Thank you for joining me for this seventh excerpt from the interview I did with Emma Walton Hamilton back in January, for the Children’s Book Hub.
Besides the myriad other things Emma does, which we have talked about in previous excerpts, she also is director of the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference (which I attended last year, and which I highly recommend), and is involved in the new Children’s Literature Fellows Program at Stony Brook Southampton. As if that weren’t enough, this year she is teaching the picture book workshop at the Children’s Literature Conference. (Note: My Monday blog post featured an interview with a success story from the Children’s Literature Conference, Susan Verde.)
In this week’s excerpt of the interview, most of our focus will be on these two programs.
BETH: I’m conscious of the time but I do have a couple more questions I’d like to fit in. We may not get to all the questions, but that just means we’ll have to do this again. You and your mom are set to speak to the New York SCBWI conference in early February. I know of some Hub members who are going and some 12×12 members, and I certainly wish I could be there but it’s not a possibility. Without scooping your keynote there, what can Hub members who will be there look forward to?
EMMA: We will be focusing our talk on series writing. That’s what we’ve been asked to speak specifically about: developing a series, what it takes to write a series, the challenges and the pitfalls and the joys and the process. Because we have three series, The Very Fairy Princess, Little Bo, and Dumpy the Dump Truck series that we write together, it’s a familiar subject for us. We’ll be speaking about our collaborative process, and more specifically to what it takes to craft a children’s book series. I will also, of course, be talking up the Hub and Just Write for Kids and talking up the Children’s Literature Conference at Stony Brook Southampton as well as a new initiative we’ve just announced, which is our Children’s Literature Fellowship at Stony Brook.
BETH: What a great segue into my next question. Tell us some more about the conference and this fantastic new program.
EMMA: The Children’s Lit Conference is about six years old. The Southampton Writers’ Conferences have taken place on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton sponsored by the MFA in Creative Writing and Literature for over 30 years. There is a long history of writers traveling to Southampton in July with some of the best writers in the world in their various disciplines. There are poetry workshops, memoir workshops, screenwriting and playwriting and novel and short story – you name it.
Children’s Book specifically became its own element in the overall writers’ conferences about six years ago. It’s during the month of July. There are two sessions: a short session and a long session. For people who can’t make a full ten- or eleven-day commitment, there is a five-day session. You travel to the campus and stay on campus, or in one of the area hotels or with friends, and you participate daily in writers’ workshops in the morning with the writing teacher that you have applied to or been assigned to. Maybe you’ve signed up for a picture book or middle grade workshop, and you spend your mornings in workshop or class developing material you’ve brought to work on with that workshop leader. And then in the afternoons there are a wide variety of elective sessions across disciplines for all the different writing conferences. People are encouraged to venture out of their track and experiment with, let’s say, a poetry elective in the afternoon or something else that maybe you haven’t done before, or to sit in on seminars and panel discussions and those kinds of special events. Then there are also evening events. There may be author readings or performances or play readings. It’s a very rich schedule of events all geared toward supporting writers.
BETH: Having been there, it’s just a fantastic opportunity. The word that always came out was cross-pollination. We got so much from so many other areas; it was great.
EMMA: You were saying earlier that story telling being story telling, we do learn so much from the various other disciplines as well. So this year what we’ve done is to launch what we call the Children’s Literature Fellows program. It’s a way for children’s literature authors or aspiring authors to achieve a certificate. People who don’t have the time or resources to enroll in an MFA program for instance, or for whom the location is challenging, can now receive a certificate in writing children’s books. It comes under a creative writing umbrella, through one year of study and 16 credits, and much of that study is done through a distance-learning program.
There will be 12 fellows per year, and it’s a highly selective process – it will be very concentrated and a very individualized mentorship. Those 12 fellows begin by being assigned to their teacher/mentor. It might be me for picture book authors; it might be Patricia McCormick who is now on our full-time faculty for young adult authors. It might be Kate McMullan, it might be Lou Ann Walker, there are a number of people on the faculty now who are going to be able to mentor children’s book writers in their novels or picture books.
For the first few months, one works from home, being mentored one-on-one through either Skype visits or emails or phone calls with one’s teacher to bring their manuscript to first draft phase. Then everybody gets together for this conference and you sign up for one of the workshops in July and you continue to develop your manuscript there in workshop, then there is more refining that goes in the fall, working from home and with a new mentor. You continue to develop your manuscript. At the end of the year – actually, January of the following year – everyone convenes one more time for a publishing and editing conference. That will be just a few days in Southampton polishing the manuscripts, editing the manuscripts, getting them in ready form, and then everybody goes to New York to the Stony Brook Southampton’s Manhattan campus. We will spend a day meeting publishers, editors, agents, and various members of the children’s book industry so as to help give our fellows a springboard toward publication. It’s been timed so it will segue nicely to the SCBWI winter conference, so that those who wish to stay on in New York can participate in the SCBWI conference as well.
So it’s very exciting, and I am so eager to have children’s books see more of a presence in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton and to work individually with 12 really dedicated children’s book writers and see what grows out of this; see the books that grow out of this and see people take the next step to publication.
BETH: It sounds fantastic. Wow!
EMMA: I think it will be a great experience. So anyone who is interested in finding out more about that, go to SouthamptonChildrensLiteratureConference.com or ChildrensLitFellows.com and read up more on it, maybe download an application.
BETH: I’m sure a lot of people will be thinking how can I make this work? Sounds too good to pass up.
EMMA: It’s very accessible, it’s affordable compared to an MFA program, and it only requires a minimal amount of time away from home. It’s designed for a busy person, for someone who has a full-time life. They can achieve this at the same time.
BETH: You kind of covered this, but I would like to know what are the joys for you in your work at Southampton and at the Children’s Literature Conference.
EMMA: As you know and I have said, I’m a life-long learner myself. I love being in an environment where I am surrounded by people with a shared passion and people who are interested in education and learning and giving back.
Another huge joy for me is…when my husband and I were running our theater, as wonderful as those years were, as I’m sure that anyone who’s had their own business can appreciate, when you are the boss and you are running your own business, all the creative stuff takes second place to the necessities of running a business. The balance of joy, the joy of doing something creative, was frequently outweighed by the pressures of meeting payroll or being responsible for getting bathrooms cleaned, all of those tasks that it takes to keep a business alive. The great joy at Stony Brook Southampton is that because it’s a state university there are wonderful resources available to us. That frees people like me up to focus purely on the task at hand, which is teaching. I don’t have to clean the bathrooms. I do a fair amount of fundraising for the young writers program that I run there as well in area schools. But the balance has shifted back, and I feel I am able to do what I love doing, which is teaching and learning, and I am in a community of like-minded people who share those values and that appetite. That’s just wonderful.
Wonderful indeed. Next week, this series of interview excerpts will come to an end, with Emma talking about her own Beech Tree Books, through which she published her excellent resource book Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. She will also sum up the joys and surprises of her work in the field of children’s literature. I hope you’ll return for that final excerpt.
And now some links: