Thursday, September 24, 2015

"A Dance Like Starlight" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Kristy Dempsey

In the International Other division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "A Dance Like Starlight" by SCBWI International Central member Kristy Dempsey, who lives in Brazil!

Kristy receiving her Crystal Kite Award

Kristy with her Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text

Tears, and an awards sticker!

Lee: For those who are just hearing about your book for the first time, please tell us about “A Dance Like Starlight."

Kristy: A Dance Like Starlight is historical fiction, telling the story of a young African American girl in Harlem who dreams of becoming a ballerina. Her mother works cleaning and sewing costumes for a ballet school so this young girl grows up around ballet and this dream takes root in her heart. When the ballet master notices her interest and her talent, he allows her to take classes, but she cannot perform on stage with the white ballerinas. Her mother sacrifices to take her to a performance by the first African American ballerina to perform under contract with a major dance company, Janet Collins, who performed with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Miss Collins's performance was highly publicized in advance and highly praised by reviewers and audiences. For my protagonist, seeing Miss Collins's performance proved her own dreams were not out of reach. 

I drew upon a childhood experience of my own in writing this book. When I was about 10 years old, I went to a concert and heard a performance that brought tears to my eyes. I dreamed of being able to move others in that way. For many years my dream was to become a professional singer and I put lots of hard work into achieving that goal. I still sing but my dreams changed over the years. One of the criticisms of A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT has been that we don't see whether or not my protagonist achieved her own dreams. But in my view, we are constantly changing and growing and we might be influenced by many different "glimpses of success" through the years. At the end of A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT, my main character says: 

No need to waste my wishes 
I've got dreams coming true. 

One of the ways children learn they can achieve is by seeing others do it before them, no matter where their dreams may carry them in the future. This particular story represents a minority character along with the added difficulties she faced, because of the color of her skin, in daring to dream that she could achieve. I think it's vital that these stories be told so that children have mirrors for their own experience. But I didn't plan to write this book. It was more a consequence of my own heart being captivated by the struggle and story of Janet Collins and imagining what it must have felt like to see her perform. I recognized, even as I was writing it, that I was looking through a window and my hope was to connect at the emotional level of what it must feel like to have a dream and to wonder if society will ever allow your dream to come true. As I said in my Golden Kite speech, in writing I often hope to discover my own empathy, or more honestly to work toward it. I hope that will be true for my readers, as well. 

Lee: What’s it like to have your book win both the Golden Kite and the Crystal Kite Awards?

Kristy: After returning from the conference and awards ceremony in LA, I described the event as a "singular moment" in my life. The conference itself was amazing and the awards ceremony was surreal. Because I live in Brazil where we are part of a larger international SCBWI region and where we do not often have SCBWI events, the International Central Crystal Kite was presented to me in a small ceremony in the lobby just after the Golden Kite ceremony. To be honest, I felt a little tearfully overwhelmed. In a good way. The whole of my writing life (since 1998) has been spent in Brazil without much in-person access to other writers. The writing community I've been a part of has been online, and while it has provided immeasurable support and connection for me, I felt extremely privileged in LA to shake hands and receive hugs from the people who are "in this game" with me, my fellow dreamers who also live the ups and downs of this profession. Actually, Lee, I think the conversation that you and I had right before the Golden Kite ceremony sums up best what my heart felt during those few days in LA. I told you that while the recognition of the awards gave some sense of validation to the time I invest in this career, it is the connection with others that feels the most satisfying for me. That someone --an awards committee, an editor, a reader --connected with my work, and that it moved them or changed them or helped them to see, brings tears to my eyes. To tweak a C.S. Lewis quote, "I [write] to know I'm not alone." It's what I want for my readers -- for all readers -- as well. 

Lee: Any thoughts after attending the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference as an award-winning faculty member?

