This past August, I attended my first national conference for the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. I have attended other regional conferences in the past such as the Oakland Conference once, and the Spring Spirit several times—which I also had the honor of being faculty on in 2016. So I was no stranger to conferences. But even with that said, the SCBWI LA Conference was more than I could have ever expected.
I want to put you in the mindset of what it was like by asking you this: Have you ever run a race—like a marathon, a 5K, or a cross-country race—and when you get near the finish line, there are lines and lines of people smiling and cheering you on, urging you to finish? And even though those people might be complete strangers, they yell for you, encourage you, and sometimes high-five or embrace you when you’ve crossed the line? And you feel this overwhelming joy and excitement and pride as you trudge forward?
This is how it felt to be at the SCBWI conference.
Even though writing for children and getting published is not easy, I was surrounded by countless individuals who smiled excitedly and encouraged one another, and I did the same. It was completely symbiotic, as if we were all running the race and cheering each other on all at the same time.
It started from the moment I stepped into the massive lobby of the Biltmore Millennium hotel on registration morning, the walls bouncing with voices of enthused writers and illustrators and lovers of children’s literature. The elation there was palpable. And I continued to feel it with each workshop, event, and encounter I experienced. Like the workshop for first-timers where we drew birds on our nametags in order to be able to identify other newbies in the crowd. It was here where I met a new friend, Aneeka, who I still keep in touch with now. Or like every time Lin Oliver addressed the crowd making us laugh and think and feel. Or each keynote speaker who shared their experiences and filled us with words of inspiration such as when Pam Munoz Ryan said “be contentious, unacceptable, and dangerous.” Or when Jon Klassen so eloquently described how his own art grew from the things he did well while getting better at the things he didn’t do so well, and then he gave us exceptional and meaningful examples from Pixar. Or the tear-jerking life story shared by Ellen Hopkins and some of the struggles she endured, which led to authentic books embraced by readers everywhere. And I certainly cannot fail to mention the inimitable swag that is Richard Peck.
So. Much. Good. Stuff.
As I sat in the crowd, I took countless notes, trying to capture as many morsels of knowledge from these Giants-In-Our-Field as I could. And with the jam-packed schedule (dinners, face-to-face editor critiques, happy hours, book sales, autograph sessions, lunch dates, award banquets, intensives, etc, etc. etc.), there was never a dull moment—and that’s not even including the time I spent fiercely attempting to avoid of any ghosts known to walk the halls of the Biltmore.
Upon the conference’s completion, I left feeling inspired, exhausted, motivated, and with a sense of duty. Duty to continue to write strong, well-executed stories that I can share with children and make them fall in love with reading and good writing like I have and like all the other lovely souls I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference.
So to use one word to describe my first SCBWI LA conference as succinctly as possible: Golden.
It was truly such a valuable, memorable, and fantastic experience. I look forward to the next time I get a chance to attend this conference, and I can’t wait until the day where I too will be able to grace the podium as a faculty to share my own knowledge with budding and bona fide writers in the future.
JaNay Brown-Wood is an Early Childhood Education professor at American River College and the author of the award-winning picture book Imani’s Moon. She is a frequent speaker and presenter and enjoys promoting literacy for kids. She is also the proud owner of two red-eared slider turtles, both of whom she calls “Bubba.” Her second picture book, Grandma’s Tiny House, will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing in the Fall of 2017.