17 June 2013

ChLA 2013 Building a Career in Children's Literature

Just back from a wonderful conference in Biloxi, Mississippi hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi. I offer the first of several blogs I'm planning on the panels I attended and the books I read pre-conference. My blogging has been spotty of late, and I'm hoping to get back in the literary groove. I select this first topic because a friend asked me to take a few notes to share because she could not attend the Friday morning panel chaired by Amanda Allen, Eastern Michigan University. There were four panelists and these notes should be viewed as my impressions rather than their remarks unless I indicate otherwise by the use of quotation marks:

  1. Richard Flynn, Georgia Southern University, "Stepping on Cracks: Applying, Teaching, and Publishing Across the Children's Lit/Adult Lit Divide"  emphasized that it is essential to be proactive in establishing a scholarly record. Publish! ...In today's job market, it is "misguided to focus exclusively" on children's, Y.A., or Adult literature. "Be diverse. Try to place your children's literature critiques in other venues." These practices help you establish networks of support and enhance your reputation and increase your likelihood of success.
  2. Martin Woodside, Rutgers University, "All Work and No Play?: Balancing the Personal and the Professional." Calypso Editor, the youngest person on the panel, parent of young child/children, reminded us "you're responsible for putting all these balls in the air...." Don't create too much distance between work and play.  It's easy to complain but "this was my choice...." "Spending time with a real child" (yours!) "can be an important asset" in children's literature.... Balance is both "respect and perspective" and "it's OK to be frustrated." Do one thing at a time, focus on what you need to do, be fully present wherever you are. "Spending time with my family" makes "me a better worker" ...it's OK to leave some things undone...." His examples applied to both personal and professional life. "The opposite of play is not work; it's depression."
  3. Erica Hately, Queensland University of Technology, "Risky Business: International Job Hunting" emphasized that there are both "international" and "institutional" cultures and that the job hunt involves translating not just into another language but into another culture. "You must also translate yourself." Understand the culture you are going to, be excited by it. Things that help you find and keep a job are your ability to "attract funding"...and publish, noting that the type of publications matters a great deal. "Book chapters..." Seek a "niche" that gets you noticed.
  4. Roberta Seelinger Trites, Illinois State University, "Playing at Professionalism: Facing Down Impostor Syndrome" delivered a talk that was quite entertaining as well as helpful. She began "whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune..." "Impostor Syndrome is normal..." As one acquires knowledge, and realizes how much one does not yet know, one begins to "feel inadequate" and to feel like "an impostor." Remember, each of us is always learning; you are "a student your entire life." Don't pad the c.v. or puff up yourself because "it's a sin to lie" but it is always OK to admit that you don't know and to assert what you do know.  "Not knowing everything does not mean you're incompetent." Assess your strengths and weaknesses. "Focus on your comfort zone" because that is where you can work most happily and achieve most quickly. Assess your weaknesses and work to develop those areas more slowly. Nobody is good at everything. Celebrate your successes, "even your small ones...." "Tell 5 people about your success... most people like hearing your good news." Give yourself permission to seek validation. Be proud of your accomplishments. Diversify your career. Set goals and meet them. Reward yourself. Celebrate with your true friends. {As an aside, she spoke of "toxic competitiveness..." among individuals and within an academic department and  "a concern for status" as leading to Impostor Syndrome. Humility is an antidote to Impostor Syndrome. She pointed out that even a successful academic may need therapy or counseling to deal with life issues. Get help from a mental health professional if you need it.} Focus on your own achievements. Do not compare yourself to others. "...find the playful in everything you do..." As Martin said, "you chose this." At play you don't feel an impostor. Compartmentalize! If you're grading, go into a room and grade. If you're having Thanksgiving dinner with your family and sitting around visiting over pumpkin pie and coffee, enjoy being with your family; grade some other time. "Multi-tasking is a delusion."
In Q&A  I did not identify either the questioner or the responder. Hitting the highlights:

  • c.v. is a genre, master it. Ask to see a friend's application packet
  • in publishing a recommendation is a help in the submission process... note your readers' reports... REWRITE!!! Do not send out anything that someone senior to you has not read... Have at least two readers, one senior to you and one just a little bit senior to you, read your material before submission.
  • write out of a place of passion.
  • If an editor sends you a "revise and resubmit" that does not mean "oh, they don't like it." Rather it means that they want to work with you. Everything goes through multiple revisions. Trust the journal editor who wants to help you, to work with you to get you published.
  • Where to go for help? The panel agreed that "Ph.D. advisor is a life time relationship." Talk to those you meet at conferences and talk to you after your presentation. Contact a recent scholar working in a related area. Ask, ask, ask... "people know how to say No... or they should."
  • create a narrative for yourself. Charting your goals and your progress is helpful but telling your story and revising it every few years may also be helpful (This from the audience.)
  • There is always something that is "the hardest" to do. If at all possible I make it a rule to "give it priority"  "when the mood is right..." For example when I can write poetry, I try to write poetry rather than giving other things priority. Sometimes one must stop juggling and focus. (This from Martin.)
  • The time between revision and publishing? "How long is a piece of string?" (That from Roberta) 14 months, 2 years, up to 3 years Be productive. Be prolific. Be patient.
  • If you are going to work in children's literature, you must be able to articulate why children's literature matters. Write a paragraph about why your genre matters. Practice saying it with authority. Look for common ground with others... play the diversity card... "everyone was once a child" yet children are often oppressed, ignored, devalued...
  • How does tenure change your experience? Now I have "freedom to speak..." now I am expected to be and am "a leader..." now I am "an administrator..." and "now I'm stuck here..." "now what?" There is always something problematic about every institution...
  • Next year we need a panel on mid-career issues.
  • Roberta: Remember, "It's a job.  A job!" ..."40 hours of work/week" which all the panelists agreed may not be possible which is one reason that at least some aspects of your work must be play--something that brings pleasure, something that brings energy, something that  brings laughter and joy. "But it is a job... It's not your identity." Commit to the personal relationships that give your life meaning. 
Although I don't really have a career in children's literature, this was one of my favorite panels. Much of this advice is applicable to anyone in any career or stage of life. My gratitude to the speakers.

ChLA Children's Literature Association


KCP said...

I should also express my gratitude to Amanda Allen not only for her excellent chairship of this panel but for her morning smile, listening ear, and informative conversation at the preconference breakfast. I look forward to seeing you again.

Amanda K Allen said...

Aww, thanks so much! And thanks, as well, for this awesome post about the session. With your permission, may I share it through the ChLA Facebook and Twitter accounts?

KCP said...

Amanda, Yes, by all means feel free to share it with the whole wide world. I consider it both an honor and a privilege to contribute in any way to ChLA.

DrSMinslow said...

Thanks for sharing this. I wanted to attend that session, but ended up at a different one. To be honest, I really needed to hear a lot of this. Thanks!