Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cheryl Klein on Editing If I Ever Get Out of Here

In February's discussion of If I Ever Get Out of Here on CCBC-Net, we also heard from his editor, Cheryl Klein, at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. We are reprinting it here with her permission.

Cheryl Klein
As the editor of Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here, I’m delighted to see the conversation going on here about it! If you don’t mind, I wanted to share a little bit about how the book came to be, since it ties to some of the questions we were discussing earlier in the month regarding diverse literature. 

I’ve long been interested in publishing diverse stories, and thanks to my position at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, I’ve been in a place to do so. But in my first eight years in the industry, I did not see any submissions at all from Native American authors. After a debate about multicultural literature over on the child_lit listserv in, I think, 2008, I decided to reach out to Debbie Reese about this. I told her that the #1 problem in publishing Native American books was actually getting manuscripts from Native writers, and asked her to pass along my contact info to any aspiring Native children’s or YA authors she might meet.

Debbie sent me several writers over the next few years, and one of them was Eric Gansworth. Eric had published several adult novels and collections, but he’d never written for YA before; and his writing instantly stood out to me for his emotional sensitivity, his backbeat sense of humor, and his powerful portrayal of relationships among families and friends on and off the reservation. The first thing he sent me was a short-story collection featuring a young man’s observations of the adult relationships around his reservation. I admired the stories, but it seemed more like a book about adults from a YA point of view than true YA fiction to me, so it didn’t feel right for my list. But I told Eric that if he’d be interested in writing something that was truly focused on teenagers, I’d be delighted to see it; and he responded with a proposal for a novel that had long been in the back of his mind, about friendship, the Beatles, and the great Buffalo blizzard of 1977. I said “I love this idea, write it,” he did so, and I acquired the novel. We then worked together to shape it into If I Ever Get Out of Here

So if I could point you lovely librarians and teachers to one thing in this story, it would be the crucial role that Debbie played in letting Native writers know there was someone looking for their work, and her work connecting those writers to the wider publishing world. If you work with a diverse population and you know some aspiring writers, please give them books that might inform or encourage their writing, like those we’ve been discussing all month. If they’re adults, tell them about the Angela Johnson scholarship at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where they might find support for honing their craft. Point them to this discussion, and the CBCDiversity Tumblr, and the Lee & Low Book Awards, for names of publishers and editors and readers interested in seeing their work. Remind them it often takes patience to find the right editor for the right project at the right time, and they shouldn’t be discouraged by one rejection (as I turned down Eric’s first submission); but to hang in there and keep writing, first and foremost. Be the connector and encourager for any talented writers of color you might know, and hopefully we can see more of them in print soon.

With best wishes,

Cheryl Klein
Executive Editor
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic

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