I spent the past weekend conferencing in Orlando, Florida. Honestly, I didn’t even want to be there. After the Trayvon Martin verdict, I was so infuriated I didn’t want to spend any of my dollars in Florida. But then Matt de la Peña won the Newbery Award, and Laura Ruby won the Printz Award. So when YALSA president Candice Mack invited me to serve on her President’s Program task force, my dean and I agreed I should go to the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2016 annual conference. So I did, and I always mean to blog after a conference, and this time I finally did.
Thursday, June 23
Thursday morning started with running into St. Kate’s MLIS student Tasha McLachlan (she did the ALASC Student-to-Staff Program!) and St. Kate’s alum Sara Zettervall (who founded the St. Kate’s MLIS Program’s ALASC and who herself also did the Student-to-Staff Program – apparently our program is full of rock stars!) at the airport. Of course, then we saw Chelsea Couillard-Smith, who is the youth collection development librarian at Hennepin County Library.
Upon landing, my original plan was to rush to my hotel to drop off my stuff before going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but I’ve been twice already (I know, I know – long story), so I decided to stick around and hang out with friends. Rob Bittner and Melanie Koss and I had lunch together, and then I went to Disney Springs (the destination formerly known as Downtown Disney) for dinner with Chelsea, Sarah Okner (who I knew from the University of Illinois then-GSLIS and the Department of Asian American Studies), and her colleagues. It was a warm and glorious evening, and I am thankful for the serendipitous opportunity to spend more time with Chelsea, and of course to see Sarah again.
Friday, June 24
I’d been looking forward to Friday morning all week. Debbie Reese, author of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, had connected me with author Justine Larbalestier, who had just posted a blog post titled “How to Write Protagonists of Colour When You’re White.” My work BFF, Jamie Naidoo, who was delayed arriving in Orlando (and also was the 2016 ALA Achievement in Library Diversity Research honoree – yay!) the night before, also joined us for breakfast, and talking with these two amazing people was a pretty awesome way to start the conference.
After breakfast I delivered St. Kate’s promotional materials to the ALISE booth. I forgot my exhibitor badge but the kind security man let me in anyway, after cracking some jokes. I ran into him every day in the exact same spot, and I have to say, his warm, welcoming smile and humor are some of my favorite memories.
In the late morning, I met up with Sara Zettervall again. She – as part of ALA The Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Librarians Build Community – had helped coordinate some of the volunteer service opportunities, so together with a few other folks we went to help with the Orange County Library System Summer BreakSpot at the Hiawassee Branch. This program provides lunch to over 100 kids every weekday; we learned from the branch manager that some libraries are in communities where the poverty rate is 70-90%. If these kids don’t get lunch at the library, they may go hungry, and I hope we all know that it’s hard for hungry kids to play and read and learn and grow.
Finally, finally, finally after years of communicating through email and social media, as well as sending back and forth books and chocolate, I met Tu Books editor Stacy Whitman. She invited me to dinner with Kimberly Reid, author of Perfect Liars – I’m about 2/3 through. It was a delicious dinner, made better by the conversation and company. Kimberly is fun and talkative, and she is married to a Korean man, so we talked about race and family, among other things. Also, her protag’s love interest is a Korean guy. #WootWoot
I was sorry to leave the dinner abruptly, but I had to book it to Booklist & YALSA’s Michael L. Printz Program and reception because my friend Laura Ruby won the Printz Award for Bone Gap! Laura’s acceptance speech was beautiful and funny and honest, just like Laura. I tweeted one of my favorite lines from her speech, a line that many readers and librarians and educators have said, but is worth repeating, because libraries make readers:
— Sarah Park Dahlen (@readingspark) June 25, 2016
Author Anne Ursu was there to support her best friend, and I (re)met Jordan Brown, editor extraordinaire.
The evening ended with cupcakes, smiles, and hugs.
Saturday, June 25
Saturday morning started on a more solemn note than did Friday morning. The Pulse Memorial began at 8 am, with REFORMA and GLBT Roundtable officers reading statements, which were very moving (see also REFORMA’s statement they posted earlier in the week). They were followed by a long moment of silence as the 49 victims’ names scrolled across a screen and a brief speech by Congressman John Lewis, who was already scheduled to join us at ALA to promote his graphic novel, March: Book Three. I followed the #SitIn from last week, and it meant a lot that he was there.
Also… I asked taxi/uber/lyft drivers how they were coping in the aftermath of #PulseOrlando. The first time I asked, our driver said one of the guys he does game night with lost his son. The next driver I asked shared that he lost like 12 people. After that I stopped asking, and just said I hope everyone is doing okay, and we’re glad to be here to support. And I meant it.
The next event on Saturday morning was a poster session with MLIS students Antonio Backman and Chayse Sundt. Our poster was titled “Increasing Diversity in Young Adult Collections: An Urban Public Library Analysis” and is based on research they began in my LIS 7010 Introduction to Library and Information Science class, and which we are extending into a larger project.
