This weekend was a mixture of joy and grief for me. The joy: #NESCBWI21. I officially accepted my Crystal Kite award at the New England SCBWI conference, presented the closing keynote address, and felt surrounded by the warmth of supportive friends and colleagues. It was a perfect virtual conference experience for me.
Yet, through it all, a part of me was immensely sad. COVID has been raging out of control in India and the tragedy was brought to international media attention last week. Many people I care deeply about live in India, some of whom are unwell or have suffered great loss. If you are in a position to help, here are links to 3 organizations I trust:
HasiruDala works with adults and children like those in THE BRIDGE HOME : https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/HasiruDalaCovidRelief. My cousin vouches for this organization and if you’d like to learn more about the parent waste management company, here it is: https://hasirudalainnovations.com/ It is an organization that I hope to be able to donate to regularly in the future, and the most closely related to the Vijis, Rukkus, Aruls and Muthus who need your help right now.
If you have any questions on any of this, as always, click on the post itself, and when the window refreshes with just the post, you should see a box for a response. Thank you for anything you feel able to do, to help others at this time of tragedy.
Updating and adding a few more links 5/7/2021. I wrote this post a few days ago. I am updating it today because since the time I wrote, things have only worsened in India. On a personal level it has been a roller coaster, and I spent so many days in prayer, to feel relieved about 2 people who are very dear to me; but this morning I received another piece of news that feels surreal and too shockingly close to share publicly. I will be offline to spend the weekend in prayer, among other things. But here are links to some other organizations.
What a wonderful year for poetry, with Naomi Shihab Nye as our Young People’s Poet Laureate, and Amanda Gorman reading aloud the inaugural poem!
A personal milestone for me – two of my poems, Undone and Whenever You See a Tree, were published in the March 2021 issue of Poetry Magazine! I said that in my post last month, but it means so much to me that I’m saying it again. As my friend Rene Saldana Jr. (brilliant author and poet) said in a congratulatory note, “… YOU HAVE POETRY APPEARING IN POETRY!!!!!!!!!! … Oh. MY. GOODNESS! … the last is a dream for us all, and you’ve done it!”
All of this spurred me to put into action an idea that’s been marinating in my mind ever since the pandemic began: Diverse Verse.
Diverse Verse is a website and a resource for educators and diverse poets and verse novelists, as of now; but I hope it will grow into a supportive writing community and a podcast, as well. I reached out to many poets I respect (including Jacqueline Woodson, Janet Wong, Carole Boston Weatherford, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle and Joseph Bruchac) as this idea took shape. I also discussed it with many dedicated advocates of diversity and with educators I admire (Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ellen Oh, Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich, Stacey Lee, Traci Sorell, Floyd Cooper, Mitali Perkins, Uma Krishnaswami, Tracey Baptiste, Miranda Paul, Sylvia Vardell, Lisa Krok, Sarah J Donovan, Alaina Lavoie, Pernille Ripp, Matthew Winner, Donalyn Miller, John Schumacher, Yangsook Choi and the Authors Take Action and WNDB communities).
We now have a small diverse verse team (Ruth Behar, Reem Fauqui, Edna Hoku Moran, K. A. Holt, Aida Salazar, Rene Saldana Jr., Ray Anthony Sheppard, Anindita Basu Sempere, Lisa Stringfellow, Ari Tison). I’m happy (and a little bit scared), that together with the AuthorsTakeAction team, we’re doing an official launch event tomorrow (Tuesday, April 20; please read the details, so you can respectfully amplify a BIPOC poet’s voice if you wish to participate in the event). This is just the beginning and I am hoping that our brilliant team members will help to build this resource.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I wrote a post with 10 lesson plan suggestions (on using poetry to spark respectful discussions and speak out against hate crimes). I also started a padlet with a BIPOC poet directory, to which, I am so grateful that Janet Wong, Lisa Stringfellow, Rene Saldana Jr. and Traci Sorell have contributed.
Looking forward to adding more (from guest bloggers and team members, in addition to myself) in the next few months and years…
Wow! Can’t believe it’s 2 months into 2021 already.
I’m trying hard to stay positive, although it’s sometimes hard to do so in lieu of the horrific display of violence and white privilege we all witnessed in the United States in early January. Then again, it would be impossible to write a post that doesn’t even mention the depth of my grief over so many things that have happened in America and around the world. The terrible loss of life that so many have suffered and the difficulties that so many are continuing to suffer even right this very minute.
I’m not going to speak about any of this at length in this blog post; instead I’m just going to mention how grateful I am that the Asian Author Alliance is coming together to do a fundraiser because they’re concerned about the increase in hate crimes against Asians in America, as I am, and so I am contributing items to their auction, which is scheduled to go live on their blog on Friday 26 February. I will, for sure, be contributing a signed 1st edition 1st printing copy of THE BRIDGE HOME, as well as a 1st edition hardcover copy of A TIME TO DANCE. It’s the least I can do to help.
I’m doing what I can to help in other ways as well, as I am sure so many of you are – and indeed, I’m sure many of you are doing far more than I.
