An Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI’S Emerging Voices Award

On this blog we’ve often discussed our own New Voices and New Visions awards for unpublished authors of color. Today we wanted to spotlight another great award specifically for authors of color: the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

scbwi Emerging Voices Award

The On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award is a grant created to “foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.” It offers two writers or writer/illustrators from under-represented backgrounds the chance to receive:

  • An all-expense paid trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles August 1-4, 2015 (transportation and hotel)
  • Tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference
  • A manuscript consultation at the Summer Conference with an industry professional
  • An additional meeting with an industry professional
  • Tuition to the Summer Conference Writers or Illustrators Intensive
  • A press release

We interviewed Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI, about the creation of the award and the role of SCBWI in diversifying the world of children’s book publishing.

When was the Emerging Voices Award established?

The SCBWI Emerging Voices Award was established in 2012, with funding from Martin and Sue Schmitt of the 455 Foundation.  The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books. Each year, we select two writers or writer-illustrators for an all expense paid trip to the summer SCBWI conference, which includes a manuscript consultation and additional mentoring.  Qualified applicants must be from an ethnic or cultural background that is under-represented in children’s literature in America, such as Black or African-Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, American Indians or Asian-Americans.

Why did the SCBWI decide to establish the award?
The SCBWI is committed to encouraging the creation of a diverse body of literature for children. We believe that all children should be able to see themselves on the page and all readers will benefit from participating in diverse experiences through literature.  The representation of many cultures of ethnicities is vastly under-represented in today’s marketplace, and we hope this Award is a step to correcting that situation.

Have any past Emerging Voices winners gone on to receive publication contracts or publish books?

The award is still very young—there were three winners in 2012, and two in 2013.  As of now, all five winners are having their work-in-progress shared with editors and agents in the field.  There are no sales to report yet, but we feel confident that their work is in professional hands and receiving every possible consideration.

Emerging Voices Award winners
From L to R: Martin Schmitt, award winner Jennifer Baker, award winner Dow Phumiruk, and Sue Ganz-Schmitt

How do you perceive the SCBWI’s role in the greater movement for more diverse children’s books?

As the largest organization of children’s book writers and illustrators, we believe we play a leadership role in the movement to increase diversity in our field. We always make sure that the faculties of our national conferences include publishers, agents, authors and illustrators of diverse backgrounds.  We encourage our members to support and promote books from these publishers, authors and illustrators.  We often publish articles and papers about the role of diversity in children’s books, and work with other organizations such as the Children’s Book Council, First Book and We Need Diverse Books who are involved in this important initiative.

We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace.  It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable.From your perspective at the SCBWI, what are a few of the biggest obstacles that you see aspiring authors of color facing?

We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace.  It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable.  This is a challenge not just for children’s books but for our whole society—-we need to all show interest in and embrace all the diverse cultures that make up America.

Has the SCBWI taken any other steps to promote diversity among its membership?

In addition to the Emerging Voices Award, we have a special category in our Work in Progress Awards for multi-cultural books.  Many of our scholarships have been awarded to students of color. And our Amber Brown Grant sends authors to low-income schools who have never been able to afford an author visit.

How can publishers and the SCBWI work together to create a more inclusive industry?

In the past year, the We Need Diverse Books campaign has done a wonderful job of creating awareness of the lack of diversity in our field. That is the first step. The SCBWI will continue to provide opportunities for publishers to discover new talent. The publishers need to put forth their best effort to publish those books, and together, the SCBWI and the publishing community need to market those books and help bring them to the forefront in the consumer consciousness.

More information about The Society of Children’s Book Writers and all of its programs can be found at scbwi.org.  Please visit us.

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