It seemed like yet another long, mundane, overbooked Wednesday but it turned out to be an epic day. I had received an invitation to mingle at a five star restaurant over canapés and drinks. My presence had also been requested at a product launch in Dubai on behalf of a top tier tech brand. Just when I thought I’d made a decision about which event to attend, I received yet another invitation. This one came from my friend, Nadia Hohn, who’s an accomplished educator and published author. The subject which read, Meet N Greet with Author Kwame Alexander, resonated with me. It was a meet and greet – a small, casual gathering – of writers with various levels of experience. It was a chance to be in the presence of others who have already accomplished what I hope to. As an aspiring children’s author, I felt this opportunity was too good to pass up – and I was right.
Kwame Alexander is a New York Times best selling author who won the 2015 Newbery Medal for his novel, The Crossover. The Newbery Medal recognizes the year’s most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Kwame has an extensive resume which includes authoring 24 books and other notable awards. He was visiting the UAE to speak at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival and I was excited by the prospect of being in such great company. Therefore, I hustled to make it happen. I picked up my kids, fed them lunch, engaged them about school, prepared dinner and whipped myself into shape. I was tired but not defeated. I declared that exhaustion would not win. Consequently, I was in the car headed northbound on Sheikh Zayed Road by 7:45 pm.
I was last to arrive. A hostess walked me through the corridors of Miss Lilly’s Jamaican restaurant to a table in the back. Everyone was already seated and enjoying an assortment of popular Jamaican dishes like plantains and fish tacos. As I approached, both Kwame and Nadia stood and greeted me warmly. I took my seat and joined right in. The atmosphere was welcoming – not pretentious or weird; just a group of writers sharing.
Throughout the evening, Kwame listened, answered questions candidly and shared some of his personal experiences. For example, he explained his grass roots approach to self promotion was to hop on a plane, train, bus or anything moving and go everywhere he possibly could to read his books. He also shared that the average author does es not get rich by selling books; the opportunities that come as a result of being a published author are more lucrative. He led a round robin style conversation where he asked everyone to share what they were working on. I usually don’t share details about work in progress but that night I did, eagerly. I’m currently writing a children’s book about internet safety. It’s incomplete but well planned. I talked about my project because I wanted feedback. When I laid out my plans to launch and monetize the book, Kwame replied, “If you can pull that off, it’s genius”. That statement freed me. Hearing it from someone with his depth of industry knowledge and achievement made any lingering self doubt disappear. Right there – at a table in the back of Miss Lilly’s, I got the charge that I needed to keep going and see my idea through. This indeed was no ordinary Wednesday; it was the day that I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people being encouraged to continue writing. And, I will.
Photo from L to R: Nadia Hohn, Tamara Clarke, Kwame Alexander, Delisa Woods, Jacqueline