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Last year my colleague/friend Anna and I were super excited about attending the Children’s Literature Association annual conference; this year, we were sort of ambivalent. We were post-proposal, mid-dissertation, and just itching to not think about our work after doing nothing but think about our work all year. Plus, I didn’t want to be here because I just wanted to be at home.
But then we got here. I reunited with friends I haven’t seen in a year. I made new friends, especially from other parts of the world and learned so much about children’s lit in other countries. I went to some really cool panels that helped me re-think about my own work and learn new ways to look at other children’s books. I networked with other lovers of children’s literature. And oh my goodness, Joseph Bruchac signed my copy of Sacajawea.
Last year, the only blip of my otherwise fabulous experience was that after my paper presentation (about which I was extremely nervous, since it was my first time presenting at ChLA) another (much older) woman said something about using different theory to better support my argument. I was confused and crushed, especially since I’m still learning/growing/trying things out, but I thanked her and said I would look into it. Immediately after the panel ended, the president of the association came up to me and told me she had no idea what that woman was talking about because my paper made sense to her. She even emailed my dissertation research director to tell her that anna and I did well at the conference.
At the closing banquet tonight the president gave a speech about generosity. She spoke of thegenerosity she encountered on her first trip to ChLA so many years ago, and the generosity she has received since then. She spoke of the generosity that other members have contributed back to the association. And she spoke of the generosity of the members to one another, especially more senior scholars to younger scholars. “We don’t eat our young. This is not a place where scholars come to show off how smart they are.” Right when she said this, I felt a twinge in my heart. I had sort of forgotten about last year’s blip, but then I remembered how hurt I had been that day, and how much her comments had meant to me, and how generous she had been (and continues to be) to me and my colleagues, and I don’t remember that I ever thanked her. So after the banquet ended I told her how much her comment meant to me last year. About 10 minutes after that conversation, I went up to a friend to say goodbye and wish her luck in her new (first) faculty position, and one of the first things she did was invite me to send her my work if I ever wanted an outside reader. This woman is beginning a tenure-track job, she’s on a bazillion committees, she’s super brilliant and wonderful, and she offered to read my work. I was humbled, and extremely grateful. Such generosity.
Truth be told academia is not a fun place. It’s a competitive, dog-eat-dog, mightier-than-thou, americentric, meritocratic, hierarchical, capitalist, work-to-the-bone institution. But that’s not how I feel at ChLA. Not to get all sentimental about it, but it’s moments like these that I’m really glad I’m studying children’s literature (despite all its shortcomings, which is a topic for another day; for now I’ll focus on the positive). I seriously think children’s lit people tend to be nicer and more supportive than other more “traditional” disciplines (I also love asian american studies, even as I think aas is beginning to mimic the problems in the more traditional disciplines). It might be because ChLA is mostly female and/or queer (not to stereotype, but really). Whatever the reason, I’m glad God brought me to this field, and the heart He’s given to so many of the members.
I’ve been the recipient of much generosity, mentorship and friendship in academia, and I definitely intend to pass this generosity forward.