Here are some highlights from my trip down to New Orleans for ALA Annual (June 21st- June 26th). This was my first ALA Annual Conference and it was absolutely invigorating. Not only did I get to meet many authors and illustrators, I was able to catch up with friends doing crucial diversity, equity and social justice work in libraries and schools across the country. In many ways, it was a chance to re-charge and get inspiration for the work I do at home in Cincinnati.
On the first day, I got up early and waited in line for opening speaker Michelle Obama with my roommates Kazia and Stacy (<3). Though we waited in line for five hours, we had a fun time talking, exploring the massive Morial Convention Center and relaxing. Carla Hayden, our Librarian of Congress, walked by our line and everyone freaked out. It was surreal being in the same room as our Former First Lady AND our Librarian of Congress, two powerful and intelligent Black women. Before Michelle came out to speak, talented young musicians from Trombone Shorty’s foundation came on stage and performed for us and soon after, Trombone Shorty joined them. That was a really special way to welcome us to the city.
My panel on Saturday morning was amazing. Thank you to everyone who attended Native YA Today: Contemporary Indigenous Voices and Heroes for the 21st Century and Beyond. I had so much fun moderating that discussion. We worked really hard to bring a stellar panel of Native YA authors to ALA. Thank you Cynthia Leitich Smith (Hearts Unbroken), Dawn Quigley (Apple in the Middle), Joseph Bruchac (Two Roads) and Eric Gansworth (Give Me Some Truth). Though Eric was not able to join us due to unforeseen circumstances, educator and librarian Dr. Debbie Reese kindly stepped in and read a prepared statement from Eric along with an excerpt of his new book. In our panel, I asked the authors to discuss their process, inspirations and what they hope Native teens, and teens in general, will take away from their books. We also had a special surprise for Joseph Bruchac! We presented him with a gorgeous wool blanket from Native-owned company 8th Generation. We honored him for his contribution to children’s literature (over 130 books!) and for the impact he has had on countless Native writers. It was such a privilege and honor to work with these talented authors. Please be sure to check out our Native YA Reading List here.
After my panel, I attended another great panel featuring my ALA-roommate Stacy Collins & Nicole Cooke among others, titled Bullying, Trolling, and Doxxing, Oh My! Protecting our Advocacy and Public Discourse around Diversity and Social Justice. Later in the afternoon, I went to the panel Let’s Talk About Race with Kids: Library Programs and Activities that support Parents, Caregivers, and Educators in Talking to Young People about Race which featured author Renée Watson and librarians Kirby McCurtis, Allie Jane Bruce and moderator/librarian Meredith Steiner. It was amazing to hear the race work these women are doing with children and families in their communities.
In a moment of good luck, I was pulled into the ALSC Board Meeting where the historic vote to change the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award took place. I got to witness the decision to change the name to The Children’s Literature Legacy Award and I am so grateful for all the work the Task Force and Board put into making that important change, a change that respects ALL CHILDREN. Saturday evening, I attended a reception honoring the great Eloise Greenfield (and thanked her for books that affirmed my black childhood, like Honey, I Love) and had dinner with Ed Spicer, who invited me to a swanky Simon & Schuster Dessert Party dripping with famous authors & illustrators.
SUNDAY WAS AMAZING & BUSY. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast is hands down, the best awards event at ALA. I got the privilege to sit at the #DiversityJedi table with friends like Ebony Thomas, Edi Campbell, Elisa Gall, Zetta Elliott, Allie Jane Bruce and Debbie Reese. The sense of community and warmth in the room was powerful. We began the morning with Lift Every Voice and Sing and prayer and the speeches from all the winners were poignant, hilarious and thoughtful. Jason Reynold’s speech about “seasoning the skillet” and Ekua Holmes, Renée Watson and Angie Thomas’ speeches stayed with me throughout the day.