The session I attended in the early afternoon was “Finding Yourself on the Shelves: Diversity in Ethnicity and Language for Your Teens.” The content from authors I respect and admire was great but the Q&A needed to be better moderated. One person asked whether putting “multicultural” stickers on books was racist. Um, ma’am, do you have “white” stickers on all your other books? Another said she’d been demanding Muslim books for her 2 boys for years, and why wasn’t the publishing industry listening?
Welcome to our world.
Later, Lee & Low Books Publisher Jason Low and I presented on the 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS). Someone from the ALA Office of Statistics was also supposed to present along with us, but she didn’t show up, and Jason and I had no problem filling the time. Our audience – small though it was – also asked good questions. One new Spectrum Scholar (yay!) asked what s/he could do as a new student, and I told her she had a lot of power – demand diverse curriculum, put pressure on publishers, use social media to get the word out, etc. It meant a lot to me that my student Tasha, former student (Illinois) Amita Lonial, Pat Enciso, and new friend Sam Bloom were all in the audience.
As soon as our session ended, I ran to a different building for The Brown Bookshelf‘s celebration panel. One thing about both the DBS and BBS panel – they were located somewhat inconveniently. And the BBS panel’s room was way too small. It’s the kind of panel that should have been centrally located and better promoted because the work these folks are doing is tremendous. The panelists talked about the history of African American children’s books, issues in the publishing industry, facilitated a Q&A, and ended with a celebration. Unfortunately, I had to leave just as the celebratory part was about to begin.
The APALA awards dinner was held off-site, so I went straight from the BBS panel to meet my APALA friends (and roommates!) for a ride. I couldn’t attend the earlier session, “From Vietnam to Syria: Refugees, Their Stories, and Needs,” which was co-sponsored by APALA, International Relations Roundtable (IRRT), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and REFORMA because it was the same time as the poster session. APALA recently changed their award criteria so that only authors of Asian descent are eligible for the award – this change was welcomed by everyone I spoke with, and I hope we will keep it that way. Because #OwnVoices.
As I was leaving APALA, Justine beckoned me to join her at the WNDB reception, so I went and met some folks who I’ve admired from afar but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet. And – this is becoming a pattern – I was once again in the same room as Sona and Dhonielle and failed to have a copy of their book. Someday I will get their autographs.
Sunday, June 26
If you were at the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast, you know why this was one of the BEST events of ALA.
#JasonReynolds. If you were there you know there is literally nothing else that needs to be said.
— Justin (JP) Chanda (@jpchanda) June 26, 2016
Christian Robinson won an illustrator honor for Last Stop on Market Street, as did R. Gregory Christie for The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (the picture book version of No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson).
One of my favorite quotes: “Don’t get took! Read a book!”
All the acceptance speeches were powerful (how often do you get to hear from Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz?!! and Kekla Magoon!! Also, Rita Williams-Garcia is the BEST – love love love her trilogy and love how she kept dancing on stage!), but it was Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely‘s speeches for All American Boys that had me. Some tweets:
— Miss Fabularian (@MissFabularian) June 26, 2016
— Sarah Park Dahlen (@readingspark) June 26, 2016
— Allie Jane Bruce (@alliejanebruce) June 26, 2016
— Scholastic Club (@ScholasticClub) June 26, 2016
— Allie Jane Bruce (@alliejanebruce) June 26, 2016
From where I was sitting (with Rob Bittner and Kwame Alexander‘s family!) I could see Jason’s mom. He talked about how he was teased for being a boy with feelings, and it wasn’t until his grandfather passed away that he saw tears flow forth from his parents; they just broke open. His mom was weeping nonstop through her son’s speeches. It was beautiful and powerful and wonderful.
[Update – link updated: Edith Campbell just sent me a link to Jason’s speech,”Machetes,” and I am undone all over again.]
One of the best sessions I attended was “Not Your Granny’s Dinner Conversation: Diversity, Race, Sex and Gender,” moderated by friend, librarian, and blogger Edith Campbell and featuring my work BFF Jamie Naidoo, scholar Pat Enciso, publisher Jason Low, and authors and illustrators Dan Santat, Varian Johnson, Kelly Starling Lyons, and Ashley Hope Pérez. Edi had fantastic, thoughtful questions for each person on the panel, so Dan talked about the power of the image, Jamie commented on #PulseOrlando specifically as they relate to both LGBT and Latinx books, Jason spoke about publishing, and Varian, Ashley, and Kelly answered questions regarding diverse books. For example:
— Allie Jane Bruce (@alliejanebruce) June 26, 2016
Remember when Malindo Lo published her fantastic essay, “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews“? We all need to remember:
— Sarah Park Dahlen (@readingspark) June 26, 2016
In response to the notion that social media is creating unsafe spaces for tough conversations, Pat said:
— Angie Manfredi (@misskubelik) June 26, 2016
And she is right. We need to have tough conversations to address tough topics, to dismantle oppression. Oppression isn’t pretty, so there’s no easy way to be polite as we call out racism, sexism, classism, etc. Being polite in Greensboro didn’t work. Being polite on buses didn’t work. Being polite does not keep one alive (see Jesse Williams’ BET speech: “But freedom is somehow always conditional here. ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us, ‘but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.’“)
After the panel, some of us rushed to lunch with Reading While White blogger librarians. It was amazing, and I felt honored to be in that space with allies and friends.
