Saturday’s conversation with Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander and award-winning author/illustrator Raúl The Third was all about being prepared for luck. They opened talking about the panel where they first met. A panel that would become an important mile marker in both of their careers—School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue, which featured a number of other talented creatives, including Jacqueline Woodson the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
They each spoke about how that panel was a pivotal moment. “We were all, with the exception of Jackie, . . . trying to find our way in the industry,” Kwame remembers. Raúl the Third echoed Kwame’s recollections. “It was so incredibly inspiring. I felt like I had just made it.” And for both of them these words couldn’t be truer. Kwame’s Newbery Award winning middle grade novel, The Crossover had just come out after 22 rejections over five years. He had already self-published 14 other books. And for Raúl the Third, it had been decades of people turning down his art before he and collaborator, author Cathy Camper sold their groundbreaking graphic novel Lowriders in Space.
During those early years, they each realized they needed to be open to possibilities in order to make their own work stronger. Kwame quoted Henry David Thoreau saying, “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” So, living, and experiencing, and being ready to say yes was a constant in both of their creative lives.
“If you’re going to be a writer,” Kwame says. “If you’re going to be in this world as a creative force, you have to be living a life that’s worth writing about. If you’re going to say something that matters, something significant, if you’re going to write something that is hopefully going to make us, your reader feel something, especially kids, . . . we have to be saying something, and saying it in a really beautiful way. I call it “intelligent entertainment”. So, I spent a great deal of my creative life just living. Just being in the world. Being a willing participant in the world. So, when I began to sort of become a writer in my own I sort of brought that part of my existence into the writing world.”
Raúl the Third agreed. At first, after going to numerous comic convention since he was in his teens, to show his portfolio, always hoping editors and publishers would “save him” or hire him so he could leave home and become a famous artist, he never realized how many other possibilities and opportunities were out in the world for him. But after years of rejection, and a move, and no one wanting to hire him as a comic book artist, he realized if he said yes to things, he would have all these different abilities that would serve his art in the future.
“All of those different opportunities that opened up because of positive thinking,” Raúl admits, “really inform a lot of the work I make now for our kids.”
Kwame added, “When we are starting out and are trying to build up . . . our legacy, there is a lot of work that goes into that. There’s a lot of . . . saying yes. There’s a lot of stuff. You have no idea what impact it may have down the road . . . but you’ve got to put yourself in situations to be able to get lucky.”
It was a perfect reminder to all of us to continue to do the work, continue to practice our craft, to continue to live and experience, and continue to remember the possibilities that may be apart of every yes!