By Kathleen Driskell, Chair, Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing
Here’s something I’ve learned. Nearly everybody thinks they have a picture book in them. Another thing I’ve learned? To underestimate the expertise needed to write a good picture book is foolish. At Spalding’s Fall 2019 SCPW residency in Louisville, we’ll give our writers a chance to explore picture book practice during our cross-genre venture into Writing for Children and Young Adults.
We begin our exploration with our books in common. I’ve already announced in an earlier post on this blog that our common read will be Boxers & Saints, the boxed set of graphic novels by acclaimed MacArthur genius Gene Luen Yang, who visits Fall residency to talk with our writing community. Boxers & Saints was nominated for a National Book Award, and in 2016, the Library of Congress, Every Child a Reader, and the Children’s Book Council appointed Yang the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
On our first night, after students enjoy a welcome dinner with your workshop leaders in the beautiful, historic Brown Hotel—my goodness what a residency dormitory we have in Louisville—we’ll launch into a discussion of Yang’s graphic novels. Come with comments you’d like to share during that first night. If you’re a little mystified by this graphic novel form, think about the narrative as you would any other, but also look for places where Yang’s drawings are absolutely essential for the sense of the storytelling. Give some thought about how the narrative unfolds through panels. Some of you storyboard your plots. Is that process analogous? What is being conveyed when panels change in size or prominence on the page?
Our conversation about graphic novels will help us understand the picture book form. In both, drawings are not meant to be simply redundant to the writing. If you’re like me, you’ll find it a bit of a jolt to be thinking about working in a form in which the writing isn’t meant to stand on its own.
But we’ll put these ideas into practice when we all hop on a bus and head to nearby beautiful Bernheim Forest to visit the Giant sculptures, character inspiration for your picture book assignment. Before heading out into the woods, we’ll gather in Bernheim’s Education Center to hear from our W4CYA faculty member Leah Henderson. Leah has a number of picture books under contract, so she’s in the thick of thinking about the essential qualities of that form. As we leave to visit the Giants, students should be prepared to take notes and photos of the sculptures and surroundings to use when developing your picture books. You should also bring your coat and gloves, and be prepared for a wet walk. We never know what weather we’ll have in November in Kentucky.
Other events and sessions spilling out of our residency cornucopia?
Louisville Literary Arts hosts the Writer’s Block Festival at Spalding during November’s residency, and this gives our SCPW students the opportunity to hear novelist Garth Greenwell, author of the critically acclaimed What Belongs to You and the soon-to-be-released Cleanness.
I’m excited about my plenary lecture on point of view, a tricky technical element that writers of all genres need to master. At the end of my lecture, you’ll have a chance to recast parts of your worksheets using what we’ve learned about POV. Later in the week, we’ll hear the Louisville Orchestra perform Strauss’s Don Quixote, described as a profound piece about a “fairy-tale” “hero,” creating further interesting intersections with our cross-genre study and opportunities to consider how POV is handled in a sister art.
I’m also eager to hear Associate Programs Director and poetry faculty member Lynnell Edwards present a lecture on hybrid forms of writing, sure to be a marvelous complement to our discussion of graphic novels and picture books.
As always, faculty workshop leaders also present enriching readings, lectures, and generative sessions and sit on panels that provide important takeaways for your writing. In addition to workshop leaders, faculty member Erin Keane, Editor in Chief at Salon, presents a professional enrichment lecture on podcasting. New faculty members Maggie Smith and Keith S. Wilson will be with us to lecture in poetry. New faculty member Bruce Marshall Romans is flying in from L.A. to present a talk on writing for TV.
And we’ll have the opportunity to hear from friends of Spalding’s School of Writing. Robert Barry Fleming, Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, has agreed to talk to us about his interests in contemporary theater. Idris Goodwin, artistic director of StageOne Family Theatre, will lecture on children’s theater, providing a wonderful opportunity to bring our Writing for Children and Young Adults students together with our Dramatic Writing students and others interested.
And Felicia Rose Chavez, whose book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom, forthcoming from Haymarket Books in 2020, joins faculty members Douglas Manuel and Silas House on a panel exploring bias in the creative writing workshop. This important discussion has been the subject of recent books including David Mura’s A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing, which I’ve found to be thought-provoking. I believe this is a necessary conversation for all who lead, or aim to lead, workshops in the academy and community. Our Spalding colleague Janelle Rae, Director of Inclusive Engagement, moderates this panel.
Other important, evocative, and useful sessions on writing, reading, and teaching await students this fall, riches for your writing too plentiful to mention in one blog post. Look for your Lecture Descriptions document to be released soon and for your Residency Curriculum and Events Schedule to be posted the Monday before residency, November 11.
I’ll be so delighted to greet each of you on November 15.
Award-winning poet and teacher Kathleen Driskell is the MFA Chair and Professor of Creative Writing at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing, Home of the Low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program. Her newest poetry collection Blue Etiquette is available from Red Hen Press. Next Door to the Dead, winner of the 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award is available from UPKY. Follow her @kathdriskell or visit her blog at kathleendriskell.blogspot.com.