This evening, I have the honor of presenting one of many keynote lectures for an ongoing course at Highlights Foundation. Since the time that I first put up this post, several thoughts have entered my mind and I decided to set them down in writing. Especially because, so often, after I give a talk, I notice someone lifts my words and uses them without attribution. And as much as I might try to focus on the positive, a part of me is absolutely attached to my words and I don’t enjoy feeling that they were stolen… So here’s the draft of my upcoming talk.
Centering the child within us and without us
By Padma Venkatraman
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I often spoke of the power that words have to break walls, and I often referred to books as bridges. I continue to think of these ideas as valid, but the past year has made me also consider the deeper validity of another metaphor that emerged in my mind. That of a book as half a bridge, and half a bridge only.
More and more, I see the importance of this view, that always co-existed with the more widely accepted view of an author as the creator. This other view of mine is that a story-teller shapes only part of tale – the story itself is completed by the reader. At the deepest level, I’ve always thought of myself, in the role of author, as one engaged in a co-operative endeavor, that requires two for completion. I have, ever since I started writing, sensed that I am not THE creator, but only a creator; a book is co-created and reborn each time a reader (or listener) experiences. They are our co-creators.
When I center this thought, that my book is re-created each time the story I set down is experienced, it both liberates me and brings to me the importance of my work and the necessity that I must do my best to be responsible and responsive, sensitive and sensible as I move through my writing life, to the best of my ability. Because my story will be felt by other souls and other minds in ways that my own can never fully grasp.
Each reader who holds, let’s say, The Bridge Home, holds precisely the same published story. And yet each one will also hold a co-created version of which I have only contributed, at best, a half.
I am a builder of half-bridges. And yet, I think of myself as the generator and possessor of my books. Indeed, I do think my name deserves to go on our books, but, I am also increasingly aware of the pain that comes with this attachment to my work. The concept of Karma Yoga, as Veda expresses in A TIME TO DANCE , is one I see myself embracing, but incompletely.
When I see myself as the builder of half a bridge, when I see a book as one half of an Anjali mudra, a half-lotus gesture open, offered to the world, waiting for the reader to complete it, I am both humbled and acutely aware of my responsibility. For half a bridge to stand and invite others, it must be built as best it possibly can.
To me, this means centering both the children within me and the children without me, those co-creators who may complete this bridge in their own fashion. I say children, plural, because I – and we – “contain multitudes.”
Within us is sometimes the child who wants, the child who weeps. When this child surfaces, here’s what I do. I sit with her. I wait. I watch and listen. I don’t judge. If she wants a pity party, I throw her one – but I try, when it’s ongoing, to bring her focus, gently, to the fact the party aspect of it all. And when she’s ready, I take her hand in mine and lead her back to the space where she felt in touch with the intense beauty and eternal joy of words. Because that’s the space of positivity that serves as my compass of compassion as I canoe along the meandering river of the writing life, secure in the knowledge that the ocean will and even now, does, embrace me.
Each river has a different course. A river’s course is unpredictable. And if we pine to be that rushing river that with one great leap mixes with the ocean, we might consider and realize that if this happens, we have less time for the journey.
As much as we can, let’s enjoy the meanders. Respect ourselves and give ourselves the self-care we need. When we feel we’re veering off course, remember all that we have in life that centers us and has nothing to do with writing. And rejoice in the gift of words we are giving ourselves and the children we once were.
So much for the children in ourselves. What of the children outside us?
To me, that’s where my understanding and dedication to diversity comes in. And here, then are some suggestions that I share with myself and the larger community – because I think they help us move together to provide a space for children to co-create with us.
Engage, don’t avoid. Apologize from the heart if an action causes hurt, and do your best to change.
Awareness that deep questions may have more than one good answer. Find what works for you now.
Listen, LISTEN. LISTEN! Yoga, for example, is something that carries deep meaning to me, as a direct disciple and student of yogacharya, Shri T. Krishnamacharya. Yet I have yet to have a conversation about this with someone in which the other person listens instead of immediately trying to equate or impress me with their own experiences / knowledge. When do I do this to others – speak without listening fully and attentively?
Learn and unlearn. We all should be constantly doing both.
Can we please use A instead of THE? As in Copernicus was one person who espoused heliocentricism, not “THE Copernican revolution”, THE ENLIGHTENMENT, WESTERN VALUES – west of what? Who drew that line?
Ask ourselves, in terms of diversity: What can I GIVE UP? (Not just what can I give).
Pledge NEVER to plagarize / steal words / ideas. Respect verbal copyright. That means, if you hear something you like today and want to use that piece of wisdom in your writing or talk, provide proper credit. Name the source. Cite the book/talk/person.
In science we always refer to those who came before us. In the field of kid lit we don’t do it enough. We must be better at acknowledging prior contributions. Instead of indulging in age-ism, let’s respect older wisdom and the contributions of those who came before us.
Can you raise up a diverse author or book that has existed for a while, a person who has excelled for a while but not gained the recognition YOU think they deserve? Can you CONTINUE to help these books?
May we try to understand why cis-gendered males are so often promoted? Who do we allowed to have ambition? Whom do we permit ourselves to cruelly criticize / dislike?
Why do we “love” certain authors / books? How do we promote hierarchies? Should we try to dismantle them?
