Taking the Supershuttle from the airport to the Hyatt with twelve other people, it wasn't hard to pick which of my fellow passengers were also heading to the SCBWI conference. They were the smiley ones that chatted to the driver, swapped stories, and generally seemed alive and interesting. One of the best things about the four days I spent at the conference was definitely the people there. Imagine a hotel full of 1300 animated, talented people, all engaged in a really fun creative field, and all keen to make contacts and make friends. The atmosphere was amazing. When I arrived at the hotel I saw there was a party going on in the lobby bar, so I went down to join in - I didn't realise I was gatecrashing the faculty drinks, but no-one seemed to mind too much, and strangely enough, the other gatecrashers all seemed to be Australian too. Hmmm....
There's a wonderful article in Publisher's Weekly that sums up the conference brilliantly, but I'm going to give you the Sarahscope Panoramic View in Glorious Technicolour (TM). Actually, it will be filtered through a slight haze due to the fact that it's almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in America, so I was suffering from severe tea withdrawal.
The next morning the conference opened with a welcome from Lin Oliver and Steven Mooser, the people who started it all 40 years ago. They claim that when they began SCBWI, it had about 10 members, and all of them had the last name Oliver or Mooser. This year, though, the conference sold out, with around 1300 attendees from 20 countries, and a cast of luminaries on the faculty which included some of the biggest names in children's literature. In fact, Lin Oliver joked that if there was an earthquake during the conference, there would be no children's book industry left in the USA. So they've come a long way!
The grand ballroom at the Hyatt, packed with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and agents. Lin Oliver welcomes everyone to SCBWI's 40th birthday bash.
All the keynote speakers proved themselves to be talented orators as well as writers and illustrators, and each speaker was moving, hilarious, and thought-provoking - often simultaeneously! There were many standing ovations. I can't really do their talks justice in the space of a blog entry, especially since part of their impact was due to their charisma, but I can at least share the moments that shone out for me.
The first keynote speaker was Bruce Coville, and his talk really struck a chord with me. I have some friends that do important things - they work for Oxfam, lecture in ethics, practice medicine, save the world. And I draw pictures. Sometimes I feel like what I do is rather frivolous. But Mr. Coville's talk was entitled "Ripples in the Pond: Why what we do matters... and matters... and continues to matter." At its centre was the concept that everything we do is like a pebble thrown in a pond, and that the slightest action can have unforeseen and important consequences. He read from a letter that had been sent to him by someone who as a child read the fourth book in his "My Teacher is an Alien" series ( "a book that didn't make any ripples, that received no critical acclaim and wasn't noticed by many"). But this child was so captivated by one of the scenes in the book where the characters travel around the planet helping people that, as an adult, they joined the Peace Corp. So, by drawing, by writing, and by sharing our ideas with children "we can reach a special, lasting place in a kid's soul". His talk was summed up beautifully in this quote from a Steven Sondheim song:
"Only move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Somethings bound to linger...
While I was listening, I was sketching - I listen best when I'm doodling, which is why I was always getting into trouble at school for having messy books covered in scribbles. So, here's Bruce Coville... the words around his head were his words of advice to aspiring writers (all fabulous tips, but my favourite was "Marry Rich"!) I've blurred them because I don't want to plaster his material all over the web without his say-so. And look! He signed it for me!