The entrance where you need a badge
Ok, I’ve been meaning to write about the ALA (American Library Association) since I went recently. I’ll try to keep this short. On a sunny but brisk weekend in Frisco I went to the ALA and visited my TYS Crew and friends painting a mural near by at the Ybca.
My crew mates and friends painting murals
Getting IN: This is a barrier. Not as big of a wall as the SCBWI, but its still a wall that some people cannot get through. I’m lucky that I am doing well enough as a freelancer that I could afford to go. But more importantly I understand the type of investment going is. So I paid. But, not before trying to find a hook up. I mean, come on. Wouldn’t you try to get in free if you could? No dice. But while asking about getting in from the women selling tickets at the front kiosk, a brother from Georgia basically broke it down to me. Pay for the minimum price. There are two types of attendance fees that I knew of, probably more. 1- Get into the area where they sell shit-tons of shit, mostly books, but a bunch of other shit. I’ll get to that. 2-Attend the panels and discussions. This was important because some of the people you want to meet are specifically at those.
Networking: This is important. I know, I know. Its not easy to just go up to someone you don’t know and talk to them. But, if you want to learn everything there is to know about any chosen field, or just know all the tools in the box networking helps.
-And I honestly try to talk only to people who I actually have a connection to. As it relates to children’s books, that could be an author or illustrator who’s work I actually like. Not just a name, but someone who I actively read, follow, or know something about. That way if I do talk to them, I have something to actually talk about.
-Another important thing about networking. You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, or who you’ll stumble upon. Case in point, I was walking through what ALA calls “artist alley” a place where indie and established illustrators/authors sell their book and talk to people face to face. In the alley that day I met several people who I’d been following like Gene Luen Yang, Nathan Hale, John Hendrix, Erika Alexander and her husband TonyPuryear, and many more.
-Homework. Because I am learning about the field still (3 books in) I am constantly studying artists and writers who are doing stuff that I like visually or creatively with the writing. I can’t stress how important it is to do the work, look for the work, and ultimately improve your work.
-Connection, homework, and stumble! Now combine all three of those. I just happen to see John Hendrix. Didn’t know he’d be there at all. Love his illustrations for “John Brown” and immediately walked up to him ask him about his work. Guess what? He wasn’t a jerk, he was quite nice and because I was familiar with his work it made the conversation free of creepy or awkwardness. We talked about technique, I showed him my work (not because I expected anything, just because I dig his work) and Howard Reeves comes up to talk to me about my work. I talk to him just like I was talking to John (natural). Turns out this guy is an editor at a press I’m familiar with. Why? Because a fellow classmate from college Duncan Tonatiuh is published his company. I ask him if he knows him. Of course! He’s his editor. Wow, connection however small made.
It was a always a rush of people
The enormity of the big 5 companies
Knowledge/Learning: Although I am now 3 books into the children’s book game, it is a lifelong journey and I will forever be a student. On the one hand I’m quick to say #$%& the industry! Do it yourself! Some days I’m like I need to begetting that Scholastic money, I’m trying to own a house, lol. But to be real with you as an artist, as an entrepreneur, and as a human I am learning and pulling from many sources. I believe the big companies have some things to teach. I believe that to really learn how to be a children’s book creator I must investigate whoever is out there creating dope shit. By that I mean beautiful artwork, good quality printing, and stories that are from the heart that represent some of the cultures I come from. I believe that there is no waiting for larger companies to “find you” or for a company or person to validate you. It’s really about doing it.
panel on diversity
Don Tomas Moniz reading from a zine
Nia King reading from a zine
Future: In conclusion, if you are an illustrator or writer interested in children’s books and the ALA is in your city. I’d say go. Check it out, see what they’re talking about at least. The ALA did a way better job at promoting diversity and bringing not only a wide array of speakers/companies in-they had a much more diverse in attendance than I expected. I could have dealt with out all the corporate companies selling sinks, book shelves, filing systems, etc but hey I went and found what I was looking for.
Zines: They had an awesome zine pavilion where I got to see artists like Breena Nuñez, Avy Jetter, Liz Mayorga, and of course my Rad Dadfamilia. Lots of lefties there and anarchy in the corner which is just what they need in my opinion.
The zine pavillion
Friends: Aww man, 10 years ago, shit maybe even 5 years ago I probably would not have known anyone there. But I was happy to see Amy Sonnie(Oakland librarian/Co-author of HillBilly NationalistsUrban Race Rebels, and Black Power ), Innosanto Nagarra (author/illustrator of A is for Activist), Duncan Tonatiuh ( Diego Rivera, Separate is never equal ). I met some people from Chronicle who recognized me after doing a talk with one of their illustrators on Latin@s for Kid Lit, I saw John Jennings (Black Comix, Black Kirby), Nia King (Queer artists of color), and I met Cory Silverberg. I’m sure I’m forgetting some body else but it was nice to see familiar faces.
ALA: Please include an intentional artists alley for more independent publishers of color who are from the cities you are being hosted in. You missed Reflection Press, Blood Orange Press and Marcus Books! But good job on including folks from #WeNeedDiverseBooks , i caught the tail end of the talk, but was glad they were there.