Inspiration from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

By Karen Mann, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Administrative Director

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When I refer to SCBWI, I’m usually asked, “What’s that?” It’s an acronym all writers should know. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an international professional organization that supports the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world. Its members are writers and illustrators of preschool through young adult books, as well as librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers—anyone with an active interest in children’s literature or media.SCBWI offers awards to support writers, events to educate writers, and publications with a variety of information, including listings of publishers and agents looking for submissions. The organization gives established writers the tools and resources to manage their career and educates writers who are just starting out.

When I discovered that SCBWI was founded in 1971 by two people, Stephen Mooser and Lin Oliver, it reminded me how Sena Jeter Naslund and I started the Spalding low-residency MFA in Writing program from scratch and built it together. But SCBWI humbles me, because it has been around for 47 years and has more than 20,000 members in 26 countries.

Each of the organization’s 83 regional chapters offers conferences, writers’ retreats, and other events to inspire and educate writers throughout the year. You’ll find a list of the regional events at scbwi.org. Annual membership is just $80.

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SCBWI holds two national conferences, one in New York City in January and the other in Los Angeles in August. I have been to the L.A. conference twice, and I found the programming to be stellar. Executive Director Lin Oliver is a superb host. At #LA18SCBWI, she greeted the more than 1,100 attendees each day with fun facts, anecdotes, and generous introductions of speakers. Each year there is a joke contest, and Lin also entertains by reading jokes written by attendees.

Bestselling, award-winning author Daniel José Older delivered an energetic and enlightening keynote using the song “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers as a vivid metaphor for the storytelling process. Older’s newest book, Dactyl Hill Squad, which has received multiple starred reviews, will be out in September. It is a middle-grade novel set during the Civil War, when dinosaurs roam the streets of New York.

Libba Bray, author of Going Bovine and many other books, gave a stimulating talk emphasizing how important writers are to our world. She stressed that we must continue to write—no matter what. If you want to read the most entertaining bio on the planet, click here.

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The conference also included autograph sessions, a portfolio showcase, lunch with Lois Lowry, and a wide variety of workshops. Among the workshops, I was particularly grateful to have attended Elana K. Arnold’s “Mastering the Nail-biter: Strategies for Improving Tension in Your Novel” and Malinda Lo’s “Five Foundations of Worldbuilding.” Lo’s innovative young-adult novel Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Lo was also on a panel, “Culture, Identity, and Writing: Where Do They Intersect?” moderated by Arthur Levine. I came away from each session feeling richer for the experience.

The best one-on-one 10-page manuscript review I have ever received came from freelance editor and author Deborah Halverson. I came home motivated to keep working on the young-adult novel that I am writing in collaboration with my grandson, Kaleb Reinhart. He and I attended the conference together, and it was exciting to see his engagement with writing and his love for books grow throughout the weekend. He and I particularly enjoyed a presentation on collaboration with a husband-and-wife team: author Andrea Davis Pinkney and author-illustrator Brian Pinkney. While each is highly successful individually, they have collaborated on several books together.

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Karen Mann with (clockwise from top left)  Leah Henderson (F/W4C ’11), Karen Langford (W4C ’17), Kaleb Reinhart (Karen’s grandson and co-writer), and Kat Shehata (W4C ’12)

While at the conference, I was delighted to visit with Spalding MFA alums Leah Henderson (’11), author of One Shadow on the Wall; Karen Langford (’17); and Kat Shehata (’12), author of the Russian Tattoos trilogy. I found the conference to be professional, enjoyable, and educational, and I urge you to think about attending an SCBWI event in the near future.


Spalding’s four-semester, low-residency MFA in Writing program offers concentrations in writing for children and young adults, fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, screenwriting, and playwriting. Residencies also offer teaching seminars, professional writing sessions, and cross-genre exploration. Prize-winning, publishing faculty work with students one-on-one in independent study. Students may customize the location (Louisville or abroad), season (spring, summer, or fall), and pace of their studies. See spalding.edu/mfa for more information, or find us on Twitter @Spalding_MFA.


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Karen Mann is co-founder and administrative director of Spalding’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. She is the author of two novels, The Woman of La Mancha and The Saved Man. She lives in California, where she enjoys low humidity, beautiful landscapes, and teaching her homeschooled grandsons, Kaleb and Korben.