What ways of telling story do we put on a pedestal? Might we epitomizing certain craft skills and giving them the status of rules?
Consider giving diverse books respect. Rather than buying / teaching/citing an old “classic”, why not a current book that you love?
Let’s engage in self-reflection about our attitudes to issues in the world today as we move through our lives as part of the kidlit community. And let’s try to build half-bridges that are as strong as we can make them, by coming together in compassion for ourselves, for one another and most of all, for ther readers who are our co-creators.
That’s as far as I got with the draft of my talk. Now – and this makes, I realize, for a totally disconnected type of blog post, but hey it’s my blog and aren’t we all sort of in a disjointed space these days – now to finish with some very personal happy news.
To end on a joyful note, my next novel, BORN BEHIND BARS, is off to copyediting! I don’t have the precise publication date, but it is scheduled for 2021 October release!
And today I received an amazing honor. A copy of Poetry Magazine, featuring 2 of my poems, alongside the work of such brilliant poets as Margarita Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Nikki Grimes, Elizabeth Acevedo, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Nelson, Renee Watson, Kara Jackson and Linda Sue Park. I began writing poems when I was about …
… okay, not quite as little as the baby you see in that photograph above, although I am indeed that baby. That’s me and a very dear cousin. I started writing when I was about as old as he probably is in that photograph… around five years old, according to my mother. So poetry has always been a part of my life. If you imagine that I wept with joy to see my work showcased in a magazine that is considered by many to be one of the most important poetry magazines in the English Language today, you would be quite right. The issue is filled with beautiful poems that moved me greatly and I hope many readers, including teachers, librarians and parents, will read it, as it was especially curated with young people in mind.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay safe. And thank you all for all the good you do in the world.
My school visit season began this September with a marvelous visit to Frederica Academy (virtually, of course)! Unfortunately, my chronic shoulder injury is also acting up, so I may not be able to celebrate every other school visit this fall, as I’ll be limiting social media activity a little. Especially as I’m hard at work on my next novel, BORN BEHIND BARS, scheduled for release next fall (October 2021) from Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House!
As COVID continues, I haven’t been able to attend any of the many marvelous award ceremonies for THE BRIDGE HOME, but then again, it means I receive the best mail ever this year – as most of the awards have been sent to me by the wonderful US postal service. Memories of these wonderful hugs from friends keep me going, and I feel so lucky to have my spouse and child with me…
That said, I have Weekly Wednesday Writing Prompts planned for the rest of the school semester and the first one was posted on twitter this week. I hope they’ll not only provide a quick idea to spur some writing, but also introduce everyone to some excellent diverse books, especially those released this year. Occasionally, the writing prompts will be combined with a book giveaway.
I’m also hoping to have this website updated soon, with descriptions of virtual visits, as I now have a new menu of possibility…
The PW article is a personal reflection on the COVID-19 influenced my writing these past few months; Weeding Out Racism’s Invisible Roots challenges us to re-examine our attitudes toward “Classic” literature; and Examining Our Own Biases delves into some of the many reasons why brown people / Asians / South Asian Indian Americans should care about BLM and how we can support and work together, as allies, with African Americans.
In addition, I’ve been hard at work on my next novel (which my wonderful editor Nancy Paulsen would like me to have ready for release in fall next year).
The Bridge Home has also continued to be blessed with many honors, for which I’m deeply grateful. To my knowledge, it’s been shortlisted for 10 state awards so far (nominee for TX Bluebonnet, FL SSYRA, VA, RI, GA, MN, WI, KY, VT, ME) & Japan’s Sakura Medal. I am incredibly thankful to my home state for choosing THE BRIDGE HOME for the National Book Festival. Such an immense honor.
If you live in RI, the Providence Community Library and RI Festival of Books and Authors is hosting a free virtual event on Monday 13th July, which includes an opportunity to get copies of THE BRIDGE HOME free of charge. The press release is pasted below. Maybe I’ll see you!
Youth Fiction Novel is Rhode Island’s 2020 Pick for National Book Festival Award PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Join Providence Community Library’s PVD READS Book Club on Monday, July 13th at 6P.M. for a virtual, intergenerational book discussion of The Bridge Home, featuring the book’s author, Padma Venkatraman. The conversation will be moderated by Meagan Lenihan, who is Lincoln School Librarian and Director of the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books and Authors and co-hosted by Rhode Island Center for the Book and Providence Community Library. Tickets for the free Zoom event are available on Eventbrite. Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut follows the fortunes of four determined homeless children. Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts and while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom. The Bridge Home, published by Penguin Books, is Rhode Island’s 2020 submission for the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents their state as part of the Great Reads From Great Places initiative. The Bridge Home has received eight starred reviews since its publication in 2019, is the winner of a Walter Award, Golden Kite Award, Nerdy Book Award, Paterson Prize, Crystal Kite Award, and Audiophile Earphone Award, in addition to garnering numerous other honors. RI Center of the Book Director, Kate Lentz said“we are thrilled to partner on this PCL READS event. Padma’s book touches on social justice issues that affect children all over the world and it is the perfect pick for this Rhode Island intergenerational book club!” Padma Venkatraman served as chief scientist on research vessels in Germany, directed a school in England, worked in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and obtained her doctorate in oceanography at the College of William and Mary before becoming a full-time author. Her most recent novel, Her previous novels, A Time to Dance, Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End were also all released to multiple starred reviews and gained several awards and honors. Born in India, Venkatraman was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in Rhode Island, which is now her home. READ THE BOOKContact Kate at email@example.com to get a set of books for your class or group. GET TICKETSVisit this page. The event is free but registration is required. Attendees will receive an email on the morning of the event with a link to join via Zoom.By registering, attendees agree to the terms of the event’s behavior policy. About PCL READS Do you love talking about books with other book lovers? Have you been searching for an intellectual, fun and easy-going book discussion to join? Look no further! Amy Rosa from the Washington Park Library and Lee Smith from the Mount Pleasant Library, two of the nine, neighborhood locations of Providence Community Library, have launched PCL READS— the citywide, one book, one community book discussion—and they want YOU to accompany them at their next meeting! About RI Festival of Children’s Books & Authors Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it boasts one of the largest and best book festivals in the nation. Authors and illustrators travel to Providence every October for the opportunity to be featured in The Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books & Authors, hosted by Lincoln School. Learn about future PCL READS events, as well as all Providence Community Library services and programs, at provcomlib.org .
