For nearly 48 years I have been fortunate to serve the SCBWI as its President. I could have never imagined a better job. Nevertheless, I feel the time has come for me to step aside and relinquish the office of President in order to concentrate on some long-delayed writing projects.
I have been transitioning out of many of my executive duties for some time and we do have a succession plan firmly in place. I’m not leaving the SCBWI entirely. As everyone knows, once you have been with this organization for more than a few years, it’s impossible to walk away. In fact, I believe that might even be one of the universal laws of physics.
As I am not going to be SCBWI President, we plan to retire that office since most non-profit organizations are run by executive directors and not presidents. I do plan to remain active as a consultant, and will continue to edit the Bulletin, as I have done since our very first issue back in June of 1971. Already in production is the Winter Bulletin, which will be issue number 27
Lin Oliver and I are happy to announce that Sarah Baker is being promoted to Associate Executive Director. Lin will remain as Executive Director with responsibility for the programs and activities along with Sarah who now steps up to her new position. We are also forming an Executive Committee of Kim Turrisi and Tammy Brown to help administer the office and our many programs. Bonnie Bader continues as RA Liaison and PAL Coordinator. We have a wonderful staff in the office now, every one of whom delivers on their job titles. We are lean but not mean, getting so much done with relatively few people.
Regarding Sarah Baker, Lin and I have watched Sarah grow into this new position over her many years at the SCBWI. She comes from a publishing background, has established a rapport with our members, both illustrators and authors, has gained the trust of our associates in the publishing industry, and our regional teams around the world know they can always count on Sarah whenever the need arises.
On a more personal note, writing this farewell has spurred me to reflect on how the SCBWI has shaped my life, in both small and profound ways.
In the late sixties I was headed for a career in magazine journalism when I came upon a job posting at UCLA. They were looking for a children’s book writer to help write a K-4 reading program. Somewhat to my surprise, I got the job and began working on what would become a 250 book controlled vocabulary reading series. One month in I was introduced to a new hire, Lin Oliver. Like me she was a novice when it came to writing for children so we looked for a Children’s Writers Organization to join. When none existed we, somewhat naively, started one. Lin was as smart, as personable, and as enthusiastic in those first heady days as she is today. And I tried my best to see that we met the deadlines and kept the lights on.
In those early days and years we met the most incredible people. Who knew children’s book writers and illustrators were so interesting, worldly, funny, and above all generous? Jane Yolen and Sid Fleischman didn’t hesitate to say yes when asked if they would keynote our first conference. Sue Alexander brought a vision and did all she could, tirelessly, to keep the dream alive. Stephanie Gordon grew the RA group into a real community. The list of those in the past who helped us get off the ground, in addition to Jane and Sid, reads like a pantheon of children’s book greats: Tomie DePaola, Don Freeman, Judy Blume, Mildred Pitts Walter, Myra Cohn Livingston, Barbara Seuling, James Giblin, Richard Peck, Ezra Jack Keats, Walter Dean Myers, Eve Bunting, Paula Danziger and the list could go on, and on.
When in 1973 I asked Sid Fleischman to take a look at a manuscript I’d been working on, he gave me a no-nonsense critique that included the most important lesson I’d ever receive: “This is a good story, but I know you can work harder. Go back and sweat some.” I did just that and discovered the magic that happens when you take the time to put the words in all the right places. A year later I sold that first book to Scholastic. It was called 101 Black Cats and was illustrated by the legendary Quentin Blake.
I have subsequently sold more than 60 books for children over the last forty odd years. Those books have ranged across the genres from early readers, picture books (thanks Tomie for illustrating three of those), middle-grade series, choose your own adventures, nonfiction, and middle grade novels.
And, thanks to my background in writing for children, I recently wrote the world’s first Augmented Reality story, A Tale of Time. It is just two and a half minutes long and debuted last month at a major media expo in London. Thanks SCBWI, and thanks to everyone who mentored, encouraged and guided me throughout this most wonderful of careers.
I’m proud that Lin and I helped build the SCBWI. But we hardly did it alone. For some endeavors to succeed it takes a village, but for the SCBWI it took a metropolis. Hundreds of volunteers to this very day make our worldwide reach possible.
Some years ago I traveled with Lin by train 30 hours across the Gobi Desert from Beijing to attend an SCBWI event in Mongolia. When we pulled into the old station in Ulan Bator our Regional Advisor was standing on the platform holding up a scrap of cardboard reading SCBWI. No other moment so powerfully demonstrated to me the immensity of what all of us, working together, had wrought.
Finally, as much as I have delighted in writing books, winning some awards, and traveling the world, what I treasure most are the friends I have met along the way. They number in the hundreds and maybe even in the thousands. They are people I admire, who I learn from, and more often than not share a laugh with. I might not see them for years, but, when I do, we pick up the conversation wherever it left off. I can trust them. I can count on them, and they know they can count on me. And they are you.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
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