Saturday, March 16, 2013

Greetings from Warrensburg

I write this from Warrensburg, Missouri, where I am attending the 45th annual Children's Literature Festival sponsored by the University of Central Missouri. I don't remember the year I first started attending, but I know I've come for at least fifteen years now. The three-day festival brings a few dozen authors to campus each March (during the university's spring break) and buses in a few thousand schoolchildren from all over the state of Missouri.  Then the authors spend all day talking to groups of kids, and the kids spend all day hearing talks from lots of authors, and for the rest of the time the authors hug each other, talk, talk, eat, walk, laugh, cry, talk, walk, talk, go shoe shopping, eat, and talk some more.

The festival has a remarkable family feel to it. The organizers enlist their husbands, grown children, and former students (including one who even flies in every year from Arizona to help with the event) to do everything from chauffeuring authors from the Kansas City airport to selling books, checking in school groups, and filling every minute of the festival with happiness for all.

I love how much the festival is the same every year. A few new authors show up, but mainly the authors flocking to Warrensburg this weekend are those who have supported the festival for decades. We always eat our first meal together at Heroes, in downtown Warrensburg (where their signature drink is the delectably potent Unknown Hero). We always take a walk on Sunday morning to see some cows. We always have a fancy luncheon with teachers and librarians on Sunday in the student union building, always with the same pasta buffet. We always sit in the same order at the same tables to sign books at a reception following. The same ladies who organize another children's literature festival in Nebraska always stop by offering the same bags of the same melt-in-your-mouth chocolates to authors here who ever attended their festival there (I haven't, but there are a LOT of these bags of chocolates handed out, so I always get my share). And so the festival continues.

The authors who attend, like all human beings, have lives that are filled with change, sometimes beautiful change (welcoming new children and grandchildren), sometimes heartbreaking change (burying parents and spouses); many of us are struggling to keep our careers afloat on an ever more turbulent sea and doing all that we can to reinvent ourselves as writers to remain competitive in the bunny-eat-bunny world of children's book publishing today.

But for a few days each year, we come together to eat sacks of wrapped chocolates, buy shoes at Brown's old-time shoe store, and visit some cows who seem much less interested in us than we are in them. For a few days each year we come home to Warrensburg.

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