If you follow my blog, you probably already know this. But this summer I co-taught Design with Ruth Sanderson in the Certificate in Children's Book Illustration program at Hollins University. Here's my story...
Six weeks is a long time to be away from home and I must admit, I was nervous as the date approached. Packing was like going to summer camp all those years (okay, decades) ago, but with a much longer "must bring" list. Somehow I fit my entire computer, art supplies, books, and living needs into my Mini Cooper then drove the 7 hours from Atlanta to Roanoke, Virginia. The scenery went from pretty to stunningly gorgeous as I crossed the Virginia state line and my life came full circle.
See, my grandparents used to live in Lexington - just down the road from Roanoke. I used to visit them when I was still too short to ride Mo-mo The Monster at Six Flags and before they moved to Georgia. But I remembered the bunny rabbits (everywhere), the smell of the boxwoods, and red jell-o with whipped cream. And I still have my treasure of JACK TALES they gave me back in 1978, purchased somewhere in those Appalachian hills. (CLICK HERE for that story!) It was odd to have those memories flood back from the deep recesses of my brain, but then I added new ones.
I have never been surrounded by so many talented, intelligent, and generous people at one time ever in my life! And strangely enough, I fit right in. These were my peeps, children's book writers/scholars/illustrators. Seldom have I been in a crowd of people where I mentioned Jack Tales and everybody just nods in solidarity. I didn't have to explain anything. I could just move on to big ideas, new techniques, talking favorite books and experiences with their creators. It was like learning to breathe all over again. I felt like me there. Although I didn't have much time for reflection.
Nearly every minute of every day was jam-packed with activities. From my 3.5 mile walk every morning with Candice Ransom twice (sometimes three times) around the gorgeous campus, then to class, then to lunch with faculty (where Diane, the University chef, made awesome gluten-free options available everyday - yum!), then back to class, then to lectures, or workshops, or get-togethers, or... There was always something going on. I thought I was busy before Hollins - ha! Not only was I teaching, but on the days in-between I was finishing edits on my novel, A Bird on Water Street, completing two freelance illustration projects, and continuing on a four-picture book contract (which I'm still working on). It was insane - insanely fun! I don't know how I managed to find the energy for it all, but somehow I did. And I caught the bug.
Students who had long since graduated dropped by all the time. They stayed for a day or a week, whatever they could manage. Because people have a hard time leaving Hollins.
Proof in point, students created a fun video to close out the Francelia Butler Conference which happened mid-term and had a graveyard story theme to it this year. In it, the head of the Children's Literature department, Amanda Cockrell, hands the students their diplomas and says something like "You are free to leave and go into the world now." The students scream "NOOOOOO!" And Neil Gaimen does a cameo in which he says, "Now that is scary!" (As does David Almond.) And I get it. Nobody wants to leave this creative and completely inspiring environment.
So, out of curiosity I asked around, "What's it like to live in Roanoke when the Children's Lit program isn't going on?" The answer was, "Wonderful, although not quite as awesome." Because it was the people, being surrounded by my peers, that made the experience so special. From my amazing critique group, to the awe-inspiring faculty, and the creatively driven students, it was a charmed atmosphere, a magical bubble in which to exist for a brief and special time. And all I can say is I can't WAIT to go back next year! (I'll be the full-time Design teacher in the program then.) Love to you ALL!