Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Out-and-About: Chicago's Printers Row Lit Fest!

This past Saturday’s and Sunday’s Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest continues to be the Midwest’s largest outdoor literary festival.

Think 125,000 book lovers of all ages roaming five city blocks of tented and tabled booksellers, author readings and panels that spanned every genre and format imaginable, signings for authors published traditionally, digitally or any way you can think of, cooking demos, poetry slams, a group read-aloud of Peter Pan to support literacy and the Peter Pan Kid Lit stage that overflowed with storytellers. All on a hot, hot (did I mention it was hot?) early June day without one forgiving breeze from nearby Lake Michigan.

Once again I presented my workshop Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – Writing for Children in TODAY’S Children’s Book World. Everybody, or so it seems, wants to write a children’s book and I truly delighted in welcoming and grounding newcomers to the Children’s Book World. The possibilities today are infinite and believe it or not, opportunities abound. Opportunities such as Lee and Low’s New Voices Award, Simon and Schuster’s Spoonfuls of Cheerios Contest and the Smories, on which children read your stories aloud and visitors vote monthly. All one has to do is write, read and connect!

I especially delighted in my workshop’s follow up session: Show, Don’t Tell – Four First-time Chicago-area Children’s Book Authors.

The SRO crowd learned first-hand from the panel of four authors pictured above: from left, Sherri Duskey Rinker, Kate Hannigan Issa, Michele Weber Hurwitz, Allan Woodrow and me. (How nice that Sheri’s husband David is a professional photographer.)

Each author shared a few singular concrete details of his or her particular writer’s journey – the surprises, the thrills, the rewards, the Reality, from which attendees could glean insights, information, and best of all, heart and hope.

Sherri Duskey Rinker’s picture book Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site (Chronicle Press), illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, is the book most editors warn writers they never want to see: a bedtime story written in rhyme! But Sherri knew and held strong to her belief: her young son lived and breathed trucks and there wasn’t one truck story appropriate for a bedtime reading. Sherri wrote the story while working full time as a graphic designer. She did her homework, targeted 14 or so likely publishers, sent off her well-worked manuscript and struck gold with Chronicle. The book appeared on the NY Times Best Sellers List last week; a now-agented Sherri just sold her second rhymed picture book.

Kate Hannigan Issa advised writers to pay attention to the Universe and all it delivers on a daily basis. Kate worked hard to stay focused on whatever project she chose to write. Even when an SCBWI Bulletin article about receiving misdirected mail and emails for Iowan author Kathryn Hannigan brought a first invitation from the publisher of Blue Marlin to submit work, and then a second arrived while Kate was working on an SCBWI-Illinois newsletter story about a fellow Blue Marlin author. The third time Kate knew she needed to respond, submitting The Good Fun! Book, a text about the idea behind the neighborhood help-the-community children’s projects she’d passionately orchestrated with fellow Hyde Parker Karen Duncan.

Michele Weber Hurwitz , author of the middle grade novel Calli Be Gold (Random House/Wendy Lamb Books) proudly revealed she had several unsold, agent-turned-back novels on her laptop’s hard drive before she wrote Calli Gold’s story and earned the interest of four agents! And even while the manuscript was being read and considered, Michele continued to revise, utilizing responses her agent shared. Writing a novel’s hard work that demands perseverance, determination and pluck.

Allan Woodrow’s two words of advice? “Be brave!” he told writers. Writing a novel had always been on Allan’s Bucket List. So he finally did what anyone wanting to pursue any passion does, be it plumbing or writing: he enrolled in classes, he studied writing, he read children’s books and he made sure he wrote every single day. His children were finally at that early chapter book series level that 3rd and 4th graders love, a reading level Allan knew from his advertising and marketing day job and more important, a reading level that accommodated Allan’s voice and singular humor. The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless is the first of a four-book series, sold by his agent to HarperCollins.

Chicago Tribune Culture Critic Julia Keller had shared in her May 29 column E.L. Doctorow’s sentiment in placing writers center stage. “Books are written in solitude. And they are read in solitude. But in between, there must be noise, and lots of it. There must be bass drums and trumpets and slide trombones. Balloons and confetti. Fireworks and floats. Marching bands and dancing bears. Because if authors want their books to be read, the release of those books into the world must be public events. Ideally, a book launch ought to be like Cleopatra on her barge: majestic, incredible, eye-catching…”

Lucky me to be out-and-about at the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Lit Fest Saturday to cheer on Sherri, Kate, Michele and Alan as they sailed off to long-awaited applause, their brand-new first-time-ever children’s books held high for all to see.

Esther Hershenhorn


Amanda Hoving said...

Sounds like a great panel and discussion.

I had the pleasure of going to Printer's Row a couple years ago - what a wonderful event!

April Halprin Wayland said...

What a wonderful post, Esther--I felt as if I were there...and learned something about each of the authors and their books. Thank you!