After breakfast, I went to Candlewick’s lunch for Cynthia Leitich Smith at the delicious Calcasieu Restaurant (thank you for the invite, Candlewick and congrats Cynthia! <3) and left a little early to make it to the tail-end of the Pura Belpré Celebración. The Pura Belpré Celebración was a wonderful space full of vibrant energy. I highly recommend you attend this awards ceremony at ALA. They even had Pura Belpré papel picado (all about the details) and little kids dancing! Later in the evening, I attended the Kirkus Reviews Happy Hour (thanks for the drinks, Kirkus!) and then headed to the main event, the Newbery/Caldecott/LEGACY Banquet, which was very fancy and moving. Matthew Cordell, Erin Entrada Kelly and Jacqueline Woodson gave wonderful (and funny) speeches. Thank you to Paula Holmes for inviting me to sit at your table. ❤ After the banquet, we had the opportunity to join a receiving line to say few words to committee members, board members and the award winners themselves.
Monday was a much needed cool-down day that started in the best way, breakfast with the great & kind Ekua Holmes. I had to dash to a meeting with my Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within ALSC Task Force members (cool things coming soon, y’all!) and afterwords I made a final stroll around the Exhibits Hall to snag a few more books. In the afternoon, I headed to the powerhouse-panel, the ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program: Considering All Children: A New Ideal in Evaluating and Engaging around Books for Youth program featuring Dr. Ebony Thomas, Dr. Debbie Reese, Jason Reynolds, Margarita Engle and moderated by Edi Campbell. This panel was FIRE. There was much healthy discussion about the Wilder Award name-change just two days before and lots of real moments about WHY they write and advocate for Indigenous children and children of color. Every person on that panel does the work, for all children and I was glad to be in that room.
After the panel, I had lunch with friends/bad-ass librarians Edi Campbell and Sujei Lugo Vázquez and then we headed to Louis Armstrong Park to see Congo Square. Congo Square was the one place I really wanted to see on my trip to New Orleans and I’m so happy that we made time to visit. I first learned about Congo Square from reading Carole Boston Weatherford & R. Gregory Christie’s picture book Freedom in Congo Square. Congo Square was the one space in New Orleans where slaves could dance, sing, sell their goods and have a slice of freedom during slavery. Jazz and blues were born out of this space. After resting and talking a while in Congo Square, we moseyed through the French Quarter, enjoying each other’s company. The French Quarter’s architecture is stunning. Sujei and Edi had to head off to a dinner, so I wandered through French Market and stopped to try the famous Café du Monde beignets.
Tuesday, my final day in New Orleans, began with breakfast with Sujei and then we headed to see Viola Davis, the closing speaker for the conference. Viola was so honest, friendly and passionate! After her talk, I ran into my librarian friend Christina who told me about a black owned bookstore in New Orleans called The Community Book Center. So…naturally, I hopped in a car to go see it for myself! What a GREAT space it is! The Community Book Center has been in operation for almost 35 years and is a pillar of the community. Located on Bayou Rd in 7th Ward, the bookstore is a very comfortable and well-curated space dedicated to black books. Their selection is very good; I admired their kids books and had a lovely time getting to know the owner Vera (Hey Vera!). Be sure to visit The Community Book Center on your next trip to New Orleans. A few doors down was another black-female-owned business, CocoNut, a Caribbean restaurant where I got a quick bite to eat (a Jerk Chicken Po’ boy and Pineapple Cane Juice, yum!) before heading back to my hotel to catch my shuttle to the airport.
New Orleans, you were so good to me! ALA, thank you for putting together a STELLAR conference. It was exactly what I needed to be inspired and encouraged to keep doing the work of providing kids, families and educators with quality books that feature children from all backgrounds & experiences. Thank you!
P.S. At this conference, off the top of my head, I got to meet/hang out/catch up with: Renée Watson, Jackie Woodson, S.K. Ali, Raúl Colón, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Dawn Quigley, Joseph Bruchac, Nnedi Okorafor, David Bowles, Jason Reynolds, Ekua Holmes, Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James, James Ransome, Frank Morrison, John Parra, Celia Perez, Juana Martinez-Neal, Alyssa Cole, Yuyi Morales, Eloise Greenfield, Erin Entrada Kelly, Matthew Cordell, Jason Chin, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul, Salina Yoon, Jorge Argueta, Meg Medina, Christian Robinson, Thi Bui, Bao Phi, Rafael López and more! Dang…