Walter Dean Myers Grant Application - An Interview with co-chairs,
Marietta Zacker and Caroline Tung Richmond
Marietta Zacker has experience children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing, and bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make their readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. She is also Book Curator at an independent toy store and bookstore.
Caroline Tung Richmond is the Program Director for WNDB. She’s also an award-winning YA author; and her novels include The Only Thing to Fear, The Darkest Hour, and Live In Infamy (Scholastic, 2018). Additionally, she will co-edit an anthology of food-related short stories called Hungry Hearts (Simon Pulse, 2019).
Tell us a little bit about your work at We Need Diverse Books and why The Walter Dean Myers Grant was created.
Marietta: From the beginning, WNDB has asserted that we have to look at the lack of diversity in publishing from all angles. It is everyone’s issue to deal with and we can’t have systemic change with only one solution. The barriers to entry — some deeply-rooted, others more tangible — include the inability to create without some financial freedom. As the agent liaison for WNDB, I took on the challenge of leading a grant committee to try to help address that very issue and give creatives the ability to do the creating with a little less worry.
Caroline: I started out as a volunteer for WNDB in the spring of 2014, helping out with our initial Indiegogo campaign and then doing event planning for the organization. Last year I came on board as WNDB's Program Director, and I feel very lucky doing this work every day because I was once a little girl who yearned to see herself in the books that she read.
What is the most important part of the grant application and why?
Marietta: This is a tough question because we’ve worked hard over the past few years to create an application and select questions that get to the root of great authentic writing and illustrating combined with the need for some doors to be opened at least slightly wider. In the end, though, a strong sample or portfolio will always produce the most conversation among the judges. And that’s always a good thing!
Caroline: We aim to evaluate each submission as a whole package. It's important for us not only to see how diversity has affected an applicant's work and how they would use the grant money, but also to evaluate the work itself -- does it offer a strong voice and fresh perspective? Is it well-written and does the sample make us want to read more?
What type of writing OR illustration experience do you see as being essential for individuals who send their application?
Marietta: An authenticity to being you and a commitment to representing the world we live in, whether writing about the real world or an imagined world, whether a novel or a picture book or illustrations, the experience comes from living and from a commitment to wonderful, authentic literature for children and young adults.
Caroline: When I evaluate a submission, I'm not looking for a specific type of writing experience per se, like taking creative writing courses or majoring in English or attending conferences. I think all of that can help a writer or illustrator refine their craft, but what matters most to me is the strength of the application itself. Did the applicant follow our submission guidelines? Is their writing clear and compelling? How about their work sample -- can I see it as getting published even if it's rough around the edges?
I would recommend for each applicant to have their work sample critiqued before submitting. Seek out critique partners who write in your genre and make your sample as strong as possible!
Please read more about the Walter Dean Myers Grant and application guidelines here.