Yesterday was amazing. A hashtag that began with one tweet grew into something that, according to this wonderful PW article, “went viral.” I actually wasn’t paying attention. I’d promised every author that I would respond and amplify their signals and at one point it started coming in really fast, then my ig wouldn’t refresh or keep up so I sort of left ig hoping my friends, like Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich , Leslie Connor , Stacey, Victoria and Alison who are better at it would keep that going, and I concentrated on twitter. Then Stacey Lee wrote an email, followed by Victoria Coe, to say – hey – look, respond to this request from PW!
I am so grateful for the article, as well as for this other incredible article in the ProJo but before I say anymore I want to reiterate 2 things. This idea, this hashtag, would be nowhere if it weren’t for the simple idea that was Aida Salazar‘s brainwave, help from the group that grew and grew (including, in addition to those mentioned, Sarah Aronson, Alison Green Myers, Chris Tebbetts, Elly Swartz, Megan Hoyt, Laura Shovan, Miranda Paul, Lyn Miller Lachmann, Kristin Russo) and many who spontaneously rallied around the cause (like Aliana Lavoie, Caroline Richmond, Kathi Appelt and Susan Ross), and if you want me to add you to this list, please tell me, after a while I lost track of who was RTng), and wonderful support from the wonderful WNDB organization which encouraged diverse authors to participate and focused clearly on the steps to 1) Write a thoughtful message on a piece of paper or post it-note, for young people, and about social distancing 2) Take a selfie and post this on twitter with the hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Finally, this wouldn’t have happened if the kind, giving, caring kid lit community hadn’t come together. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
If you didn’t get in on the action and would like to keep it going, please do. I just ask that you remember to take time to compose the message with care, keeping in mind your audience kids/teens/youngadults (or teachers or librarians who connect with kids). While reading is certainly important, and some of the post-its even above were about reading, as in this tweet, I really prefer, as I say here, if future messages focus on continuing to maintain social distance, acting responsibly, and getting information from reliable places. As I said in this message on twitter, speaking directly to readers, authors write about heroes, in one way or another and sometimes – like right now – we need small acts of heroism.
So many people had wonderful messages. I was so very deeply honored that Jacqueline Woodson mentioned it on fb live. Ibi Zoboi wrote 2 tweets that were from the heart and addressed one of the issues we discussed as a group and I believe mentioned on the final version of the letter we sent (and I wanted to update my blog but at that point it wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore). This is something to be sensitive to, as this moves forward. Home isn’t always a safe place for everyone or a joyful place for everyone. Not everyone has a home. The Bridge Home features homeless kids.
Easily the most creative (okay, so my favorite message) came from Mihn Le (sorry I spent 10 mins and couldn’t figure out how to put the accent on the e) created an incredible, thoughtful, creative, and ever-so practical video showing what 6 ft is. Kate Messner‘s tweet also directly addressed readers, which was just what I hoped for and was thoughtful. My author-brother (we have the same marvelous editor, Nancy Paulsen) Torrey Maldonado, Grace Lin, Linda Sue Park, Traci Sorrell, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Meg Medina, Jarrett Krozowska, Jarrett Lerner and so many other authors I love chimed in. So did educators I deeply admire, such as Donalyn Miller, Matthew Winner, Julia Erin Torres, Pernille Ripp, Colby Sharp, Jarrett Amato and John Schu. I am deeply grateful for all their support.
For those who wonder why #AuthorsTakeAction is important, why what we did together as a community of kid lit authors matters, I refer you to this important and informative tweet threads by awesome authors and medical doctors Illene Wong and Ismee Williams . I hope I can do something featuring them soon, although I am sure they are way too busy for interviews. Some way to thank those authors who are also on the frontlines.
