One of the topics that gets forgotten when we talk about the need for greater diversity in children’s and YA books (and in the creators who write them) is the need for mentors. We Need Diverse Books started a vibrant mentorship program in 2015 that so far has benefitted 17 writers and illustrators. There’s still time to apply this month for WNDB’s upcoming mentorship program (see image below for details). To understand more about the program, I talked to children’s writers Miranda Paul and Laurie Ann Thompson, who direct the program.
Why do you all devote your time to the mentorship program?
Miranda Paul: I’m the one who started it in 2015 and Marieke Nijkamp helped me but this program was important to me because several years ago, before I got published, I had a mentor. So I made the push to get this program up and running. A goal of it was to cultivate talent for upcoming diverse writers and illustrators who are pursuing a career.
Laurie Ann Thompson: That’s definitely a personal motivation for me but I think also because as writers and illustrators we’re all these businesses of one and that can be isolating and you can find all this stuff on the web but I don’t know that it’s custom-tailored. It’s not personal. But with a mentorship you have someone who is looking at your work and what you’re hoping to accomplish. For diverse writers and illustrators, they can feel even more isolated. When you know you’re writing books but you feel outside or marginalized, you want a group of people you can go to, so mentorships may be even more important to diverse writers.
Who are some writers who’ve benefited from the program?
LAT: We have several but the ones who have been the most vocal about where they are in their journey are the ones who have gotten published. Jacqueline Alcántara, an illustrator mentee, got her agent and has two forthcoming books. I don’t know what the details are at this point. For this year’s program, AM Dassau connected with her agent shortly after the program and she’s working on a novel about a Syrian refugee. There’s a lot of forward movement. It’s so easy to abandon a career and this mentorship really kick started their careers.
MP: 2017 nonfiction Mentee Teresa Robeson recently signed with an agent as well, and she still has two months left of her mentorship (with Jane Yolen).
How do you measure the success of the program?
MP: Getting an agent or publishing a book is definitely something we want to celebrate but that’s not what I would stress as the success of the program. The successes are craft-focused. Mentees say, “I really worked on this manuscript. I think I’m a better writer. I worked on some techniques.” It’s hard to measure but it is more of a success because our goal is to build a career on honing your craft and producing high-quality work. So our mentorship program will stay focused on that craft.
LAT: For me, it’s the bigger mission of trying to help everyone share their stories. I think each of us has a unique, important story to tell and I want to make sure that the world gets to hear as many of those as possible. In reading through the applications, it’s so interesting and educational for me to read things from all these different, diverse backgrounds. We get to read things from people with disabilities, all different backgrounds, someone who experiences a different way of life than we do. It’s more the big picture for me, making sure all these stories have a chance to get told.
Claiborne Smith is the editor in chief.