Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Conference: Diversity in Poetry, Prose, and Pictures by Kathy Halsey

The Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth, 32 years young, is the longest running multicultural children's conference in the country. This year Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Christian Robinson, Angela Johnson and Helen Frost assembled to share their award-winning books and thoughts on the campus of Kent State University.
Nikki Grimes shares her dreams
On a snowy April eve, keynote speaker Nikki Grimes warmed our hearts and shared her thoughts on the wonderful novel in verse, WORDS WITH WINGS. 
Words that winged their way into my notebook:

  • "I write books about children who look and feel like me."
  • When writing, remember that "...the best worlds are formed from the architecture of dreams."
  • Set aside time to play when beginning a new work.
  • Good stories share "compassion, sympathy, and empathy."
  • What can writers do to confront the world's atrocities? Begin with empathy. "The most important common denominator is heart, and we can start with books." 
  • WORDS WITH WINGS is a story "about the beauty of a little girl's interior life that is not valued."
  • Daydreams are important for writers AND children. Do not discourage, but encourage daydreaming in students. It is the seed of creativity and invention.
Robinson draws a Corgi at my suggestion.
Christian Robinson, Caldecott illustrator for LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET treated us to spontaneous sketches and his influences during his presentation: 

  • Drawing gave him a way to express himself in a world he wanted to see.
  • Influences include Leo Lionni, Ezra Jack Keats, Roger Duvoisin; animators Mary Blair, Walter Peregoy, and Eyvind Earle.
  • As a Pixar intern, he worked on the movie Up, but was then let go.  
  • He gave himself illustration projects to keep himself working and posted them on his blog. Eventually, agent Steven Malk found his work while scrolling the net one day.
  • Riding the bus with his Nana, who raised him, inspired the art for MARKET STREET. 
  • Take heart, writers and illustrators. Christian told us he is "overwhelmed and scared every time he starts a book."
    Margarita Engle
The poetic contributions from the "honored guest" authors continued with Margarita Engle, who shared such goodness with us:

  •  Her books are about power. "Characters are powerful and so are words."
  • Margarita wrote ENCHANTED AIR: TWO CULTURES, TWO WINGS: A MEMOIR for "peace and reconciliation."
  • She feels that "rhyme and musical language can soften the blow of difficult topics."
  • Why write in free verse? "Poetry makes me happy," Margarita says. 
    A stellar line-up of honored guests and authors Christian Robinson, Nikki Grimes, Helen Frost and Margarita Engle

    In two days, attendees were treated to sixteen breakout sessions that focused on diversity and culture, wonderful dinners and repasts, a reception with the authors, and book giveaways. This is a conference you want to pencil into your calendar for next year, April 6 and 7, 2017. A big thank you to the conference committee and Arnold and Jaime Adoff for carrying on Virginia Hamilton's legacy. As Arnold says, "The struggle continues."


  1. WOW! Thanks so much for sharing these tidbits!

  2. I guess you never stop being scared, overwhelmed, AND excited every time you start a new book. I'd say this is especially true for illustrators who are signed to bring someone else's vision to life through their own vision. That's such HUGE pressure. Hat's off to illustrators!

  3. How neat you could attend this conference. Thank you for sharing your notes, Kathy!

  4. Thanks for collecting all these words of wisdom, Kathy. I'm so glad you were able to be part of this conference. AND Christian Robinson drew a corgi for you, too!!!

    1. Patty, I have it now in my house...wait for it...signed, too.

  5. Kathy, this conference sounds just amazing. So glad you could attend -- and thank you for sharing the wisdom.

    1. Chris, it was so full of hope and love. I am going back next year, too.

  6. This transports me there, Kathy. I am so appreciative of what these book people are providing for our kids & us. And I'm thankful for your report.

    I have read several of Margarita Engle's lyrical books & she tackles slavery & other difficult topics with grace & flair.

  7. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your experience at the 32nd Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference.

    Celebrate diversity.

  8. Kathy you are amazing. This is amazing! You took the time to share with us. What a connection you have provided us.

  9. Kathy you are amazing. This is amazing! You took the time to share with us. What a connection you have provided us.