Earlier this year, I submitted three applications to the Mississippi Arts Commission. One was for a fellowship in the literary arts. This year’s literary fellowship categories were creative nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting. My submission was in the creative nonfiction category.
Last week, I sat in the room while an independent review panel discussed this year’s eight fellowship applications. Before the meeting, each panelist had read for each application a 15-20 page work sample and an artist’s statement (with all identifying information removed).
Besides me, two other applicants came to listen to the panel.
The panelists were identified by name cards on the conference table. I knew two of them from their work in the arts community. Two others were new to me.
It was very strange to listen to my writing being talked about in that setting. Because my work-in-progress is a memoir, the panelists did at least have the luxury of using the pronoun “she” when they wanted to speak about the author, namely, me. From the discussion, I learned that other applicants’ work samples ranged from a literary cookbook to a play to newspaper column-style family reminiscences.
I kept imagining that the panelists could tell it was my work they were discussing. I was sure it showed on my face. All three of us observers took notes during the entire discussion, but I wrote more assiduously when they were discussing my work.
It was interesting to hear how the opinions of the panelists were in some cases diametrically opposed. “Unique and interesting” versus “Didn’t see the originality.”
Though it was a strange experience, I think all artists should take any opportunity to listen in on this kind of discussion. Perhaps most importantly, the process allows you to see how effective (or not) you are at conveying your goals and at displaying the expertise to carry out those goals. For example, in at least one case, a writer, in his/her artistic statement, proposed a biography, but the work samples were unrelated to the biography project.
At the end of a brief discussion, panelists were asked to give each application a series of numerical scores, based on certain criteria (originality and vision of the work; technical skill and mastery of the artistic discipline).
Observers were not allowed to see scores. We were asked to leave before the panel had its final discussion. In my past experience with arts commission panels (when I wrote project grants for schools and nonprofit organizations), this final discussion is where the panel’s ultimate preferences are revealed. (Observers used to be able to stay in the room for these discussions. I’m not sure when/why the change was made.)
I will have to wait until July to learn whether I will get a fellowship. The panel’s recommendations go to the Mississsippi Arts Commission‘s governing board, which meets in June.
The Not-Blind Part
The other two applications I submitted to the arts commission this year were for its artist rosters. I have been on the artist roster for the literary arts for three years and it was time for me to re-apply. In addition, I applied for the first time to join the teaching artist roster.
My application to be included on the artist roster for the literary arts went for review to the same panel that reviewed the fellowship applications. In this case, however, the panelists knew my name, saw my resume, my marketing materials, my work samples, and a list of the presentations and signings I’ve done in the last three years. I could tell from the comments by panelists that all of them supported my application to be on the roster.
The story was largely the same for the teaching artist application, though it went before a different panel. During the discussion, several panelists said they wished they had more information on which to base their recommendation. Some suggested the application requirements should be amended to include examples of student work. I would have loved to have shared my students’ work. You can see some of it here and here.
Another interesting aspect of the discussion was something I’ve struggled with over my years of trying to make the most of the resources available from the Mississippi Arts Commission. In order to apply for individual support (fellowship or grant) or to appear on rosters, an applicant must chose a particular art form. So, though I am equal parts writer and photographer in the creation of nonfiction picture books for children, I must choose for the purposes of each application whether to apply as a literary artist (writer) or as a visual artist (photographer). The rules about work samples make it hard to show my picture book work — because I am limited to typed manuscript pages on the literary arts side and photographs on the visual arts side.
I wonder if the panelists are allowed to and/or encouraged to look at the online materials of the applicants for rosters. I have so much information available on my website and on this blog that could have filled in some of the information panelists seemed to be seeking.
Have any of you blog readers experienced a similar “blind” review process? What was it like?
Chris Barton, pictured here at his signing table at Barnes & Noble, gave a wonderful talk on how important libraries and librarians have been to his writing. I am certain that if my sons were still young, I would know the text of Shark vs. Train by heart. And, one of them might have learned to read on it. Another cool fact about Chris is that he’s working on a PB biography of JR Lynch.
I think every one of us in the room wanted to be a student in one of Phil Bildner’s classes. He told us stories about teaching reading and writing through song lyrics from his favorite songs. When his students wrote to the band, Blues Traveler, one thing led to another until the lead vocalist and harmonica player was in his 4th floor classroom bawling his eyes out as Bildner’s students sang his song.
“I had a little big of an MTV unplugged thing going on.” Others included: the Fugees, Dave Matthews, and The Bare Naked Ladies.
Carmen Agra Deedy had us all in stitches as she related a story about her fifth grade year in a Georgia school without many other “foreigners.” My kids enjoyed her book, The Library Dragon.
I attended a fascinating presentation on the work of Berta and Elmer Hader, a husband and wife team who won a Caldecott in 1949 for The Big Snow. The presentation was by Joy Hoerner Rich, the Hader’s niece (pictured on the right), and Karen Tolley. An exhibit of the Hader’s work is on display at the deGrummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.
I attended a presentation by Dr. Carol Doll (pictured above in the cap that helps her avoid migraine headaches) and Kasey Garrison on identifying excellence in informational books for children. They used the measures of excellence as identified by the Robert F. Sibert Medal given by the American Library Association. Dr. Doll served on the 2011 committee. For each area of excellence (language, visual presentation, etc.), Doll and Garrison identified two examples, one good and one bad. I was chuffed to see that Growing Patterns was listed as a good example of the visual design.
