Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The LGBTQ Q&A sessions at SCBWI's Twice-Annual International Conferences - A Resource And Community For Writing (and Illustrating) LGBTQ Characters & Themes For Kids, Tweens and Teens

It started in 2007, after Ellen Wittlinger, the author of Parrotfish (which at the time was one of only a handful of transgender teen novels), gave a session at the SCBWI Summer Conference about writing LGBTQ characters. After her session, a bunch of us writers and illustrators hung out, wanting to talk more about our work, and challenges, and triumphs and questions, and really – maybe more than any of the rest of it – just continue to bask in the company and knowledge that within our larger tribe of writers and illustrators for kids and teens, we were not alone in wanting to tell stories about and including queer characters and themes.

Starting in 2009, I've been thrilled to both moderate and host the LGBTQ Q&A sessions (sometimes called 'Find the LGBTQ in SCBWI') at both the New York Winter and Los Angeles Summer SCBWI International Conferences.

The New York 2013 LGBTQ Q&A

Chatting after the New York 2015 LGBTQ Q&A

Poolside Cabana-Style LGBTQ Q&A in Los Angeles 2011

The format has been this: We sit in a large circle (we've ranged between 30 and 50 attendees) and we go around and everyone introduces themselves and what they're working on, and then we get into the questions for our conference faculty guests and a great discussion. Afterwards, everyone hangs out, exchanging cards and basking in the sense of community.

Those conference faculty guests have included Ellen Hopkins, Emma Dryden, Jane Yolen, Arthur A. Levine, Kristin Venuti, Tracey Adams, Bruce Coville, Michael Stother, Natalie Fischer, Danielle Smith, Neil Porter, Sonya Sones, T.S. Ferguson, Jen Laughran, Alvina Ling, Laurent Linn, Ari Lewin, Jim McCarthy, Aaron Hartzler – we've even had Judy Blume attend!

Most of the sessions have been covered on the SCBWI Conference Blog, with photos and brief write-ups. There's lots of information and great advice there, including:

Bruce Coville: "Write what you believe in. Anything else is going to be false to you and false to the world as well."

Tim Federle: "You will get pushback and you will be celebrated."

Danielle Smith: "Don't be afraid to write the characters you want to write. Kids need them."

Ellen Hopkins: "Books don't create queers. They just offer empathy and understanding to that space."

Emma Dryden: ""Stop thinking about them as queer and just think of them as people."

Jane Yolen: "There's nothing off the table when you're writing a novel… if you do it well. And then you set a new benchmark."

There will be another LGBTQ Q&A session at the upcoming 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Friday evening July 31 from 7:30pm - 9:00pm. You can find out more information about the conference here.

And as I always sign off at the SCBWI Blog,

Illustrate and Write On!

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