Saturday, November 7, 2020

Closing Keynote: Elizabeth Partridge "Shout and Sing, Jump and Howl: How to Light Your Nonfiction on Fire"

Elizabeth Partridge grew up in a bohemian family of photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area. From a very early age she learned the power of images, and often combines words and photographs in her nonfiction books for young adults. Her book, Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam, was longlisted for the National Book Award and awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite. Partridge is the author of six picture books, with three more coming out in 2021. She loves to have an illustrator take her words and bring them to life.

Lin Oliver introduces Elizabeth, saying SCBWI and Smithsonian wanted to leave us all with a "note of inspiration, willing and able to do your very best work."

Elizabeth Partridge (lower right), interpreter Brian Truitt (upper right.)

Elizabeth advises us to:

Choose a subject you feel passionate about

Then research "until your eyeballs just can't stand it anymore." Go beyond secondary sources to primary sources, newspapers, photographs, and interviews with people.

Now, "you've got to get yourself organized." Elizabeth has an entire wall that's a bulletin board where she organizes her manuscripts! She also recommends – "absolutely a spectacular program" for organizing sources and citations and backmatter. 

Advice: Add some humor if it's a dark subject matter. If you're writing something light, get some deeper threads in there.

More Advice: Check all your verbs. 

"Verbs are combustible."
–Elizabeth Partridge

Yet more advice: "TikTok your manuscript... Tighten it up." Can you take out ten words on each page, as Richard Peck advised?

There's so much more, including a sneak peek of her upcoming book on the Japanese imprisonment during World War II in the U.S., and her evolution on using the word "prisoner" to describe the people rounded up and incarcerated in those camps.

Elizabeth concludes with thoughts about our readers, saying

"We have the unbelievable honor" to write books that light a spark in them that later they'll ignite.

Let them know there are people making life better and more fair. "We will keep fighting to make a better world with every word!"

Cue the applause!

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