ALAN/NCTE: How long has it been?!

My first conference since and I have so many thoughts!

Anaheim California. What a place for a conference. The convention center is across the street from Disneyland, a place I probably wanted to visit as a child, but quickly lost all interest in. Anaheim is a beautiful city in California located firmly on Tongva, Juaneño, and Luiseño land that’s become drenched in U.S. Republican sentiment, and that of the Mouse. I do have to say I enjoy Cali conferences, though for the sunshine and fresh food choices. There are pictures of me out there on other people’s phones. I only took a few.

Some people masked, some didn’t. NCTE required vaccine and booter records, ALAN didn’t.

Walking to the convention center on Saturday afternoon, I was so impressed to walk through groups of young girls supported by their families while they participated in cheerleading competitions. I’d just finished reading Why We Fly so looking at the girls, I remembered the high level of athleticism involved in the sport. I really enjoyed seeing moms and dads present at the event as well seeing evidence of considerable number of hours spent on hair and makeup; getting the girl’s competitive gear ready.

I arrived before my actual conference (ALAN) began, so I spent some time in the Exhibit Hall. I came here concerned that the movement to provide more equity and inclusion in youth literature is phasing out as if it’s just another trend. Can’t say I saw or heard anything to dissuade me of that. Not big scale, at least. There was a very diverse group of authors present, signing books. But, how many were sponsored and how many paid for their own expenses, I don’t know.

I think meaningful change is local; it’s in the seemingly little things we consistently do that bring on big change; that will allow books and stories to truly exist as tools of liberation rather than oppression. Like the way Torrey Maldonado lifts up his fellow authors, promotes their work, and shows up. Or the ways Kelly Starling Lyons not only provides words of wisdom to her colleagues but, lives those words. Or watching Paula Yoo plan her morning around showing up to stand there with Don Tate while he signed books, or seeing #AsianAmericanAF show up for Minh Lê’s signing. I was there too, but Minh’s publisher provided way too few books for such an accomplished writer for me to get a book signed. Solidarity is definitely an intention of mine. I think demonstrating our commitment to each other makes it easier to demand more. Like Luther says, ‘that’s the power of love”.

#DisruptTexts had a beautiful gathering for BIPOC attendees during the conference which included teachers, authors, and illustrators. The event was sponsored by Random House. I asked Phoebe Yeh (Crown/Random House) if she’d ever seen anything like it. She mentioned Kweli which is somewhat similar but, in her opinion this was historic. And it’s something we agreed that needs to be continued at NCTE and ALA. ALAN provided lunch this year and set aside a separate room for those from historically marginalized groups. Although activities where prepared to encourage converation, none were needed. We were ready to talk.

In settings like this among academics, I learned that tenured faculty buys meals, and pays many expenses for junior faculty because universities don’t always provide funds for those just beginning their way. Nor do publishers.

While I’ve spent years asking for BIPOC authored books in publisher’s booths, it’s time to specifically as for Black/African American mysteries; Latine/x speculative fictions; Chinese American non-fiction; South Asian graphic novels; or even Native American contemporary romance. We have to let them know what we want.

I’m thankful for so many people supporting my work, so many conversations about the need for my “monkey book”; my nonfiction work that will examine the history and continuing presence of simianization in picture books. What I’m reminded is that because tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us that it’s not a good idea to put off anything that really matters to us, and when we move forward in passion and love, we’re becoming a force to be reckoned with. Being at home for such a long time, it’s easy to get disconnected.

The conference isn’t over; I’m sitting here now listening to Raquel Vàsquez and Jeff Zenter discuss the stories and worlds they created for teen readers. I was on the Walden Award Committee that chose to honor We Are Not Free by Traci Chee; The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, How Moon Fuentes Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vásquez Gilliland, and In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner. It felt good to be in a space honoring such good books and just for the moment, not worry about people who want to ban books, who want to disrupt our quest for liberation.

So much work to do.