Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jambalaya, Diversity, and what one region is doing to make a difference - a Guest Post by Cheryl Mathis, Regional Advisor for Louisiana/Mississippi

It’s an honor and a pleasure to drop into the SCBWI blog today. I’m here in my writing cave in New Orleans and wanted to talk about the diversity movement in the children’s publishing industry and how a small membership region might make a difference.

Cheryl's writing cave

I know Lee and team leaders around the SCBWI world are as passionate as we in our region about addressing this challenge. You might ask, how can a small region like Louisiana/Mississippi be a part of the solution for such a large problem? We believe the real question is, how can we not? 

Our first regional conference, March 10-11, 2017, in New Orleans, presents a perfect opportunity to take active steps. We are making promotion of diversity a key ingredient in our recipe for the conference. First, we are offering a diversity scholarship. The conference scholarship is open to all Louisiana or Mississippi writers from diverse backgrounds who are not traditionally published. Submission deadline is January 10, 2017. (Details here.Our keynote speaker Cheryl Klein (Arthur Levine/Scholastic) has agreed to select the winner. We view our scholarship as not only supportive to the diverse writer who receives it, but as our public statement to kidlit writers in our region. We are here. We support diverse voices. We want to assist you on your path to publication.

Click here for all the JambaLAya Kitdlit Conference info

Then the universe sent us Angie Thomas. The publishing world is abuzz about her YA debut The Hate U Give (release date 2/2017), inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement. She lives in Jackson, Mississippi, less than three hours from our conference venue in New Orleans. Starred reviews are pouring in, and a movie is in the works. Our ARA Sarah Campbell approached Angie, asked her to speak at our conference, and she accepted. We are over the moon excited about that.

author Angie Thomas

Angie’s phenomenal publishing success for her novel that throws a spotlight on one of the most important civil rights issues in many, many years, is hopefully an inspiration to other writers from diverse backgrounds. As a region, we hope that Angie’s presence at our conference will also be a draw to those writers. We, as SCBWI Regional Teams, may not be the gatekeepers to the industry. But we can certainly help writers and illustrators from diverse backgrounds find their way to the door.  
SCBWI is well-known as a nurturing environment for all kidlit writers and illustrators – indie, traditionally published, and pre-published. Our conference will be a jambalaya-potful of all that. That’s why we named it JambaLAya because it is so representative of our region. The word has French and African origins and it’s based on a Spanish dish! The ingredients can include any of a range of different meats and seafood. Any combination works. And then there’s the assortment of seasoning. No two pots are exactly alike. 

Jambalaya wouldn’t be jambalaya without diversity! We know the years of exclusion cannot be remedied by one conference, but it’s our start. We will continue to seek diverse writers and editors and illustrators and agents to be a part of our conference faculty. And we will keep the diversity scholarship until it’s no longer necessary. What a wonderful world that would be.

-Cheryl Mathis, Regional Advisor Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI

Apply for the Diversity Scholarship here, and find out all the information about the 2017 JambaLAya Kid Lit Conference here.

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