Kristy: Well, I'll admit that I felt like an impostor walking into the faculty dinner on Thursday night. I hardly knew anyone personally and I consider myself an introvert. Walking onto a patio full of strangers and knowing I would need to introduce myself and try to make conversation was intimidating! Not to mention the fact that some of my writing heroes were there and I was hoping not to slobber all over them. (Candace Fleming, I'm looking at you.) So to be honest, I'm not sure my experience was much different than any other writer or illustrator attending their first conference in LA. I was starry-eyed over meeting my favorite authors and illustrators. I was excited about spending three days engaged in discussing craft. I was looking forward to learning from people who have more experience than I do. And yet, I was also there as a faculty member, prepared to present a workshop about how to live the creative life. 

The workshop I presented, How NOT to Have a Nervous Breakdown While Waiting, was one born out of personal experience, for sure. To be honest, I felt pretty vulnerable before my presentation. I've learned, though, that vulnerable is usually the best place for me to be when it comes to connecting with others. One of the most difficult aspects of this career for me to manage is the emotional up-and-down of putting myself and my work out there. In one of my WIPs, I have a line -- "Fire and hope have much better things in common than their simple ability to burn you." For me, that line epitomizes my relationship with this business. There is this hope every time I sit down to write that compels me and lights my way as I explore how to create a meaningful story. And yet, that same hope can burn like fire when it is deferred, when I get a rejection, or when despite all my attempts, I can't get what's in my head onto the page. This tightrope we must walk with hope is one of the reasons I'm so grateful for SCBWI. In my workshop I wanted to say, "This is me. Is there anyone else out there who feels this way? This is what I do to survive it." It felt like both a huge risk and a huge privilege to get to share that part of myself with others. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Kristy: My advice will likely not feel very new, because others have said it before. But these two things have made a significant difference in my writing career: 

1. Read, read, read in the genre in which you want to write. 
2. Find a way to interact weekly with children who are in the age group you want to write for. Do something to get around kids. Volunteer. Teach. Mentor. I say this NOT so that you will simply know your audience better but so that you will care about them more. Don't let your only goal in spending time with them be to get fodder for your stories. The fodder for your stories -- the mannerisms, the dialogue, the humor, the drama, the interests -- will become internalized if you are truly spending time with kids for their sake. Even more, you will become increasingly committed to creating books that matter for them, because they will matter to you.

Thanks, Kristy!

SCBWI's International Regional Advisor Chairperson is Kathleen Ahrens, who together with Angela Cerrito (Assistant International Advisor), shared this about SCBWI International Central:

International Central ( is made up of SCBWI members who live outside of the United States in a country where there is not currently an SCBWI Region. For this reason, International Central is likely the most diverse region of SCBWI. At present, members of International Central represent 34 countries spanning the globe, including: Botswana, Finland, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Korea, Peru, Brazil, Poland, Kenya, Hungry, Greece, Iceland and Uruguay. As with all SCBWI regions, members of International Central include writers, illustrators and translators at all levels: associate, full and PAL. Some members are new to writing for children while others have published several PAL titles.

Currently, the major event in International Central is the SCBWI Bologna Showcase ( held on even number years as part of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair ( International Central members have same benefits as all SCBWI members including: attending SCBWI events worldwide at the SCBWI member rate, SCBWI publications (The Book, SCBWI Insights, SCBWI Bulletin), the Blue Board (, webinars, SCBWI’s Translators’ listserv and the opportunity to apply for SCBWI’s many Awards and Grants ( In addition to the publications in English, many International Central members subscribe to La Cometa, a Spanish SCBWI publication produced jointly by Regional Advisors Judy Goldman (SCBWI Mexico) and Malena Alzu (SCBWI Spain.) Through the Blue Board, many members from International Central join online critique groups. In some areas, SCBWI members meet informally. Meetings may include Book Talks, Critique Groups or social gatherings to share information and offer encouragement. 

So if you live in a country where you'd be part of SCBWI International Central, know you belong to a vibrant, exciting region!

Learn more about Kristy at her website here.

You can find out more about SCBWI International Central here.

1 comment:

Dow said...

Wonderful interview! Thank you, and congratulations again, Kristy!