Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Winners of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award!

The SCBWI established the new On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award with funding from Martin and Sue Schmitt of the 455 Foundation.  The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.  The grant is designed to be given to two writers or illustrators who are from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America.  But this year, three writers have been selected!

I had the chance to ask each of our inaugural winners a few questions to find out more.  And here they are, the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award Winners...

Alex Brown!

Alex Brown

Lee:  Tell me a bit about the work you submitted that won you the grant.

Alex: Seventeen year-old Sebastian Reynolds just met Sora Walton, who happens to be the other universe’s version of his dead girlfriend – which was freaky enough without the whole “she can predict violent crimes before they happen” thing.  Sora’s ability causes her to dream about Bastian’s death every night, and it involves her, a knife, and lots of blood.  But, hey, at least she doesn't want to kill him.  Now they’ve got two months to figure out why Bastian ends up on the wrong side of her knife.  Great.

Lee:  Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?

Alex:  I'm fairly new to the world of children's literature (at least from the writing perspective - I've been consuming children's literature ever since I could read, and, before I could read, I'm pretty sure I was all about the pictures in whatever books I could find!).  In the summer of 2012, I finished my first novel, which was an attempt at YA high-fantasy.  It was a fairy tale re-telling that I'd been working on for a couple of years, and when I finished it I was pretty amazed that I'd actually finished writing a book that had started out as a way to pass the time during the nights when I was the Resident Advisor On-Duty and couldn't leave my residence hall.  

I had no idea I could actually write a whole book, and, honestly, those feelings still haven't gone away, and probably never will.  I nervously sent the book to some friends, just to see if I was any good at this writing thing, and their feedback was more enthusiastic than I deserved - but, without their cheers and pushing, I wouldn't have had the courage to start my second novel.

I wrote ASTRAL after I got a little more involved in the writing community online, and had a good bit of it written by the time my Regional SCBWI conference came around (shout-out to all the wonderful people in the Midsouth Region!).  All of the positive feedback ASTRAL received at the conference pushed me to believe not only in myself and my abilities, but also to believe in my characters and their story.

I was very excited that I finished revising ASTRAL in time to apply for this award. I knew I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't at least throw my proverbial hat in.  So, I closed my eyes, hit send, and still can't believe that I was lucky enough to be one of the three winners selected!  There aren't enough words out there to describe how it feels to be selected as one of the Inaugural winners of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award, but the ones that come kind-of-close are: proud, amazed, shocked, grateful, and honored!

Lee:  Can you share with us your hopes/plans for the 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference?

Alex:  I had such an awesome time at my regional conference in September because I got to meet people who were as passionate about children's literature as I was, so, I hope that I can meet even more people with this passion at this conference!  I'm very excited to absorb all of the information that I can about the publishing industry and hopefully take away a few techniques to make me a better writer!  I also can't wait to meet the other Emerging Voices award recipients, and hopefully talk them into swapping stories! 

My biggest priority, though, will be to just enjoy my time at SCBWI New York because, well, it's in one of my favorite cities, and I'll spend two days talking about children's literature.  Oh, and Julie Andrews is going to be there.  I can't wait!

Mary Louise Sanchez!

Mary Louise Sanchez

Lee:  Tell me a bit about the work you submitted that won you the grant (pitch me!)

Mary:  Some nuggets of truth about my mother's life in Wyoming and my father's life in New Mexico inspired my middle grade story, THE WIND CALLED MY NAME.  The dust storm winds of the Great Depression blow Margarita, an eleven-year-old Hispanic girl, from her ancestral New Mexico home to Wyoming where she wants to maintain her culture and yet make a new friend, but challenges to her family's security cause Margarita to ask an unfamiliar saint for help.

Lee:  Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?

