I’m Going to AWP!
Yesterday was the day the Association of Writers and Writing Programs announced the accepted panels for the 2017 conference in Washington, DC. After two years in a row that the AWP conference took place in a distant city (and for the 2015 meeting, I was in Portugal anyway), it’s a train ride away, in a city where I can stay with family or friends.
I waited nervously for the announcement because, for the first time ever, I’d written a panel proposal. In past years, I’d joined in on others’ panels and only twice had the proposal been accepted. I’ve forgotten the number that have been turned down — somewhere between four and eight. In addition, Jenn Baker from We Need Diverse Books had asked me to be on another panel that she submitted.
All morning I watched my email. At ten minutes before 11, “Your Proposed Event for AWP#17” showed up in my inbox. My panel had been accepted!
I clicked the link to find out which one. And yes, it was the proposal I wrote: “Contested Histories: Portraying the Complexity of the Past for Teen Readers.” Here’s the description:
Historical fiction and nonfiction takes readers of young adult literature beyond the superficial consensus of textbooks. In doing so, these books delve into the messy truths of the past and puncture comfortable myths. How do authors portray past conflicts still being fought today such as sexual mores, post-Civil War race relations, and Cold War authoritarianism? How do books preserve rebellious individual memory in the face of conventional accounts that depict history that has become myth?
I plan to speak about Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and my latest work-in-progress, THE HOUSE OF SILENCE, all of which address the Cold War authoritarianism part of the proposal. Each of these three books portray an anti-Communist dictatorship, Chile under Pinochet and Portugal under Salazar, that ended up being as oppressive as the system it opposed. I’ve also translated and written a synopsis and chapter-by-chapter outline for Andrés Pi Andreu’s novel 274, the story of a young teenager recently immigrated from Communist Cuba to the United States with his mother but separated from his father, who has been denied permission to leave. Published in Colombia, 274 is a best-seller in Latin America and I hope that by the time of the AWP conference in February, I’ll be able to announce and discuss it as a forthcoming YA novel in English in the U.S.
Joining me on the panel are Ann Angel, author of (among many other books), Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing (Abrams, 2010) and A.B. Westrick, author of Brotherhood (Viking, 2013). A biography of the blues-rock singer from the 1960s, Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing addresses changing sexual mores, drug use, and the bullying that drove Joplin from her East Texas home and infused her music with profound pain. The book was a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Set during the Reconstruction Era, Brotherhood portrays a dyslexic 14-year-old boy who follows his older brother into the Ku Klux Klan, in large part to prove his manhood and end his brother’s bullying of him, but when a black teenager offers to tutor him in exchange for his teaching freed blacks to sew, he’s torn between loyalty to family and a chance to do good in the world. This debut novel was a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and a Jane Addams Award Honor Book. (And by the way, A.B. offers valuable writing advice on her blog, “In Love With the Process of Writing.”)
One of the two proposed We Need Diverse Books panels was also accepted, and yesterday Jenn asked me to join that one as well because of my interest and expertise in the subject. The panel is titled “We Need Diverse Books: Celebrating Children’s Literature” and its description is as follows:
Celebrating Children’s Literature calls to debunk the myths about the limited scope and depth found in the genre. More and more MFA programs are including writing for young people as part of the curriculum and many notable classics may have been considered YA or MG in today’s market. WNDB discusses the fine line between books that can pull at one’s heartstrings at any age and how the prose should always have impact.
Having written adult as well as young adult fiction, and having reviewed both for MultiCultural Review and the “Waging Peace” column of the Albany Times-Union, I am eager to be part of this panel and to argue for the literary value of children’s and young adult books. My co-panelists are WNDB co-founder and president (and author) Ellen Oh, playwright and YA novelist Heidi Heilig, and Dhonielle Clayton, the founder of CAKE Literary and an author of contemporary and fantasy YA.
When I attended and spoke on two panels at the 2014 AWP, I felt as if I were among my own people — writers, teachers, and publishers devoted to literature that breaks boundaries and illuminates ourselves and our world. At that time, I was looking for a new publisher, and I visited a number of small presses to see which one might be a good match. Shortly afterward, one of those smaller publishers, Running Press, made an offer on Surviving Santiago. I expect to do the same this February, not only for my own books but also for the YA novels in Spanish and Portuguese like 274 that I believe deserve publication in English. Hope to see you all there!