We spent the afternoon celebrating Pura Belpré‘s 20th anniversary, and what a celebration it was! Singers, dancers, writers, artists, readers! It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon.
The evening began with my student Chayse and me attending the University of Illinois iSchool LSAA Annual Meeting and Alumni Reception, which lucky for me was in the same hotel as the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet. A few months ago I found out that I had been nominated for and chosen to receive the LSAA Leadership Award, partly because of the work I did with Lee & Low Books on the 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey. I was extremely humbled to be selected for this award, especially because I know many of my peers are doing very important work in our/their fields. And it was great seeing my professors, friends, and colleagues.
I feel like there isn’t much to say about the Newbery / Caldecott / Wilder Banquet. Matt’s speech was everything, and hardly anyone tweeted during it because we were hanging on to his every word. For example, he said:
I was proud to see the books carve out a real presence in schools with diverse populations. But when I visited the more affluent schools, the private schools, my books were harder to find. Either they were set aside on the “Diverse Books” shelf, or they weren’t there at all. This frustrated me. And why was it so common for me to see a class full of Mexican kids reading The Great Gatsby when I almost never saw a class of white kids reading Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass?
And then he said something that I’ve been mis-attributing!
At one of the big national conferences, a librarian approached me outside an event space and excitedly introduced herself. “I want you to know,” she told me, “that I really like your books. I mean, we don’t have those kinds of kids at our school, so we don’t stock many of them, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your work.”
“No, I totally get it, ma’am,” I said. “Out of curiosity, though, how many wizards do you have at your school?” (Shout-out to Tim Federle!)
I use that wizard and hobbit and vampire line too, but I didn’t know Tim Federle said it first!! I hereby publicly apologize for never attributing the correct source, and promise to do so forever after.
For the second year in a row, I sat with my We Need Diverse Books friends at the Newbery dinner, and Matt gave us and REFORMA a special shoutout. Near the end of his speech, YALSA president Candice Mack ran over to Heawon and me, tears in her eyes, and said she wanted to share this moment with us. #AllTheFeels
I think that’s what Matt wants too. He didn’t believe that there could be room for people like him in publishing, and the work he does breaking down walls makes space for all of us. The Newbery is his, but we share in his win because we all win when one of us wins.
That is one thing I’d like to see more of in the future. It was great that APALA and REFORMA did a joint program. I was really glad to be at The Brown Bookshelf’s panel and the Pura Belpré celebration. But I would also have liked to go to AILA’s award reception and hear Tim Tingle‘s acceptance speech and Joseph Marshall III’s acceptance speeches. I would have liked to see more non-Asians at the APALA awards dinner. I would have liked to see more white people at all of these events. And I would like ALA to make it so that our events don’t overlap, that our events aren’t so prohibitively expensive and inaccessible, to make it easier and more affordable to be members of all ethnic caucuses. Because we have shared struggles, because we can and should learn from and with one another, and because we want to and should celebrate together as well.
[Side note: check out this MPR interview Matt and I did together in February, and the photos from when we hosted Matt and Christian’s Last Stop on Market Street book tour in May.]
Monday, June 27
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the ALA post office is the place to meet nice people. The post office employees got there early to set up boxes and make it easier for us to move through the line. People shared pens, tape, stories. I ran into several friends, most notably Carla Reimer, who headed our YALSA President’s Program task force. We looked at each other’s outfits and laughed; we were both thinking, “I’m relieved to see you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt to our program. It’s the last day of ALA and I am tired.”
After sending 3 boxes of books to my office (shhh… don’t tell my husband how many books I got!), I took one last stroll through the exhibit hall. It was worth it – I picked up an ARC of Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Ashes and had a great conversation with Lerner’s Carol Hinz. I also ran into my student Chayse, who joined me for the rest of the day until I left for the airport.
My last official event was the YALSA President’s Program – 3-2-1 Impact! We had the honor of curating and inviting programs that had influence and impact regarding diversity and inclusion. I was really taken by STeP, which provides life skills for teen moms. They are doing excellent, important work.
After a final lunch with Chayse, Gloria, and Jamie, I went to the ALSC Charlemae Rollins’ President’s Program on library spaces. I got there late, but it was interesting to learn about how the environment affects learning, playing, etc. At least I got to say a final goodbye to Nina Lindsay and some other friends, plus my St. Kate’s students and I took this photo!
And then the airport, I ran into Clara Chu and her partner, my MLIS colleague Tony Molaro, Tu Books Stacy Whitman, Ramsey librarian Anna Haase Kruegger, and RWW blogger and librarian Sam Bloom. It was a lovely way to end the conference. I got home after midnight, but the next day I got my kid to daycare on time and was at work by 9 am. Jason Reynolds said, “If you doing this work, this award is yours too,” so, because there is work to be done, I went to work. Our award is equity. Our award is justice. Our award is freedom. “Clap CLAP.”