ALA Conference in San Francisco 2015

The entrance where you need a badge
Ok, I’ve been meaning to write about the ALA (American
Library Association) since I went recently. I’ll try to keep this short. On a
sunny but brisk weekend in Frisco I went to the ALA and visited my TYS Crew and
friends painting a mural near by at the Ybca.

My crew mates and friends painting murals

 Awareness: Ok, first of all to even go to something like
this I had to be in the right state of mind. I mean it helps greatly that this
was near my city (Oakland) this year, because it travels to a different city
every year. But when I say awareness, I mean that it took me a while to even
see the value of going to any kind of conference. Especially one thrown by
librarians. But, now that I’m aware I want to share it with you in case
storytelling in books is of interest to you.

Getting IN: This is a barrier. Not as big of a wall as the
SCBWI, but its still a wall that some people cannot get through. I’m lucky that
I am doing well enough as a freelancer that I could afford to go. But more
importantly I understand the type of investment going is. So I paid. But, not
before trying to find a hook up. I mean, come on. Wouldn’t you try to get in
free if you could? No dice. But while asking about getting in from the women
selling tickets at the front kiosk, a brother from Georgia basically broke it
down to me. Pay for the minimum price. There are two types of attendance fees
that I knew of, probably more. 1- Get into the area where they sell shit-tons
of shit, mostly books, but a bunch of other shit. I’ll get to that. 2-Attend
the panels and discussions. This was important because some of the people you
want to meet are specifically at those.
Corporate central
Networking: This is important. I know, I know. Its not easy
to just go up to someone you don’t know and talk to them. But, if you want to
learn everything there is to know about any chosen field, or just know all the
tools in the box networking helps.
-And I honestly try to talk only to people who I actually
have a connection to. As it relates to children’s books, that could be an
author or illustrator who’s work I actually like. Not just a name, but someone
who I actively read, follow, or know something about. That way if I do talk to
them, I have something to actually talk about.
-Another important thing about networking. You never know
who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, or who you’ll stumble upon. Case in point,
I was walking through what ALA calls “artist alley” a place where indie and
established illustrators/authors sell their book and talk to people face to
face. In the alley that day I met several people who I’d been following like
Gene Luen Yang, Nathan Hale, John Hendrix, Erika Alexander and her husband TonyPuryear, and many more.
-Homework. Because I am learning about the field still (3
books in) I am constantly studying artists and writers who are doing stuff that
I like visually or creatively with the writing. I can’t stress how important it
is to do the work, look for the work, and ultimately improve your work.
-Connection, homework, and stumble! Now combine all three of
those. I just happen to see John Hendrix. Didn’t know he’d be there at all.
Love his illustrations for “John Brown” and immediately walked up to him ask
him about his work. Guess what? He wasn’t a jerk, he was quite nice and because
I was familiar with his work it made the conversation free of creepy or
awkwardness. We talked about technique, I showed him my work (not because I
expected anything, just because I dig his work) and Howard Reeves  comes up to talk to me about my work. I
talk to him just like I was talking to John (natural). Turns out this guy is an
editor at a press I’m familiar with. Why? Because a fellow classmate from
college Duncan Tonatiuh is published his company. I ask him if he knows him. Of
course! He’s his editor. Wow, connection however small made.
It was a always a rush of people

The enormity of the big 5 companies
 Knowledge/Learning: Although I am now 3 books into the
children’s book game, it is a lifelong journey and I will forever be a student.
On the one hand I’m quick to say #$%& the industry! Do it yourself! Some
days I’m like I need to begetting that Scholastic money, I’m trying to own a
house, lol. But to be real with you as an artist, as an entrepreneur, and as a
human I am learning and pulling from many sources. I believe the big companies
have some things to teach. I believe that to really learn how to be a
children’s book creator I must investigate whoever is out there creating dope
shit. By that I mean beautiful artwork, good quality printing, and stories that
are from the heart that represent some of the cultures I come from. I believe
that there is no waiting for larger companies to “find you” or for a company or
person to validate you. It’s really about doing it.
panel on diversity

Don Tomas Moniz reading from a zine

Nia King reading from a zine
Future: In conclusion, if you are an illustrator or writer
interested in children’s books and the ALA is in your city. I’d say go. Check
it out, see what they’re talking about at least. The ALA did a way better job
at promoting diversity and bringing not only a wide array of speakers/companies
in-they had a much more diverse in attendance than I expected. I could have
dealt with out all the corporate companies selling sinks, book shelves, filing
systems, etc but hey I went and found what I was looking for.
Zines: They had an awesome zine pavilion where I got to see
artists like Breena Nuñez, Avy Jetter, Liz Mayorga, and of course my Rad Dadfamilia. Lots of lefties there and anarchy in the corner which is just what
they need in my opinion.
The zine pavillion
 Friends: Aww man, 10 years ago, shit maybe even 5 years ago
I probably would not have known anyone there. But I was happy to see Amy Sonnie(Oakland librarian/Co-author of HillBilly NationalistsUrban Race Rebels, and Black Power ), Innosanto Nagarra (author/illustrator of A is for
Activist),  Duncan Tonatiuh ( Diego
Rivera, Separate is never equal ). I met some people from Chronicle who
recognized me after doing a talk with one of their illustrators on Latin@s for
Kid Lit, I saw John Jennings (Black Comix, Black Kirby), Nia King (Queer artists of color), and I met Cory
. I’m sure I’m forgetting some body else but it was nice to see
familiar faces.

ALA: Please include an intentional artists alley for more
independent publishers of color who are from the cities you are being hosted
in. You missed Reflection Press, Blood Orange Press and Marcus Books! But good job on including folks from #WeNeedDiverseBooks , i caught the tail end of the talk, but was glad they were there.