Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New South Asia Book Award

In American children's literature, books with South Asian themes and characters have always felt a little like an afterthought. And anyone who's ever heard me vent knows my reactions to the many titles that still get published today, representing the region and its people in ways that are at best dated and at worst chock full of errors. And as for the geography (where is that South Asia place anyway?) well, I've been amused to note that The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is starting to show up on some lists of books about the Middle East. Middle East? India? Really?

So I'm absolutely thrilled to hear that after many years of conversation, planning, and gathering resources, an idea that feels as if it's been percolating forever has finally become reality. SANOC (the South Asia National Outreach Consortium) has just announced an annual South Asia Book Award and formed the first ever committee to select the 2012 books from among titles published in 2011. The committee will pick one winning title. They may also designate up to five honor books and up to five titles to be included on a highly commended list that will call attention to outstanding works on South Asia.

The award will be given in recognition of a recently published work of fiction, non-fiction, poetry or folklore, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, published in the United States, Canada or United Kingdom, in English (translations into English will also be accepted) which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diasporas, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. The culture, people, or heritage of South Asia should be the primary focus of the story. 

The countries and islands that make up South Asia are: Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the region of Tibet.

Additional details including downloadable submission guidelines can be found on the SANOC web site. Publishers, writers, readers, and anyone interested in the literature of this region and its diaspora, or even simply in making the literature of all children more inclusive, please pass the word on.

Finally, we're on the map!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dana Walrath on crossings of the mind

When I began writing Naming Maya many years ago, Kamala Mami, the elderly cook and housekeeper whom Maya befriends,  didn't have dementia. I didn't know what was happening to her as I wrote her onto my pages although I knew it was something that shook her to her core. Periodically, as I wrote those tentative early scenes my long-suffering editor would ask, What's wrong with her? Do you know?

Well, I found out. As she emerged it became clearer and clearer to me that she was suffering from the kind of dementia that turmeric is supposed to prevent. At the same time, my own grandmother was going through that same slippage of memory, remembering with sharp clarity only events and people prior to about 1959. Until she died, she always recognized me, her oldest grandchild, even though sometimes months would go by between my visits. She would recount the same incidents from my childhood over and over until the last time I saw her they were only a mumble, from which vestiges of my childhood babble would occasionally make themselves heard. Reality became fractured in an odd way. Many different times seemed to exist at once, while everyday remembering became a thing that others had to do for her. 

And now anthropologist, writer, artist, and VCFA alumna Dana Walrath is keeping this remarkable record of her mother Alice's here and now. Alzheimer's Through the Looking Glass is tribute and documentary, a work of care filtered through a daughter's keen and aching love. Dana began it for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2011. You can see the sketchbook on their site:  http://arthousecoop.com/users/danawalrath. The real thing, touchable in Moleskine, was in Austin, Texas at SXSW earlier in the month.    

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don't Write off National Writing Project!

Many writers can trace their own personal journeys of literacy back to a teacher--someone who encouraged, promoted, nudged, pushed, or offered books, time, and opportunity to create a young writer. That's not always true, of course. But it's surprising how often it is the case.

National Writing Project began in 1974 with James Gray and his colleagues in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Thirty-seven years after Gray's launch of the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), this national network has connected the best teachers with each other and encouraged them to get even better. It has supported, taught, inspired, and assisted those who teach writing across the age range. It has elevated the discourse about the teaching of writing. My involvement with Bisti Writing Project in Farmington, NM led me, personally, to think about teaching and writing and the overlap between them in ways that made me both a better teacher and a better writer.

There's no doubt about it. Writing Project sites light fires. And the model works--plenty of studies show that's true.  Personal testimonials can be found here and here and here.

Yet federal funding for NWP, the nation's leading effort to improve writing and learning in the digital age, is now proposed for elimination. This from Sharon J. Washington, NWP Executive Director: To help NWP continue to make its case for federal funding, please tell Congress:"Don't Write Off the National Writing Project!"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Share a Story, Shape a Future

Author-illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba is a guest host for the 2011 Share a Story ~ Shape a Future literacy campaign! This year's theme is Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy!

All week, bloggers have been talking about the importance of early reading experiences, going to Mars (yes, going to Mars), singing love songs to libraries.

Elizabeth asked several of us to answer the question: How did you fall in love with reading?

Here for the record is the first book I remember owning, the one that I credit with that moment of magic and meaning in my own life, the point in time when books became my friends. It's still on my bookshelf, frayed and motheaten, to remind me that the real work I do is to speak to one reader at a time, one book at a time.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Connections: Teaching, Writing, History, and Maharajas

The occasional Updates and Downloads posts on WWBT will now be titled "Connections". Just because that makes more sense. It's all about revision.

Niranjana Iyer of Brown Paper posts about the Maharajas exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Amazing images, some that hold to stereotypes of India's former royals, and others that challenge them: here's Chand Bibi shooting with her ladies. More dazzling images here including the 1934 Phantom II Star of India Rolls Royce.

Oh, but this is loaded history indeed.  Niranjana comments on that as well in her post, an angle you won't find on the official site.

Far from thrones and jewels, but on the equally dazzling Cynsations blog, I'm interviewing Mark Dahlby about his pioneering work establishing Writers On the Net/writers.com as the very first web site to offer writing classes on the internet. Sixteen years and going strong--thank you, Mark!