Another interesting thing Doll and Garrison talked about was LUCY, a database and center for professional development that focuses on multicultural books published for children. The definition for multicultural is very broad. Read more about LUCY here. Some categories include: Africa, Racially Mixed, Middle East, Central America, and Faiths & Religious Beliefs. It looks like a very useful tool.
I visited briefly with Kalpana Saxena, a librarian from New Orleans, at Barnes & Noble and she told me a great story about how her nephew loves the Wolfsnail book she bought a few years ago and that he makes up his own stories about wolfsnails. I love it.
Here I am with Irene Latham, author of Leaving Gee’s Bend. She was among the bevy of lefties (others being Roger Sutton & Chris Barton) I sat among while signing at Barnes & Noble. Isn’t this a wonderful quilt? A school librarian made it from strips of fabric brought it by students before one of Irene’s school visits. Very cool!
My semiannual royalty statement came this week and it included an entry I didn’t understand. When I checked on it, I found out that Boyds Mills Press has contracted with a company in China that wishes to publish Wolfsnail in the Chinese market. In this pay period, I received a modest advance against (hoped for) future royalties. This will be interesting. I hope I will see a Chinese copy someday.
Speaking of the royalty statement, I am pleased with the fact that both books continue to sell. After nearly a year on the market, Growing Patterns remains well behind Wolfsnail in lifetime sales, but, if Amazon’s numbers from book scan (in Author Central data – NOT sales rank) are to be believed, Growing Patterns is outselling Wolfsnail this Spring.
More Thank You Notes
When I was California earlier this year, I visited Liz Woodward’s fourth grade class at the International Community School. You can read about the visit here. These are some of the thank you notes I got from the students.
“Thank you for teaching us about the wolfsnails. Thank you for expeachly teaching us the Fibonacci numbers. They come from nature. Thank you for giving me advice for writing a book. Althoo I’m not the greatest neat writer I want this thank you letter to touch your heart.”
It did, Hector.
The highlight of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is typically the speech given by the winner of The University Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. This year’s award went to T.A. Barron, the author of 30 plus books. You can read a transcript of his speech here.
In addition to his writing, Barron has created a prize to highlight the heroic work undertaken by teenagers. Read more here.
During his speech, Mr. Barron recognized his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. Later in the day, she engaged in an interesting back-and-forth with Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book. When Gauch prevailed upon the librarians gathered in the room to keep standards up. He replied: “But it’s you people (editors) who need to stop those (poor quality books), not us!” Gauch is retired, but noted such terrible manuscripts never got by her.
Another of my favorite Sutton quotes: “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books. But they can be led to others.” Led carefully, however. “In my fantasy library, no librarian ever says to me ‘if you like this, let me give you a good book.’ ”
This is David Diaz, a Caldecott-winning illustrator. He gave us a look at his process during one lunch session.
Later the same day, Diaz spoke at Oddfellows Gallery in Downtown Hattiesburg about Golden Kite Golden Dreams, an exhibit of original art from award-winning children’s book illustrations.
The Southern Breeze region of SCBWI partnered with USM, the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and Oddfellows Gallery to bring the exhibit to Hattiesburg. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger (pictured above) are co-regional advisers for Southern Breeze.
‘Tis the season to be writing proposals. I’ve participated and presented at enough national conferences to have gotten a taste for it. It seems that one national conference a year is about what I can manage while I still have three boys at home. Having done the American Library Association annual conference in 2009, the International Reading Association conference in 2010, and the National Science Teachers Association convention in 2011, I’ve decided to shoot for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in 2012. The deadline is at the beginning of next month.
Thusfar, I’ve checked whether my editor is interested. Yes, he is. Whether the publisher will sponsor the trip is still an open question, but his interest is enough for me to write the proposal. (Boyds Mills Press has been great about supporting my marketing efforts at national conventions.) I checked with three math teachers (starting with the math coach at my sons’ middle school, going next to the Algebra I teacher at the same school, and, finally, pairing up with a second grade teacher at my sons’ old elementary school).
The NCTM website has the information for submitting proposals here. The conference title is: Technology and Mathematics: Get Connected! I haven’t finished writing my proposal yet, but I plan to build it around using digital photography in elementary classrooms to teach math concepts. I am very excited to be working again with Beth West, a second grade teacher at Davis Magnet Elementary School. We’ve done Davis on the Map together twice and her students were early readers of (and helpful commenters on) Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.
Great Idea for Summer Reading: One Jackson, Many Readers
As always, I had a wonderful three days at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg. In today’s post I’ll just talk about my session: “It’s a Snap!” I talked about ways to use digital photography to get kids excited about reading, writing, books in general, and nature.
I very much appreciate the help I got from CBF ambassador Sarah M. Walsh, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She took the photographs during my session and helped with set-up and take down.
If you were in the session and you want to share some of the photographs you took with your camera, please contact me via email here.
The marketing director at Boyds Mills Press forwarded the news today that Growing Patterns is in The Bank Street College’s 2011 edition of The Best Children’s Books of the Year. It is so very nice to be included.
On Wednesday, I begin three days in Hattiesburg for The Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. On the first day, I will present a workshop titled, “It’s a Snap!” It is designed to help librarians and teachers use digital photography to get kids excited about reading, writing, and books.
Each of the three days, I will sign books at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the USM campus.
I always get to see good friends who are librarians, writers, and teachers. I look forward to this festival all year. I’ll take lots of pictures!