Mary:  The Golden Books, my travels with Heidi to the Alps in the third grade, and the Grimm Brothers and Andersen fairy tales were my introductions to children's literature. In college I took a children's literature course where we read many Caldecott and Newbery books and I discovered the award winning story,...And Now Miguel, which was authentically like my father's sheep herding childhood in the same northern New Mexican Sangre de Cristo mountains. The seed to read the best in children's literature had taken root probably because I saw my culture depicted in a story!  I continued to read the honor books and later introduced them to our children and to the children I taught. Eventually I became an elementary school children's librarian and became even more passionate about children's literature. As I continue to read, I read with a writer's eye. My many stuffed children's book characters now look down at me from our bookshelves and inspire me to share my own stories which are worth telling and reading.

Lee:  Hopes/plans for the conference?

Mary:  I plan on being awestruck at the conference, yet know I'll meet people who can help me make my stories the best they can be. I hope this inaugural Emerging Voices Grant will motivate the children's literature world to publish stories so that Hispanic families see themselves in high quality, universal stories. All children need to be exposed to different viewpoints and to the variety of Hispanic cultures.

and Sandra Headen, Ph.D.!

Sandra Headen, Ph.D.

Lee: Please tell us about the book that you entered into the contest!

Sandra:  CATO'S LAST HOME RUN is an historical, young adult novel about two baseball teams; one black, one white; and their experiences with racial violence and reconciliation in the Jim Crow south of the 1930’s. The teams are hostile towards one another at first, but when black players are attacked by white boys who call themselves, The Rebel Clan, they work together to keep the players safe. Their actions build stronger ties between black and white communities.

Lee:  Tell us about your journey so far as a children’s book writer.

Sandra:  Most of my career was spent in academia, conducting research in public health and collaborating with federal, state and local agencies on community-based initiatives to prevent tobacco use. The Ujima Youth Initiative with African American teens was one of the most satisfying programs I participated in. When I left the university, I became a consultant and, finally, had time to write. The resulting novel, CATO'S LAST HOME RUN is a reflection of my upbringing in the south as well as my passion for communicating with teens like the ones I worked with in public health. Interestingly, I was writing a different book when I discovered two books about baseball that changed everything: We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, about Negro League baseball, and The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz about a family of baseball players in different historical periods. Although I waited most of my life to become a full-time writer, I have been enormously blessed. Excerpts from CATO'S LAST HOME RUN garnered second place finishes in two contests sponsored by the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow and placed third in SCBWI’s Works in Progress. My selection as a winner in SCBWI’s On the Verge-Emerging Voices competition is surprising and exhilarating! I see it as the first pillar in my journey as a children’s book author and look forward the adventures that await in the coming acts.

Lee:  What are your hopes for the conference?

Sandra:  My primary goal for the conference is to sell my novel, CATO'S LAST HOME RUN. I am planning to pitch the book to as many agents and publishers as I can find who have advertised their interest in young adult novels with historical, sports, or multi-cultural themes. For starters, I have enrolled in Breakout Sessions with Julie Scheina of Little and Brown and Nancy Siscoe of Random House. In addition to selling my book, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to network with so many writers of children’s books. I know that I will acquire a wealth of contacts who will enrich my life for years to come. Finally, I am excited to connect with writers in the Carolina region whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting. 
Congratulations to Alex, Mary and Sandra!

And if you'll be at the upcoming 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference, make sure to say hello to these On-The-Verge Emerging Voices!  Not yet registered?  While Friday's intensives are sold out, there are a limited number of spaces still available for the Saturday (February 2, 2013) and Sunday (February 3, 2013) of the conference.  You can find all the details here.

Illustrate and Write On,


Angela said...

Thanks Lee for highlight these winners. It's an inspiration to the rest of us.
Special Kudos to Mary Louise whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a workshop in Chautauqua.
Perservance pays off. Congrats everyone.

Stephsco said...

Great profiles. Congrats to the winners.

Patrick Gonzales said...

Congratulations to my sister Mary Lousie... your dream is coming true and mom would have been proud.