Yesterday, with all that happened, at one point my browser wasn’t refreshing fast enough. If I didn’t reply, I wasn’t trying to ignore you – it got really super-fast. And it’s not like this is over. As a scientist, I can assure you that there is the possibility of catastrophic loss before the curve flattens if we don’t take action and it means a lot when a group makes a concerted effort to send a clear message. So please continue to add your messages and tag #AuthorsTakeAction. It was launched yesterday, but I would love for it to keep going.
The only thing I beg is that you use your platform (we’re using our books because we’re not celebs who are recognized by our faces, our “platform” is our books) to center the message. Please remember this is about reaching readers with a specific message to help those on the frontlines by keeping new infections down. I don’t want this to become a way to push our books on kids. That’s not what this is about.
I know there’s a lot of concern right now in the writing community about lost “gigs.” I am not sure if any of my engagements will actually happen, and that means a huge loss of income. Yes, that’s tough. Truly hard. But this virus is bigger than all of us, and all of our books. #AuthorsTakeAction is not, and I never want it to be, about selling anything. Here, books should only be a means to connect a message to an author, an author who truly wishes to send an important message about social distancing to readers with all their heart.
In the future, I’m hoping this will become an annual event. Perhaps every April – maybe earlier or later in spring so it doesn’t happen right around Easter/Passover/Hindu New Year’s Day, we the kid lit community could come together to rally around and support a specific humanitarian message. We might give ourselves more time to prepare so we can create really special and thoughtful messsages geared toward our readers. I’d love to partner more closely with WNDB and LatinX in kidlit and Las Musas. I’d love to ensure the effort actively invites, includes and involves diverse authors and reaches underserved populations.
More on that, next week. For now, just thanks to all of you who participated in the spirit of sending a message and your overwhelming and humbling collective positive energy.
If you’d like to see the final version of the letter with details on how to write a sensitive message, here it is:
We’re launching a hashtag campaign #AuthorsTakeAction this Thursday, April 9th, to show our readers that we stand together by being apart.
Why? Because if we don’t act together, soon, the toll taken by COVID19 will only increase. A parent recently mentioned that teens and children are having difficulty understanding the need to take social distancing seriously. Our readers are frustrated and looking for guidance from people they trust: celebrities, athletes, teachers, authors. Let’s use our platform to reach them with an important message (especially given the misinformation that continues to spread): Take social distancing seriously. Save lives. Our emergency personnel need our support.
What do you need to do? Take a copy of one of your books and put a sticky note on it with hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Snap a selfie with the book and post-it. Provide a short message that might read/say: “Stay in place. Read Books. Stay Safe.” Or “Hold books in your hands. Hold people in your hearts.” Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” Or “Get close to book characters. Stay 6 ft away from strangers.” Or something from your own heart to encourage our readers to maintain physical distancing and stay healthy.
Other hashtags to conside: #socialdistancing #thankyoufirstresponders #thankyouhealthcareheroes #thankyouessentialworkers #socialdistancingnow.
On Thursday, April 9th, to help us boost your signal, here are our social media handles if you wish to
We’d also love for you to spread the word by forwarding this email to other friends and tagging them on Thursday. Here is a detailed post from Padma on her blog giving even more information: https://padmavenkatraman.com/
Won’t you take two minutes to help spread this important message?
If you’re truly able to do more and can honestly commit time and devote some serious energy to helping us spread the word and boost other people’s messages on Thursday, you are welcome to add your social media handles and names to the email – and let me know please and I will update my letter and blog accordingly (though probably not immediately). This project would be nowhere without the help of the first friends who were so enthusiastic – and this is about embracing and being inclusive and this effort belongs to everyone who is willing to put in time and energy.
Just please remember, this isn’t about selling books, it’s about using the platform we have to send a message. It’s about solidarity and showing the world we’re taking the physical distancing suggestions seriously. It’s about coming together as individuals and a caring community to spread a message that we must take this seriously and behave in a caring and responsible manner.
Unusual times, unusual measures. I don’t usually blog more than once a month, but an idea popped into my head that I can’t get rid of.
Last week, I heard from a parent and then a teacher, both of whom were speaking about how hard it is for young people to stay home. Yesterday, when I was taking a walk on a beach, I saw a group of teens playing contact football. They were crying “Stay 6 feet away!” as though it were a joke.
What if authors were to take action on social media, using a simple hashtag, #AuthorsTakeAction, to show that we’re taking this pandemic seriously? What if we were to do something quick and simple – just take photographs of ourselves wearing home-made PPE, or create a quick video message?
So I reached out to a few author friends: Aida Salazar, Sarah Aronson, and Alison Green Myers. Aida Salazar came up with the brilliant suggestion that we might also put sticky notes on our books, with the hashtag and a simple note?
Sarah’s suggestion was that I write this open letter to the community right away, even as I am just thinking of this idea and working with friends to help develop it. Alison Green Myers suggested some other pithy messages that authors could add via video or a caption:“Stay safe. Read Books. Save Lives.” Or “The safety of others is in your hands.” Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” and other hashtags we might also add: #TakeShelterInStory #ShelterInPlace #socialdistancing and #thankyoufirstresponders.
We’re launching a hashtag campaign #AuthorsTakeAction on Thursday, April 9th to show our readers that we stand together by being apart.
