‟Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”

Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? 
New York Times, March 15, 2014

Join us at the New York Times Conference Center in midtown Manhattan on Saturday, April 8, 2017, 8AM-5PM as we prepare to honor Walter Dean Myer's legacy with a conference that celebrates our voices, our stories, our truth. Kweli's spring conference is an excellent opportunity for writers and illustrators of color to learn, get inspired and network with others in the industry. We have an exciting line up for the day with a keynote address by New York Times bestselling author, CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH, and panels and workshops with 2017 Caldecott medal winner, JAVAKA STEPTOE, Coretta Scott King award winner PAT CUMMINGSFRANCISCO X. STORK, winner of the 2010 Schneider Family Book Award for Marcelo in the Real World and TRACEY BAPTISTE, whose latest novel, The Jumbies, was named to Bank Street's Best Books of 2016. Please note that there will be three separate tracks this year: a Publishing Track, a Novel Track and an Illustrated Books & Nonfiction Track. Our panels and workshops will cover topics from the craft of writing to the business of writing. Top editors, agents, and authors will discuss crucial steps to help launch a writer's career and offer carefully considered manuscript critiques. Critiques will run concurrently with panels, and books will be available for sale and signing.  




Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times best-selling author of the award-winning Feral series and Tantalize series. Cynthia also is the author of several award-winning children’s books, including: Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Indian Shoes. She serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Please visit her website at and follow her online at @cynleitichsmith.


8:00am - 8:50am
Registration and breakfast

8:50am - 9:00am
Welcome and Introduction

9:00am - 9:50am
Why We Create Now: There’s never been a better time to be a creator of diverse books — or a greater need for writers to speak out and share their voices. Four creators of literature for young readers discuss what, why, and for whom they’re writing at this moment. Featuring: Cozbi Cabrera, illustrator of My Hair is a Garden; Joanna Cardenas, Editor at Viking Children's Books; Zoraida Cordova, author of Labyrinth Lost; Karuna Riazi, author of The Gauntlet; Traci Sorell, author of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

10:00am - 10:50am
A.  Publishing Track
State of the Market:
Publishing professionals discuss the current state of the children's/YA publishing market and trends for 2017 and beyond. Featuring: Jenne Abramowitz, Senior Editor at Scholastic; Preeti Chhibber, Senior Editorial Manager, Scholastic Reading Club; Peter Knapp, Literary Agent at Park Literary; and Andy Laties, Manager of the Bank Street Bookstore

B.  Novel Track
Beyond the Hero's Journey: What is the Hero's Journey? What does it look like for MG vs. YA readers? How might culture influence a view of the "hero" and the path s/he follows? Featuring: Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Voice; Daniel José Older, author of Shadowshaper and Kate Sullivan, Senior Editor at Delacorte Press

C.  Illustrated Books and Nonfiction Track
Workshop on Picture Books 101:  Writing a picture-book text is simple, right? Wrong! This workshop will teach you the structures, considerations, and expectations that underlie this surprisingly complex narrative form. Featuring: Pat Cummings, illustrator of Beauty and the Beast

11:00am - 11:50am
A.  Publishing Track
Multiple Pathways to Publication:
Should you pursue the Big Five? A small press? Packaging? Self-publishing? Our experts will help you determine the direction that's right for your project. Featuring: John Byrd, Cinco Puntos Press (representing small-house publishing); Cheryl Willis Hudson, Just Us Books, Inc. (representing traditional and small-house publishing); Irene Smalls (representing self-publishing)

B.  Novel Track
Workshop on Plotting:  Stakes, events, obstacles, climaxes, conclusion: We'll consider all the elements that go into an effective plot. Featuring: Sona Charaipotra, Co-founder of Cake Literary

C.  Illustrated Books and Nonfiction Track
Workshop on Creating Graphic Novels: The graphic novel is one of the most exciting and popular art forms going right now, especially for young readers. Wendy Xu, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology

12:00pm - 2:00pm
Luncheon Keynote by Cynthia Leitich Smith


2:00pm - 2:50pm
A.  Publishing Track
Platform and Marketing:
How can writers establish a platform? What are the most effective ways for writers to publicize and market their published books? How can social media be an asset? Featuring: Jennifer Baker, Minorities in Publishing Podcast; Saraciea Fennell, Publicist, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Justina Ireland, author of Promise of Shadows; Ebony LaDelle, Marketing Manager, Simon & Schuster

B.  Novel Track
Workshop on Developing Multidimensional Characters:  How do you make a character spring to life on the page?  Featuring: Francisco X. Stork, author of The Memory of Light

C.  Illustrated Books and Nonfiction Track
Workshop on Illustration 101: So you want to be an illustrator. What do you need to know? Featuring: Javaka Steptoe, author of Radiant Child, The Story of Young Artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat (Winner of 2017 Caldecott Medal)

3:00pm - 3:50pm
A.  Publishing Track
Writing Process & Revision:
How do you write a book, anyway? What should you do with it after you finish a first draft? What resources are most useful to writers revising their work? Featuring: Cheryl Klein, Editorial Director at Lee & Low Books; Marcie Rendon, author of Murder on the Red River; Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

B.  Novel Track
Workshop on Worldbuilding & Structure: The author's first responsibility is to build a credible reality on the page. How do writers accomplish that? What might narrative structures outside the traditional climactic mold look like? Featuring: Heidi Heilig, author of The Ship Beyond Time.

C.  Illustrated Books and Nonfiction Track
Workshop on Picture Book Nonfiction: Nonfiction picture books can cover everything from a biography of a great historical figure to the anatomy of a hammerhead shark. Here's the lowdown on what editors look for in a nonfiction PB manuscript. Featuring: Jessica Echeverria, Editor at Lee & Low Books; and Emma Otheguy, author of Martí’s Song for Freedom

4:00pm - 4:50pm
A.  Publishing Track
Submissions & Queries:
What makes a good query letter? What helps a submission stand out? Our team of experts will tell you what they look for. Featuring: Linda Camacho, Literary Agent at Prospect Agency; Beth Phelan, Literary Agent at Bent Agency; Michael Strother, Editor at Harlequin Teen; Jennifer Ung, Editor at Simon Pulse

B.  Novel Track
Panel on Genre Writing: Fantasy, mystery, romance . . . Our experts will talk about what to read and how to write to succeed in these genres. Featuring: Sheela Chari, author of Finding Mighty; Sayantani DasGupta, author of Kiranmala and the Kingdom of Serpents; Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary; Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of 8th Grade Superzero, co-author of Two Naomis

C.  Illustrated Books and Nonfiction Track
Workshop on Longer Nonfiction: What does MG & YA nonfiction look like in 2017? How do you break in to writing longer nonfiction? What are the differences between writing for the trade and the educational markets? Featuring: Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies

Click here for details on the conference presenters. 




Click here for details on the 2016 conference presenters.

Click here for details on the 2016 program.


Victoria Sanders & Associates

John N. Blackman Sr. Foundation