and images. One guy came over to say that he was drawn to my voice! Thank you, Dara Allen, my voice coach.

Immediately following my presentation, I signed unbound ARCs and posters that my publisher printed up especially for the event. A brisk signing continued later at the Peachtree Publishing booth.


On Monday I had the honor of attending the ALA Youth Media Awards in Chicago. It all happened by accident though. I was supposed to leave Chicago on Sunday afternoon, but due to the snowy weather, my flight was canceled. I couldn’t get out of Chicago until Tuesday! No worries though, my publisher extended my hotel room for two days, which allowed me to attend the awards ceremony.

After listening to an invigorating speech by Dr. Cornell West at an early morning program, I got in line for the awards. The line stretched the distance of the convention center, wrapped around again and again. I estimated that I was about at the 500 mark, but that still put me at the head of the line. Inside I sat near the front with Gayle Brown and Anita Eerdmans of Eerdman’s Publishing (who won several awards including a Caldecott honor!).

I must admit, as I looked around at a sea of mostly white attendees, I felt a sense of doom concerning diversity among award winners. But something strange happened as the awards began to get called off. One by one, winners were announced, and I recognized the names of diverse authors and illustrators. I felt confused when the mostly white awards committee members stood following each award announcement.image2

I’ve been a founding member of the Brown Bookshelf for almost eight years. I’ve been involved with We Need Diverse Books for the past few months. I felt like our call for more diversity in children’s literature (and awards) had been heard. What a great day for children, children’s literature, and authors of all backgrounds, cultures, races, sexual identities, and disabilities.

There were many highlights throughout the weekend, but I think one of the most exciting things was getting to meet Ellen Oh and other team members of We Need Diverse Books. Oh!–and meeting Debbie Reese!

Signing my new book, Poet!


Me with my ‘pure joy’ editor, Kathy Landwehr of Peachtree
Me with one of my art directors, Gayle Brown, and publisher, Anita Eerdman of Eerdman’s Publishing, watching the ALA awards live!
Ellen Oh and I. W. Gregorio are super people. Glad to know them.