Why? Because if we don’t act together, soon, the toll taken by COVID19 will only increase. Our readers are frustrated and looking for guidance from people they trust: celebrities, athletes, teachers, authors. Let’s use our platform to reach them with an important message: Take social distancing seriously. Save lives. Our emergency personnel need our support.
What do you need to do? Take a copy of one of your books and put a sticky note on it with hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Snap a selfie with the book and post-it. Provide a short message that might read/say: “Stay in Place. Read Books. Stay Safe.” Or “Hold books in your hands. Hold people in your heart.” Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” Or “Get close to book characters. Stay 6 ft away from strangers.” Or something from your own heart to encourage our readers to take social distancing seriously and stay healthy.
On Thursday, April 9th, to help us boost your signal, here are our handles, in case you wish to follow us on Twitter:
We’d also love for you to spread the word by forwarding this email to other friends and tagging them on Thursday. Won’t you take two minutes to help spread the message that social distancing is important?
As you can see from the letter, our “little army” as Aida calls it, has grown, to include other amazing authors: Elly Swartz, Victoria Coe, Leslie Connor, Laura Shovan, Chris Tebbetts, Miranda Paul, Megan Hoyt. If you are truly interested in helping us spread the word (by emailing others) and committed to boosting other people’s messages on Thursday, please feel free to add your name and social media handles to the letter when you share it and just let me know, so I can update this blog accordingly (though probably not immediately). Everyone is welcome to join in. This is my invitation to you all. I started this project, but it would be nowhere without the support of friends. I want everyone in our community to feel included and embraced. Please just remember, our message is not about selling books, it’s about trying to save lives in our small way.
If you are an illustrator, you are obviously totally geared to doing this the best possible way visually. And if you a “pre-published” author as Laurie Halse Anderson called it years ago, you are of course welcome to participate. Just post the sign on your manuscript or work-in-progress! No hierarchies here. This is about something larger than all of us that we need to unite to fight.
I truly hope our community of caring authors will coalesce around this cause – beginning here on this page, beginning in our kid lit community, but inclusive of all authors everywhere, urging us to come together in solidarity and send this simple message to our readers of all ages, to parents, to teachers, to the world. The sooner we all take steps to show we care, the sooner this will pass. There’s a time for everything – and right now, it’s time to act socially responsible by staying physically distant. It’s not about me or you – it’s about us.
So if you’re reading this post and you’re an author – please consider taking a moment to act and spread the word. Hope to see you #AuthorsTakeAction on twitter (@padmatv) and ig (venkatraman.padma) this Thursday, 8 April. Thanks. Stay safe, stay well and stay patient. Sending sincerest and best wishes,
Thanks so much for visiting my blog! Given what we’re facing as a world, I wanted to do my little bit to help out and so, here’s what I’m hoping and planning to do:
Every week, by Wednesday, I’ll be uploading a short writing prompt (in April, as it’s national poetry month, these will be poetry prompts) on YouTube and Twitter. My first prompt was included in last month’s blog post. The latest prompt (below) draws inspiration in part from William Wordsworth’s Daffodils (a poem quoted in my debut novel CLIMBING THE STAIRS because it was my mother’s favorite poem and the novel is loosely based on her life as a teenager in India during WWII). This writing prompt also draws inspiration from Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple‘s poetry book, EEK, YOU REEK!
Wondering how these two rather different-sounding quotes (” When oft upon my couch I lie /In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon the inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude / And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils” by Wordsworth and “Eek you reek / You make a funk / Where you have been / You stink stank stunk” by Yolen and Stemple) might be related? Watch:
I’m also planning to share a short, inspirational and motivational meditation on the writing life – or just more generally the creative life, every Monday, starting sometime this month.
In addition, so far and so long as I can, I’m hoping to host a book giveaway each month on twitter. We just received a stay-in-place order, so this means I will likely only be able to mail the winner a book once this order is lifted. This week, I am doing a paired book giveaway with my dear friend Leslie Connor. If you follow me on twitter (@padmatv) you’ll see that I’m giving away a signed copy of her latest, A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS and she’s giving away a signed copy of my latest, THE BRIDGE HOME on ig (heyleslieconnor).
I recently received my first copy of THE BRIDGE HOME with the beautiful golden Walter Dean Myers Award seal on the cover, as you can see!
Given all that we’re facing right now as a nation, we’re in discussion about whether to pause my monthly COOKING UP STORIES writing prompt (featuring a book and paired with a recipe by Chef Amanda) at Highlights Foundation for a few months, and resume it when things take a more positive turn. In the meantime, however, the Highlights Foundation is hosting many free online events. Last week, I had a wonderful chat hosted by my dear friend Sara Aronson for the Highlights Foundation’s community gathering last week (here’s the link).
It’s a strange episode in the history of humanity that we’re living through right now, and I ardently hope that just as the characters in THE BRIDGE HOME are brought even closer together by the calamities they face, we’ll come together to work for peace in our world in the face of this new challenge we’re facing. It’s not easy for anyone right now, but if we can thinking of giving as much as we can (even giving something as small as a smile to a stranger while maintaining your physical distance), and not taking more than necessary (so avoiding to the urge to stockpile and not taking every last bit of any particular item), I think it helps.
