When I was at American University in Washington, DC, I briefly had an internship at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (It’s not a college tutoring center but actually a nonprofit resource center, hosting workshops and other activities and seminars to support local writers.) My supervisor really had no idea what to do with me — which I find true at many internships — but I didn’t mind, because while the position was unpaid, they did let me sit in on two workshops for free.
For one of my freebies, I chose an Adults Writing for Children workshop. I was probably the youngest person there by ten or fifteen years. A few of the participants were very friendly and treated me like a colleague, but I found that the workshop was filled with parents who insisted that I couldn’t write for children because I didn’t have any of my own.
That is annoying. And untrue. I will spare you the list of extremely talented authors for children who didn’t have any children of their own.
The workshop didn’t end up being very productive for me, because I was cowed by these women who had three children, who were versed in the virtues of every variety of sippy cup, who carried mom purses filled with crumpled Kleenex and stray crayons. (I really have no malice for such women — or men, as the tee-ball dads were there in full force, as well. I only get fiesty when they are rude and uppity.) But I wrote a few pieces for the class that, looking back, are not completely horrible. I didn’t pursue it any further, mostly because I went off to graduate school and didn’t have time, but now that I’m writing my dissertation and thinking about literature for children essentially 24 hours a day, I’m reconsidering my relationship to the genre.
I certainly don’t think I will be sending off a children’s book into the oblivion that is the juvenile publishing market anytime soon, but I have been thinking about submitting something small to a children’s magazine.* I’m particularly interested in Cricket. In fact, I’m thinking about transforming a section of my dissertation — the few pages about toy presses — into a short piece of nonfiction for boys. I know it sounds boring but in fact, I think, it has a lot that would appeal to the eight-year-old boy. The presses spawned a widespread movement in amateur journalism among boys, a movement that I really don’t think is matched by anything going on today. These boys were young and smart and amazing. They organized mailing networks and conferences, where they swapped schoolboy newspaper ideas over huge banquets of chocolate and shared trade secrets during epic baseball games.
It kind of makes me want to be a boy journalist, myself.
* I’m a little nervous, though, in pursuing any sort of writing for children. Before I even began my dissertation I met with a professor at Rice who is already active in childhood studies, and she warned me about the assumptions people in academia make about you when you study children in literature or literature for children. (That’s a mouthful.) They will assume that you love children. That if you don’t have any, you really want some. That you aspire to be J. K. Rowling. There is nothing wrong with these things, but all of these assumptions somehow compete with your seriousness as a scholar.