It’s a cool morning here in the heartland. I spent much of the day yesterday, a beautiful, sunny warm day, driving home from the Virginia Hamilton Conference in Kent OH. Kent is to the north and east of me, thus leading me to light snowflakes when the temperatures fell on Friday. It’s cool here in IN today, but thankfully not that cold! I’m meeting a friend later to get our exercise program going full swing. Right now, I have a recap of the Virginia Hamilton Conference.

I remember reading Virginia Hamilton‘s The People Who Could Fly to my children when they were young. She’s always been special to me and I eagerly anticipated this conference.

Opening session: I was impressed that almost half the  audience was PoC, a clear increase from what I saw when I attended several years ago. R. Greg Christie brought this audience of readers of words into his world of reading hues, shading, images and motion.  Pam Munoz Ryan, probably more of my generation, spoke of the difference between growing up with variouss ethnic months and MLK Day and those not having them. She also spoke of growing up within a culture where you ‘celebrate’ being Asian or African or Native hyphenates with the language, food and other cultural elements that you use everyday. Then there were the sessions. First session was pairing books, those that make you blush and those that don’t, as if anyone who reads YA would blush anymore!  So many of the pairings were books by and about Whites that I wanted to go get a refund.

Next session, Laurie Halse Anderson.

I had to do it as most of the sessions were picture books for young children.  I needed to know her take on the need for diversity in literature and how libraries can facilitate this. After all, she is the spokesmouth (her word) for School Library Month.

Her response:  “There are a lot of well meaning white people who just need to be educated.” Even she sees ‘White” as the default setting with terms like ‘multicultural’ and ‘diversity’ indicating an ‘other than’ setting.  I truly appreciated her comments about publishers. Anderson reminded the audience that

art moves culture.

publishing is a business.

A business in fact is run by white people of privilege who may talk the talk but the walk they walk is in protecting the bottom line.

From these amazing comments, we went back to groupie-type questions at this conference on diversity.

Anderson did speak of her passion for history and her preference for historical fiction. Creating characters that would fit the confines of time and place often prove to be a challenge, but the stories of history are important to tell. What I found most interesting were her comments about being up all night, unable to sleep because of the voices she heard.  It reminded me of the years my own daughter spent, wide awake all hours of the night with her feet perched high upon the wall singing country and western tunes, humming with the radio, writing and playing with toys because she couldn’t sleep. I wondered what it was that really kept her awake. I don’t know if she’s able yet to articulate it.

A Lebanese lunch!! I dined with a student who is getting a degree in General Studies (why would anyone allow that to happen??) and will be entering Library School in the summer (did you know it takes a Masters degree to become a Librarian?). Also at the table was a young lady from Japan who will be an instructor in the Education Dept. at Kent State next year. Our discussion on ereaders left us wondering about the ability to download foreign language books and non-western font on ereaders. I had fun exchanging business cards Japanese-style with her!

Jamie Adoff offered reflections by reading from his sooner or later forthcoming novel. He spoke of his work with incarcerated teens through Project Jericho and the hope and inspiration he’s able to provide. I don’t know if we, whether we be authors, teachers, librarians, students, clerks or bus drivers, I don’t think we realize how much influence we can have on others just by doing some little thing that shows we care. I bought two of Jamie’s books at the conference.

I saw huge shortcomings at this conference, this confence on diversity that was so well attended by PoC of Asian, African, Latino and Native heritage. Where were their books and authors? It’s possible there were Iranian and Indian and Chinese books in the session I didn’t attend, but I can tell you I didn’t see them!  Was the default assuming ‘diversity’ included them, too and imaging the world Anderson would one day exist in fact already did?  Can we really afford to make these assumptions when the doors are barely cracked open? I did keep my mind open and attended sessions and presentations to the end. I can say that  I got a lot from the individuals who were there.

Christie: “Sometimes I feel like I’m painting for a different generation that isn’t here yet.”

Anderson: “White people don’t know how white they are.”

Anderson: “Firing school librarians is censuring information.”

Christie “I keep learning to improve my craft.”

Virginia Hamilton: “We must reflect movement and all possiblities of minds at the library.”

Edi “What you put into it affects what you get out of it. Be sure to put in some positive.”

upcoming diversity conferences:

Diversity Literature and Teens: Beyond Intentions

National Diversity in Libraries Conference

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