In 1990 I saw a flyer in my school’s faculty room for that year’s NEH Summer Seminars for School Teachers, something I’d never heard of before. Taking a closer look I saw that one was on Classical American and British Children’s Literature at Princeton University. At that time I was not a writer. More seriously, I was terrified about my writing; years earlier my 12th grade English teacher had told me that I needed to work on my writing without saying why and did absolutely nothing to help me. That seemingly small comment did the opposite from what he probably intended. My writing got even worse; when I attempted any sort of revision I couldn’t even look at the page much less figure out how to make any of it better. My solution was to hand in first drafts (this was pre-computers and I can’t spell so…I leave my papers to your imagination). Throughout undergrad and graduate school I avoided English departments entirely convinced that if I took an English course they’d find me out and throw me out. (Although I read voraciously on my own — many of the classics — so I’m fairly well-read given the circumstances.) And so when I became a teacher I was determined not let this happen to my own students, becoming a pretty decent writing teacher for someone still terrified about writing herself.
Back to 1990. I wanted desperately to be accepted into that NEH Summer Seminar. And so I worked and worked to write the required essay. Finally I was able to look at drafts! Writer friends helped me. And I succeeded. Hurray! The seminar director, Uli Knoepflmacher, chose me and fourteen others out of over 100 applicants. (He also loved some illustrations I sent with my application.) I went to Princeton and had a glorious time. What I did there — the scholarly study of children’s literature — changed my teaching forever. And Uli also gave me back confidence as a writer. If he liked my essay enough to give me the fellowship out of so many — maybe, I thought — that high school English teacher was wrong. Thus did Uli Knoepflmacher change my life.
Fast forward a few years to 1994. In the Horn Book, I came across a mention of the child_lit list serve, then in its infancy. I joined and fell into a glorious world of scholars, writers, editors, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, collectors and more all debating and arguing and and thinking hard about children’s literature. Through child_lit I’ve made dear friends, met scads of wonderful people, received all sorts of opportunities, and continue to be intellectually stimulated to this day. The creator and still-owner of the list is Michael Joseph. I appreciate every day the labor of love he is doing to keep that list going.