I spent a week presenting at local (Minneapolis-area) Young Authors Conferences in late May. I’m wondering if they have these all over the country? I don’t think I ever heard of them growing up or when I taught English in Florida. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with them, it’s when kids get to attend an all-day conference held off-site (often at a college campus) and do writing- and book-related workshops all day.
I know some authors don’t choose to present at these events because the pay is often not what they can make at individual school visits. And I understand the financial reality of that. Especially if you’ve done tons of speaking and can sort of pick and choose. Having never done a Young Authors Conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found it be a great experience–and the $1500 for the week was still more than artists and writers in our COMPAS program for artists in the school make for a weeklong residency.
Here are 12 good things about presenting at YAC:
1. Less prep time. You prepare one basic workshop and present it to a bunch of groups. You might tweak just a tiny bit for age range, but my poetry project remained the same, whether I was teaching 4th graders, 7th graders, or a mixed group. Just my tone and humor would naturally change a little, depending on the audience, but the actual activity stayed the same.
2. You get to really practice and hone that one workshop. I know some authors who like to try out a new workshop they’re going to use on school visits the next year. By presenting it 15 times (as I did) over the course of a week, you really polish that presentation.
3. You realize that groups are different. Even with two sessions of the identical age group, one session might be exhilarating while the other falls just a little flat. If I only presented it once, and it fell a little flat, I’d think, Oh, I’ve gotta change this and this and this. But being able to see 15 sessions in retrospect, you realize that group dynamics affect things, and one kid can really change a group (for good or bad!). Having a big picture view like that allows you to honestly evaluate your workshop and make changes without placing too much importance on one single activity.
4. The kids write! Many school visits now have you speaking to large groups where individual writing projects are impossible, so it’s fun to work with classroom-sized groups (I had 25-30 students per session) and actually do writing.
5. You get to introduce yourself and maybe one or two of your books to lots of kids from lots of different schools. Cool!
6. You get to meet/catch up with lots of great writers and artists. David LaRochelle, Gwenyth Swain, Lisa Westberg Peters, and many others I know were there, and it was fun to chat a little at lunch or at the autographing sessions at the end of each day. I also met cartoonists, hip-hop artists, travel writers, and all sorts of other imaginative people.
7. If you’re very industrious, you might get to watch some other sessions. I had hoped to, but on my lunch break, I went to eat a quick meal and then felt bad sticking my face into sessions already in-progress. Next time, I’ll check with some ahead of time to see if I can slip in late. There were many sessions on the program I would love to have heard and seen how they presented their material.
8. It’s in the same place every day. Love that. As someone with a famously bad sense of direction, the relief of going to the same venue every day all week was terrific.
9. If it’s well-run (and these were incredibly well-run), there are people on hand to answer questions, help with technology issues, etc. Because it’s a bigger event than a single school visit (we had thousands of kids there over the week), there are lots of people making sure everything runs smoothly.
10. The kids want to be there. They weren’t all literary geniuses, I’m sure. But generally, the schools hand-pick the kids, and the kids have some interest in writing or have “won” the conference as a reward. I’ve heard of occasional exceptions, but for the most part, kids at YAC tend to be smart, participatory, and so excited to meet writers and artists.
11: You get to see some feedback. Whether it was the tough kid from class who found me at the end of the day to say, “You know, I really liked your class,” or the written feedback from the evaluations (“I liked it the best because it held my interest and there were more fun activities,” “Her attitude towards us students was warm and welcoming,” and “It was fun to learn from a real poet and I love Scotland,” etc.), you couldn’t help but be excited to really connect with a lot of the kids.
12: You get to encourage kids. So many of them want to share their writing and their world with you, and it was a privilege to be there for that!
Coming tomorrow: I’ll share the project the kids did in my workshop.