What I took from my 5 Days at ALA Chicago Conference
by Lydia Golitz, GWP Summer Intern
Thanks to the incredible Dede Cummings, I was able attend the American Library Association’s annual conference from June 22 to June 27. This summer, it was held in Chicago, where I live and intern remotely for GWP. I was sent to do many things, among them: to learn how to be in conversation with libraries and educators, to spread the word about one of GWP’s upcoming release, Salamander Sky, and explore all the fun things ALA has to offer. I had a blast, all while gathering information and inspiration left and right.
Of all the incredible people I encountered at ALA, two really, genuinely, impacted me. One was Gene Luen Yang, and the other was Hillary Clinton. They were both featured speakers who really encapsulated what I feel is so important about what—and how!—we read.
Gene Luen Yang is an accomplished graphic novelist whose works center around the Asian-American experience. All of his work, especially his most accomplished pieces: American Born Chinese, and The New Superman, have inspired conversations about diversity in literature. In a moment of illumination, Yang spoke about what it means to be an “ambassador” and what it means to be an “advocate.” Ambassadors are people (authors, characters, readers) who relay other’s experiences in an empathetic way, and advocacy is sharing stories that speak to experiences representative of your own. In this way, Yang said, ambassadors teach you how to love others, and advocates teach you how to love yourself. And literature should do just that—create an empathy for others, while empowering the reader to be true to themselves in a noble way. His talk highlighted the importance of representation, and that anyone, from any background, race, or gender, is capable of doing anything, including being both an ambassador and an advocate. And one essential way in inspiring that inclusion is being able to see characters just like them in the stories they read.
. . . it is clear that “access equals opportunity,” books are of the UTMOST importance in every community.
Hillary Clinton spoke to the importance of representation as well, taking it a step farther in talking about how these books reach people everyday. Because it is clear that “access equals opportunity,” books are of the UTMOST importance in every community. With the help of free, instructional libraries, books can be endlessly accessed and open everyone to limitless opportunity through knowledge and empowerment. She also spoke to the importance of how we read. In the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts” it is more important than ever to be a critical reader. Clinton emphasized that libraries and books are the things that encourage and teach that critical reading and media literacy, and are therefore indispensable right now, and for our future.
Just from my short 6 weeks here at GWP, I can tell that all of these commitments are also central to what GWP strives to do. As people who write, read, and love books, we hold so much power in our world and in our own local communities to change perceptions and start important conversations through literature, poetry, and art. Interested in libraries, outreach, or changing the world? Start conversations with your local branch, your local bookstore, your local educators, readers, and writers. If you’re looking for just a good place to start reading, check out GWP’s own authors, who are all so committed to changing the world for the better, through advocacy for the environment.
Weneeddiversebooks.org and reading-without-walls.com are also good resources to help us expose ourselves to literature we might not even think about looking for. Though it can be a hefty challenge to read outside of the box, I believe it is one of the most important ones we have the privilege to participate in. Happy reading!
GWP Summer Editorial Intern