Nice to be here, Dionna!
Do tell a little about the Kweli conference, and how you found your way onto the planning committee.
Kweli--The Color of Children’s Literature Conference--is a wonderful day-long kidlit writers and illustrators event (with optional Masterclasses on Friday). This year it will be held Saturday, April 6, 2019, at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In 2014, after reading author Walter Deans Myers op-ed piece "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?", Laura Pegram, editor-and-chief of the Kweli Journal and Kweli conference founder, decided to create an event that is exclusively for Indigenous people and persons of color who were writers and illustrators. As she puts it, “we honor Walter Dean Myers' legacy with a conference that celebrates and supports our voices, our stories, our truth.”
In 2016, I stumbled across a post for an upcoming Kweli conference that was happening that weekend. I didn’t do much thinking, I just sent an email to inquire if walk-ins where permitted and once I got a "yes" back, I booked a train ticket. There was no way I was going to miss it! I had never been to a children’s writing conference where Indigenous and persons of color were the majority. It was a wonderfully refreshing experience to see and hear from creatives who had many of the same concerns as I do. But it wasn’t just about the struggles. Kweli is also a celebration of our many successes. After that first year, I was hooked and about a year later, when Laura asked if I was interested in becoming involved, I was honored to be a part of it all.
What do you love about working behind the Kweli scenes, creating a lineup that is both rich culturally and holds promise of a real educational experience for attendees?
I go to a number of conferences and retreats and it’s nice to create programming that I hope to see. Also, I love that Kweli is a good mix of new and established voices.
Kweli is a very unique experience. I will never forget the welcome I received during my first conference. It’s hard to explain, but when you are used to being one of the only people of color in a room, it was nice to see and meet so many other POC creatives in one space. They were doing so many amazing things in their work and were just as curious and eager as I was to learn more about craft and the business-side of writing.
May people from any background, not just persons of color, attend the conference?
Kweli is a conference exclusively for Indigenous and POC creatives. It’s an opportunity for this community to come together to speak about issues and concerns that are unique to our experiences as well as general discussions on craft and the ins and outs of publishing. Kweli’s aim is not to exclude, so the organization does offer a literary festival during the summer that is open to anyone interested in attending.
What is the process for a published author or illustrator who would like to be considered for the Kweli faculty?
At the moment, the planning committee creates most of the sessions offered, reaching out to people we feel will work best for each panel or session. Since we want to highlight newer voices on the publishing side of the table as well, we often get recommendations from IPOC editorial assistants, designers, or marketing experts. Everyone, especially Laura, does a pretty good job of knowing which authors and illustrators are coming out with new work that can be highlighted each year.
Raised in Andover, Massachusetts, Leah has fond memories of getting up to all kinds of shenanigans that often made for great tall tales told late into the night. Growing up in a family of curious travelers, she has always known where there is adventure, there is story. Through seeing the world, Leah has witnessed the richness that can be found within everyone’s individual story. That is why writing the world she sees is so vitally important to her. These days, when she’s not off exploring, you can find her writing, laughing, or playing soccer at midnight with her dog, Boston, in Washington, D.C. Learn more about her and her books at leahhendersonbooks.com.