Oh my gosh – I almost forgot to share some lovely news. THE BRIDGE HOME won the Paterson Prize! Award-winning and critically acclaimed author and poet Peter Johnson (AMAZING ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH JR. AKA HOUDINI) referred to this as a “trifecta” of awards for THE BRIDGE HOME(the Paterson Prize, the SCBWI Golden Kite and the WNDB Walters Award). THE BRIDGE HOME is also on a few more children’s choice state awards lists, most notably in Virginia (a state where I lived for several years as a graduate student) and the Texas Bluebonnet, and on the Bank Street College of Education’s annual best book list, along with THANK U, a collection of poems edited by Miranda Paul, to which I contributed a tanka about a mathematical invention!
Until next month, when I plan to provide links in this monthly blogpost-newsletter to Monday meditations and Wednesday Writing prompts posted in the interim! To leave comments, as always:
Thank U, stay safe, stay healthy, stay well! And in case you missed it, here’s a previous writing prompt about Sense of Place.
The past few weeks have been quite a shock for everyone, I’m sure. Not even my older friends or the senior citizens in my family have ever lived through a global pandemic. At this difficult time, it’s important to remember, I think, how lucky we are that this virus isn’t more virulent, and how fortunate some of us are to live in a part of the world where we can take our access to clean water and soap and food for granted.
Of course, not all of us, even in the United States, are doing well. So if you are a citizen of the United States, before I say anymore, I want to urge you, if you’re able, to consider donating to this organization, which is helping out with kids who are going hungry in the United States because of this global pandemic: NoKidHungry. As I’ve always said before, when I discussed THE BRIDGE HOME, hunger is a problem even here in the United States. It always has been. And now, because of this virus, it’s affecting more kids than before here – and, of course, all over the world. So, if anyone’s wondering if this virus is causing havoc, it is – globally. There are so many who are going to suffer so very much because of this pandemic, and we need to do all we can to prevent it from having an even greater negative impact.
Most understandably, of course, all my visits to schools and the festivals I was looking forward to this spring have been cancelled. Even the ceremony at which the Walters Award for Young Readers was to be presented for THE BRIDGE HOME was cancelled – and I completely understand, support and applaud WNDB’s decision.
Given I shan’t be seeing too many of you, thanks to the SCBWI, among other things, I’ve been inspired to create, with my child, a video we created, along with a Q & A about viruses (and explanations of exponential growth curves in her own words), a writing prompt and a recipe, and I’ll be posting one a day for 5 days, until next Wednesday, on my YouTube channel. Here’s the first one:
Next Wednesday, 25 March, I’m honored to’ve been invited by my dear author friend Sarah Aronson to be her guest on the Highlights Foundation‘s website for a #virtual community #HFGather interview at 10:00 a.m. United States EST.
As you know, I’ll continue to post a COOKING UP STORIES prompt, the first Friday of every month, paired with a recipe by Chef Amanda, also on the Highlights Foundation’s website (Foodie Fridays)! I hope you’ll enjoy the the most recent pairing, featuring MANGO, ABUELA AND ME by Meg Medina (illustrated by Angela Dominguez).
I’m hoping to do what little I can to help teachers and students around the world. On the 14th of April, I’ll be posting a writing challenge on Dr. Sarah J. Donovan’s website: www.ethicalela.com .
So stay safe, remember our moral responsibility is to act out of a sense of care for everyone around us. I really hope this difficult and unexpected challenge will help us come together as a world, so we may, with greater preparation and in a climate of peace, fight off some of the other challenges that face us in the future. For now, safety is all-important, and of the highest priority – so wash your hands, properly, isolate yourself physically as much as possible, learn what you can from reliable websites such as those belonging to the WHO, NIH, CDC, or my dear old university Johns Hopkins, and remember that physical isolation doesn’t stop us from sending virtual hugs.
And if you have any questions, here’s a very short video (below) that shows you how to leave questions on this website. Briefly, here’s how you do it: 1. Click on the Blog Post’s Title (Either on this screen or on the right hand side column) and 2. You’ll be redirected to another screen featuring just this post. Scroll down, and you’ll see the box in which you may leave questions or comments. Thanks, everyone!
One of the most unforgettable evenings of my life as an author came this February, when I was privileged to address the audience at SCBWI’s New York conference, and accept the Golden Kite award for Middle Grade Fiction, for THE BRIDGE HOME. While, on the one hand, I feel like I can’t express my gratitude even if I were to say thank you in every language I know how, I did, of course, have a go at trying to show my appreciation. And, before attending the gala, my daughter did a henna tattoo of kites, on both my hands!
Here’s my acceptance speech:
My first kite wasn’t golden. I tried to fly it, only to watch it fall repeatedly. Those failed attempts were the happier moments of a traumatic childhood. We lived in a mansion until my dad forced my mum to move out, to an apartment in a concrete jungle. I was forced to meet him every weekend, though he could be abusive. Luckily, I had no self-pity because my mum, though struggling herself, volunteered at shelters for children who faced far worse, yet could share small joys and warm laughter. As I came to know them, some shared tales of horrors they’d survived.
