On Saturday, Grace, Elaine and I attended the Keene State Children's Lit Fest up in Keene, New Hampshire (thanks for driving Elaine) and it was fabulous as always! It was my third time attending, and I think it was the best year yet. The festival is always formatted the same way: 5 speakers have an hour to talk about their work, with book signings and food in between presentations. Its a long day to be sure, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, but a testament to the speakers that the audience stays rapt to the end.
This year's speakers were: Kathy Mallat, Michael Dooling, Richard Peck, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Chris Sontpiet. To be honest, I didn't know who most of the speakers were before I got there. But even not knowing their work beforehand, whats most fascinating about hearing authors speak in this context is getting a window into the way an artist's personality and life path interweaves with the books they make. I am especially hungry for this kind of information because as a an author/illustrator at the beginning of my career (if 8 years is still beginning- strangely in publishing it is) I'm always anxious to know whats coming next, what it would be like to be publishing for 20 or 30 years.
Richard Peck was probably the most dynamic speaker. A veteran writer of 30 plus years, the audience was instantly scrambling to jot down the abundance of phrases that collectively gave us all goosebumps. For example:
"The only way one can write is by the light of the burning bridges behind you"
"You learn the most from the experience you would have avoided if you could"
"No one ever grows up til they have to"
"Humor is anger sent to finishing school"
And a quote from Cicero: "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child"
All of these points move through his books, and clearly evolved out of deep passion and interest in humanity.
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock was another stand out on Saturday. Mainly because her personality was so big and she was so open, it felt like watching a person explode behind a podium. She laid out all the facets of her life; her life in rural Vermont with 8 dogs, cats and a slew of horses all of which were rescued, the labor involved in maintaining her land, her obsession with family stories and researching her personal history, a distrust of technology (she has no cell phone and writes all her books longhand in pencil). She showed us quilts she designed with her great grandmother, all sewed by hand (no machine). Writing for her seems as compulsory as eating a meal.
Another highlight of the day was visiting the children's book gallery, maintained by the festival director, David White. It is hands down the best collection of children's book art I've seen, if you love children's books then you have to go. There are pieces from all the greats (Maurice Sendak, Tomie dePaola, Arnold Lobel, and Trina Schart Hyman among others) and new artists too. Lots of sketches and process work.
This year we got to see the expansion of the "owl wall," a collection of owls (Keene's mascot) painted by children's book illustrators to celebrate next year's 100th anniversary of the college. Here is a pic of me next to my owl contribution (you can see it close-up here):
Grace, Elaine, me and Alissa Imre Geis in the gallery:
The owls (thats Eric Carle's in the front):
Finally the day ended at a get together for the speakers, owl donors, and friends at the festival director's authentic Irish Cottage: