the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Leda Schubert and TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 @ 11:02 AM

Welcome Leda Schubert, an alum, emeritus faculty member... and fabulous writer. Leda is the author of ten picture books. She lives in Plainfield, Vermont, with her husband and two much-too-large dogs (one of whom is very annoying).

Leda has an important new picture book, TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON and she's here at the LaunchPad to tell us all about it.

 

trailblazer-9781499805925_lg

 

"All Raven Wilkinson wanted to do was dance. On Raven's ninth birthday, her uncle gifted her with ballet lessons, and she completely fell in love with the craft. While she was a student at Columbia University, Raven auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was finally accepted on her third try, even after being told she couldn't dance with the troupe because of her skin color. She encountered racism in her travels while on tour, but the applause, along with the opportunity to dance, made all the hardship worth it. She would later dance for royalty with the Dutch National Ballet, and she regularly performed with the New York City Opera until she was fifty.

This beautiful picture book tells the uplifting story of the first African American ballerina to ever dance with a major American touring troupe and how she became a huge inspiration for the pioneering ballet dancer Misty Copeland."

Welcome, Leda!

 

images-1

 

What was the spark that ignited this book?  I learned about Raven when Montpelier's Green Mountain Film Festival screened "Ballets Russes," a terrific documentary about the company Raven danced with in the 1950s. The clip about her was quite short, but it grabbed me just as the story behind Ballet of the Elephants did a decade ago. So I wrote her a letter  (actual snail mail, and she still doesn't use a computer), she responded, and I left Vermont (the horror!) to meet her in New York. That first conversation led to many phone calls and this book, which I revised too many times to count.

 

trailblazer-9781499805925.in07

 

The best part was getting to know Raven Wilkinson. She is extraordinary person: compassionate, graceful, gracious, funny, smart, thoughtful, and more. There's an advantage to writing a picture book biography about a living person! Because of the book, she's been interviewed here and there, and that makes me very happy. She deserves all the attention.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

For years I was a member of a very small critique group; then another one. Now I am not, and I really miss it. The VCFA workshop model--as both student and faculty--was a huge part of my life.  I'm not as interested in the potential of an online critique group, because it's the face-to-face give-and-take that worked best for me. So I have no first readers other than my very useful husband, who is incredibly patient. I don't do twitter. Life is too short, and I'm already overdosing on political news these days.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?When I entered the program, I had published two early readers with Candlewick. When I left, I had a picture book contract for a manuscript I worked on during the program. Within a few months, I had the next contract for something I wrote after graduation. I'm convinced neither would have happened without the depth of learning the program offers. In my journal from when I was 17, I wrote that all I wanted was to live in Vermont and write children's books. The first I achieved all by myself in my early 20s. The second I achieved through the help of faculty and students in the program. Too bad there was such a long gap in between, ha.

TRAILBLAZER is published by little bee books. You can buy a copy at any bookstore and learn more about all of Leda's books--and the amazing class she'll be teaching at the Highlights Foundation-- at www.ledaschubert.com.

 

Topics: nonfiction, picture book biography, Leda Schubert, 2018 release

Sharon Darrow & Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life

Posted by sharon darrow on Wed, Feb 07, 2018 @ 09:02 AM

Welcome our own Sharon Darrow to the Launchpad! Out January 1st from Pudding Hill Press, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life.

Sharon Darrow brings her experience in writing for children, young adults, and adults to these lessons taken from lectures she presented during twenty years of teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sharon graduated from VCFA’s MFA in Writing in July 1996.

What was the most difficult element to change during the revision process?sharon darrow book.jpg

Most of these chapters began as lectures for VCFA residencies. I had written them to present in my natural voice and to an audience of students working in a rigorous academic program toward the MFA degree. The revision process was meant to change spoken lectures into written essays that would be easier to read and yet still retain something of my spoken voice. That meant cutting parts, reworking sentences for clarity and concision, and making sure that the book could appeal to a wider audience of writers than just those listeners sitting in Chapel Hall already familiar with me, with VCFA, and with some of our unique VCFA-WCYA jargon.

 What was the spark that ignited this book?