Decades later, in my head, I heard the voice of one sister, Viji, speaking to another. I had to discover why they’d been driven apart. I saw them run away from their violent father and thier village hoping for a better life in the city, struggle to cross city streets, adopt a stray, reach an abandoned bridge. There, befriended by two boys, they eke out a living.
But Viji’s hopes of studying at school are dashed because every day, all day, from sunup to sundown, they’re forced to dig through mountains of rubbish – like this trash dump I photographed last summer – to salvage material to sell… until Viji’s sister, who has a disability, starts a bead business. The friends briefly enjoy a sense of family, home and freedom.
Then, all is threatened …
Imagine you were alone in a dark graveyard. How long would you stay? I give myself 10 minutes. Maybe. But my friend Indira was forced to stay in a graveyard night after night to escape men who wanted to enslave her. After telling me this, she asked, because she knew I wanted to be a writer – I was always scribbling – “Padma, will you write my story, one day?” “Yes,” I said. “I promise.” It’s taken me forty years, but this book, THE BRIDGE HOME is that promise I gave her, as a child.
It would take me forty hours to thank all who helped me get here.Today, I’ll thank only those most important: My legendary editor, Nancy Paulsen, for believing in me and THE BRIDGE HOME when I was filled with fear and doubt, for patience, guidance, brilliant insights; My agent, Rob Weisbach, for wisdom, care, concern; Thotakar, Visalam chithi, I hope you’re watching; My speaking agent Phil Bildner of the Author Village, amazing author of HIGH FIVE FOR GLEN BURKE among other books; The judges who thought THE BRIDGE HOME worthy of recognition: C. Alexander London, I admire your scintillating plots and characterization, as well as the courage and kindness of your character; Angela Dominguez, my global read aloud sister, stellar inventor of Stella Diaz; Susan Fletcher, fantastic creator of Dragon Kyn. My spouse whom I love with all my soul: I respect your vital scientific research, your humility, your philanthropy, your dedication to reducing our carbon footprint that sometimes drives me batty. My daughter, you are everything to me; you made me a better person; I owe you so much.
When I moved, all alone, to the States, below champagne sipping age, I wrote, even as I strove to prove myself as the only woman of color in my incoming graduate class. When my debut was released, 12 years ago, we diverse authors then had to fight far harder than now, thanks to the marvelous work done by We Need Diverse Books. There’s a long road ahead, and I’ll continue this battle I’ve been waging; so many other incredible authors before me. Some may remember the New England SCBWI conference celebrating diversity, led by Anna Jordon, where I was on a panel with Floyd Cooper and Bobbie Coombs. Before and after, I fought for diversity. Like my first kite, most attempts crashed. But I kept speaking and writing.
This January, I received a phone call from Lin Oliver, whose Little Poems for Tiny Ears was one of my daughter’s first books. That day, I was too delighted for words. But that night, in joyous delirium, I wrote, just as I’d written through terror and tragedy growing up. Because that’s what writers do. We write. As the immortal Anne Frank said, “I’m grateful to God for giving me this gift, of expressing all that is in me.” It’s this gift that makes us writers. Not wonderful phone calls, honors or awards.
Marvelous as material successes are, grateful as I am for these blessings, wondrous as it is to be with you all today, what makes us writers is what we do before and after unexpected calls. It’s time spent ignoring phones and focusing on pens, years of learning craft at conferences like this, honing skills not just by writing but by reading and re-reading books – purchased first hand, please, because buying a second hand or illegal copy is stealing a fellow-author’s money – coming in nurturing communities like ours here, pouring energy into words when alone.
We believe words have power — to fuel imagination, inspire invention, increase empathy, ignite change. And as people hoping for a better world, striving to create books for young readers, we’re equal. We write and watch our books drift away like kites whose paths we can’t control. And when – I say when because even Jane Yolen says she gets rejections – when stormy skies rip up our kites, we must hold ourselves together and keep trying to fly, because we never know when the breeze will be just right, and our books shall soar or be gilded by others’ love. Most golden and important of all, perhaps our work will help a young person cross a bridge or rejoice in their homes and selves.
Above is a photograph of the photograph I just bought (yes, paid for) from a newspaper article on my first school visit this February, thanks to @LibrarianMsG for arranging such a marvelous day and all the incredible students who gave me such wonderful gifts that I will always treasure.
Other notable moments this February – I was honored to see THE BRIDGE HOME included as an ALA Notable Book, ALSC Notable Audiobookt, and a Notable Book for a Global Society (ILA NGBS).
For those who love book giveaways, be on the lookout on twitter this week – I plan to do a giveaway of THE BRIDGE HOME and THE LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry, which won the Golden Kite for YA fiction. For those who love food, remember to use the search term foodie friday on Highlights foundation’s website to discover delectable recipes such as berry pavlova and best vanilla cupcakes (donated by Chef Amanda) paired with COOKING UP STORIES writing prompts from books I’ve enjoyed reading (donated by yours truly) – and there will be new recipe and writing prompt up next Friday, for March.
Finally, as always, leaving me comments on this website is a wee-bit complicated, but here’s how, if you wish – and of course, you can also follow me on twitter (@padmatv), ig / fb (venkatraman.padma). Thanks and have a wonderful whats-left-of-this-winter!