An Invitation to Writers

Back in the day, when Vicki Holmsten, Kristine Ashworth and I were dreaming up the earliest iterations of the Bisti Writing Project in Farmington, New Mexico, I learned the power of the word “invitation.” It was a term commonly used by National Writing Project people–you didn’t appoint someone to committees or working groups, you invited them. Invitation leads to feeling welcome, and therefore to being welcomed. It levels the field. It creates transparency.

Some of my most joyful work over the years has emerged from invitations–to write, to teach, to speak. This week I’m at Hollins University, meeting with Children’s Literature classes after speaking at the grad student-run Francelia Butler conference.

Being invited to the conference made me think about my writing life, about all the steps and missteps that led me to become the person I am now. A greying writer with a treadmill desk and a laptop but also stashes of paper and a fountain pen, an old Remington portable typewriter and a head full of stories waiting to be written.

Being invited led me to think about the collective sea of stories–and about the marvelous glass metaphors that Rudine Sims Bishop employed in 1990 to call for stories with more characters of color. That article served as an invitation to me, years ago, to write the stories that mattered to me.

Now I felt invited to take that metaphor and extend it. As I finished work on Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh a couple of years ago, I’d been struck by how it was more than a mirror or window text. Why not, I thought, play with that notion? Why not embrace the complexity of history and story and the relationships of people within and across cultures?

Here are a couple of slides from my keynote, with samplers of books whose authors complicate diversity in the best way:



Because windows were good for another time, and mirrors are necessary. But why stop there?  If you are a writer with a story grounded in a particular culture, or in more than one culture, consider this an invitation to frame your story as more than a mirror, more than a window. Why not make it a prism, capable of shedding light upon the world?

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