I suppose it was partly my love for thinking and talking about writing, especially writing for young readers. As I was coming to the end of my teaching career at VCFA, I felt the need to do a kind of review of where I had been, what I had been thinking about, and what I had discovered during those twenty years. It is so hard to leave this job I’ve loved so very much, and this book seemed to be a way to end with a flourish, I guess. I also wanted to find a way to give back, at least in my own small way, not just with the lectures, but also in a monetary way. I intend to donate a portion of my profits from this book to VCFA-WCYA scholarship funds. When I entered Vermont College, I had no idea how much my life would change. Now, looking back over those two years of intense study in writing, then coming to help start the new program and seeing it grow, seeing us become a strong self-sufficient Fine Arts college, and watching countless students’ lives grow and change, I am so proud. Now, I have a very strong and satisfying sense of accomplishment in finishing that long and exciting chapter of my life.

What’s your writing superpower?

Superpower, huh? I’m not sure how super it is, but ever since I began writing I have told myself that I have an “idiotic faith” in my life in writing. At first, “idiotic faith” meant I believed that if I worked hard enough, built a strong writing process, learned as much as I could, and never stopped learning, I would eventually see my work published. That took many years, but it did turn out to happen. I suppose I thought of that kind of faith as idiotic because there was no evidence that I’d achieve the hoped for outcome. I simply decided that if it were idiotic, then that’s what I’d be. I’d believe and work and surrender to the outcome, wherever it took me.

 Later, as a teacher, I found that “idiotic faith” I’d applied to myself transferred to my students. I believed in them, in their stories, and in their dedication to what was deep inside them, driving them to aim for excellence. I knew they could become stronger and stronger writers, and, eventually, authors of wonderful and important books, stories, essays, and poems.

 Now, that faith seems far less idiotic as I’ve seen it fulfilled in my life and in my students’ lives and work. Now, my superpower is hope for my writing future and a not-so-idiotic faith that I will keep learning and growing through story for the rest of my life.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It changed my life completely, gave me new purpose and a new career, new friends, new characters, and new stories—a whole new world. I also started writing poetry, probably the biggest effect of the program on my life and writing. Not to mention, a whole new place to live! I moved from Chicago to Vermont in 2005 and never looked back.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

Teaching has opened new ways of thinking and being in the world for me. It has made me more empathetic and made me more decisive about my opinions on aspects of life and writing. A drawback has been that I’ve spent a lot of my writing energy on other people’s stories and have ignored my own at times, but that may be due more to my own distractibility and tendency to procrastination than anything. I have awakened many nights thinking about my students’ stories instead of my own, but looking back, I have no regrets about that. To have been a part of life-changing experiences in my students’ lives, similar to those my teachers fostered in me, is one of the most satisfying achievements of my life.sharon darrow.jpg

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

The answer to both of these questions is the same: Do not be afraid! Be excited, be thrilled, but put away any fear. If you have been accepted, then you can believe you belong here. Come with open mind and heart, and meet a whole multitude of new best friends, companions on your writing journey.

Work hard and have faith!

 

Topics: 2018 release, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life, sharon darrow

Eric Pinder and THE PERFECT PILLOW!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Feb 06, 2018 @ 08:02 AM

Hey . . . hey, wake up. I know you're all snuggly and comfy, but just wait until you hear about Eric Pinder's new picture book, The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban and out now from Disney-Hyperion!

Perfect Pillow cover.jpg

Brody is having trouble getting to sleep in his big new bed, so with his stuffed dragon, Horst, by his side, he sets off to find the perfect pillow. Would dry leaves or a cottony cloud make the right pillow? Would a nest to share or a gently rocking boat make a more comfortable bed? Brody and Horst search through the moonlit night to find the ideal spot for peaceful sleep, and together they find the best place of all.

Welcome back, Eric! So, we're wondering . . .

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

A stuffed dragon! Or maybe a friendly little Lego dragon. After writing so much about bears, it was fun to switch gears to dragons.

People do like stuffed animals. My two animal assistants for elementary school visits, an alligator and a penguin, occasionally show up for my undergraduate college classes as well, if I’m teaching Writing for Children. One student, glancing into the room before class, exclaimed, “You brought an alligator!? NOW I’m excited for class.” Minutes later, an elementary school librarian emailed to request an author visit, adding, “Please bring your green alligator!” Wait a minute… It’s a humbling career moment when you suddenly realize you’re actually the stuffed animal’s sidekick.

Penguin in class.jpgEric's penguin assistant, Ice President Aaron Brrr, audits a class.

How does teaching affect your writing life?

A student once turned in a chapter that was completely different from the one I'd assigned, because her story had abruptly gone off in an unexpected direction. She seemed half-apologetic, half-excited by the creative breakthrough, and said, “The only way I can really explain this plot twist is that my characters have been talking behind my back, and only recently decided to tell me.”

Moments like that are why I love teaching.

