Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference discusses multicultural literature for youth

Nick Boone

Kent State hosted the 31st Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference with keynote speaker David Macaulay, an award-winning author and illustrator for children’s literature, on April 9 and 10 at the Student Center.

Alexa Sandmann, co-director of Virginia Hamilton Conference and director of the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies, said the conference is focused around the importance of multicultural literature for youth and is the longest running conference of its type in the country.

“It was named in honor of Virginia Hamilton, who was the first black author to be awarded the Newbery, which is the most prestigious literary award for children’s literature,” Sandmann said.

Hamilton became associated with some of the professors at Kent State and worked with them during her career, said Meghan Harper, co-director of the conference and associate professor in the School of Library and Information Science.

“The idea is to encourage the use of multicultural literature among young people and cultivate an appreciation for diversity,” Harper said when describing the purpose of the event. “The whole conference is devoted to raising awareness of multicultural literature for young people.”

During his speech, Macaulay, the recipient of this year’s Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, discussed his transition to living in the United States after moving from England when he was a child and emphasized his love for drawing.

Macaulay also spoke about one of his books, “Toilet: How It Works.” He said that everyone knows what a toilet is but doesn’t know how it works or the details of it. Because it is an everyday item, people take it for granted.

Macaulay’s speech focused around how people should take advantage of the simple things and get to know them and not overlook them. He compared drawing something to having a conversation with that item — as one draws it, one can get to know it and understand it.

He also said he wants to use visuals to connect people to ordinary items, so they can get to know them better. He said his goal is to reconnect readers with elements of life that are ordinary or overlooked.

Rita Williams-Garcia, an award-winning author for young adult literature from New York, also spoke at the event. She won the 2011 Newbery Honor Book for her book, “One Crazy Summer.”

She discussed her different works and her time in Japan. Her advice to the audience was to not take people at face value; people should find out more about them, such as their values and thoughts.

She said she wants everyone to share their feelings and thoughts and take away the barriers. She also encouraged the audience to teach young people to communicate with others and share their ideas.

Grace Lin, a New York award-winning writer and illustrator, was the final speaker at the event. Her book, ”Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” won the 2010 Newbery Honor Book.

Workshops designed to inform librarians and teachers about multicultural children’s literature and how to use it in the classroom or library will take place on April 10 throughout the Student Center, as well as the Kiva and University Library.

“The wonderful thing about the conference is the participants get to talk with other teachers and librarians,” Sandmann said. “That is a rich part of it as well, to go to the small groups sessions and interact with people who love literature as much as they do.”

The Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, the Virginia Hamilton Essay Award and two grants will be awarded Friday, April 10. The two grant winners will receive up to $1,000 for a project to help promote diverse literature and the understanding of multicultural literature.

Contact Nick Boone at [email protected].