Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hidden Talent

The Children's Literature Association conference that took place last week in Columbia, South Carolina, was the usual dizzying love fest of children's literature scholars from all over the world who came together to hear hundreds of papers, this year focusing on the conference theme of "Diverging Diversities."

I sat entranced through sessions such as this one on diversity in series books: do the Oz books celebrate diversity or normativity? was the Judy Bolton mystery series as forward-thinking on race and ethnicity as it was on gender? what was gained and lost as later Boxcar Children books avoided problematic racial references by erasing race and so whitewashing their characters altogether? I was electrified by keynote speaker Kate Capshaw's stirring call for scholars to increase their research and teaching on a more diverse range of texts: "Creating a syllabus is a political act." I reconnected with a wonderful scholar friend from China, whom I had met at the U.S./China children's literature conference in Qingdao two years ago. I stayed up half the night laughing and crying with my dearest once-a-year conference friend.

This year, however, the conference had a new stress for me. This year I was finishing up my year-long term as president of the Children's Literature Association. I had to run an all-day Wednesday board meeting, as well as a general membership business meeting where I would give a ten-minute presidential address, and preside over the closing awards banquet, as well as fit in brief meetings throughout to deal with any small association crises that might arise.

I think I may have mentioned on this blog that I hate being in charge of things.

Yet this whole past year I've been in charge of this very big and most beloved thing, and the annual conference is this thing's culminating moment.

But, as so often happens with things I dread, it turned out to be all right.

I had fun writing the president's address, my dauntedness reduced when our wise-beyond-her-years conference manager, Carly, told me, when I expressed my worries about it to her: "The president's address is not a conference highlight." True! But I knew that my friends would be waiting to hear what I said, and I didn't want to disappoint them. So I did my best to craft what I hoped would be a witty but also heartfelt brief talk comparing ChLA to the many famous parties in children's literature, drawing literature/life parallels regarding party invitations, party presents, party etiquette, and the need to make the party welcoming and inclusive (cf. the conference theme of celebrating diversity).

For the awards banquet, my main charge from the conference organizers was to streamline what had become for some a too-long affair, as our awards continue to proliferate. I worked out a new format, and of course as soon as I did so and mentioned this to some friends, half of them said, "Who said the banquet has gotten too long? I thought the length was perfect!" But I haven't heard any complaints (yet!) about the new format where we wound up at 9:15 instead of at 10 and had that much more time for post-banquet drinks at the hotel bar.

It was the board meeting, however, at which I discovered a hidden talent. Apparently, I am good at running board meetings. Several people told me afterwards that they had heard that I ran a great board meeting. I don't think I even knew that there was such a thing as a great board meeting. I certainly didn't suspect that I had any knack for running one. But apparently I do. And I did work hard this past year at trying to find a balance between being directive and responsive, and especially between my penchant for moving things along in a brisk, efficient way and also trying to make sure that everyone had a chance not only to speak but to be heard and that important issues regarding the identity and future of the organization were treated with the care they deserve.

Alas (or, rather, not-alas), this is the last time in my life that I will ever run a board meeting, as I have made a solemn vow to myself that after my milestone birthday in August, I will TRULY never again be in charge of anything. So this talent, briefly exposed to the light of the world, will be hidden beneath its bushel again. Still, for one shining moment I ran what was by all accounts a very good board meeting. My hidden talent for one Wednesday in one June had a chance to shine.

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