More writing does get done during summer vacation than during the school year, because it takes a lot of mental energy to closely read and edit other people’s creative work. (I keep forgetting: every time I assign the class one paper, I’m really assigning myself a dozen papers.) But it’s a thrill to see students discover new authors or explore new interests, and to hear about their first publications. When you’re in an environment where everyone’s talking daily about books and ideas and creative projects, it’s impossible not to feel inspired. The best way to learn is to teach.

tsar wars.jpgTsar Wars, Episode IV: A New Syllabus. Sometimes this is what it's like preparing the syllabus for a college-level World Literature course. But as long as these books get used in class, this totally doesn't count as procrastination.

How do you approach picture books versus nonfiction essays? Is there anything about your approach to these two different kinds of projects that's the same?

With picture books, my first drafts tend to be handwritten on paper, with lots of cross-outs and scribbles and lines connecting this part to that part. Somehow it makes it easier to let the shape of the story fully take form. But essays and longer prose always start out being typed up on the computer.

The thing that’s the same is how long they take. I’m a painfully slow writer, whether writing picture books or nonfiction articles or shopping lists. What I like best about picture books, and poetry, is having fun with how words sound read aloud. It’s like using the language as a musical instrument.

I just wish I could do it faster. It shouldn’t be possible for a daily writing session to finish with a total new word count of one. Just one. But it’s happened. And at least my story-in-progress now contains the word “swoosh.”

I'd call that a success! What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Just being at the residency, surrounded by people who love to talk about books, always provides inspiration. Even little moments can spark new stories. I remember the night a bat invaded the Dewey dorms. I never even saw it, just heard the clamor and excitement afterward, and at some point jotted down this little rhyme in the margins of my lecture notes:

A bat! A bat! It flew inside.
Its teeth were sharp. Its wings were wide.
It swooped and soared above our heads.
We had to hide beneath our beds.
A bat! A bat! It stayed all night.
…at least it gave us things to write.

Who was it who said, “Bad experiences make good stories”? They were right. So I guess that’s not a favorite memory, exactly, but still an unexpectedly inspiring one.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the bonus bat poetry! Welcome to the world of dreams, The Perfect Pillow!

Eric Pinder still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In the meantime, you can often find him riding his bike or hanging out with bears in New Hampshire. Eric's books for children include If All the Animals Came Inside and How to Share with a Bear, and he has also written several books about mountains and weather for adults. He teaches creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Visit Eric online at ericpinder.com, follow him on Twitter (EricPinder) and find him on Facebook (EricPinderBooks).

class visit.jpgAdi, Eric, and NHIA Administrative Director of Graduate Studies Beth Ann Miller excited about writing and learning during a classroom visit.

 

Topics: eric pinder, picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2018 release, chris sheban

Latest Posts

Posts by category

Subscribe to the Blog

WCYA AUTHOR BOOK RELEASES

  • CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE
    CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE
  • THE COLOR OF MY WORDS
    THE COLOR OF MY WORDS
  • Purple Nails and Puppy Tails
    Purple Nails and Puppy Tails
  • Petal and Poppy
    Petal and Poppy
  • Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
    Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
  • Mogie: The Heart of the House
    Mogie: The Heart of the House
  • Map Art Lab
    Map Art Lab
  • Makeover Magic
    Makeover Magic
  • The Life of Ty
    The Life of Ty
  • Jubilee!
    Jubilee!
  • Jack the Castaway
    Jack the Castaway
  • Hope Is a Ferris Wheel
    Hope Is a Ferris Wheel
  • Tap Tap Boom Boom
    Tap Tap Boom Boom
  • Skin and Bones
    Skin and Bones
  • Signed, Skype Harper
    Signed, Skype Harper
  • Revolution
    Revolution
  • Read, Write, and Recite Free Verse Poetry
    Read, Write, and Recite Free Verse Poetry
  • A Girl Called Fearless
    A Girl Called Fearless
  • All That Glitters
    All That Glitters
  • The Art of Goodbye
    The Art of Goodbye
  • Blue Iguana
    Blue Iguana
  • Caminar
    Caminar
  • Chasing the Milky Way
    Chasing the Milky Way
  • The Devil's Temptation
    The Devil's Temptation
  • Divided We Fall
    Divided We Fall
  • Follow Your Heart
    Follow Your Heart
  • Grandfather Gandhi
    Grandfather Gandhi
  • Strange Sweet Song
    Strange Sweet Song

Share your news

ALUMNI FACULTY CURRENT STUDENTS

Follow us