Adam Gidwitz and Betsy Bird Talk #OwnVoices | SLJ Summit 2018

Author Adam Gidwitz discusses the evolution of himself as a writer and of his "Unicorn Rescue Society" series.

It’s cover reveal day for The Chucacabras of the Rio Grande by Adam Gidwitz and David Bowles. The jacket of the spring 2019 release was unveiled on Latinx Kid Lit on Monday.

The day before, Gidwitz chatted with Evanston (IL) collections development manager and A Fuse #8 Production blogger Betsy Bird at the SLJ Leadership Summit in Brooklyn, disclosing how this collaboration with Bowlesand the other author partnerships in the "Unicorn Rescue Society" seriescame about.

In a conversation punctuated by the kind of humor that makes young readers love his books, Gidwitz explained how he went from teacher to full-time author and the origin story of his "Unicorn Rescue Society" series. He had the audience laughing as he confessed to being "a fraud," looking all fancy and talking to Bird when only an hour before he had been “covered in baby poop.”

Bird then moved the conversation into a discussion of cultural appropriation and Gidwitz discussed the importance of #ownvoices. He talked about the evolution of “Unicorn Rescue Society” from the first two books, which he wrote himself, to the next five, which were all co-authored.

For the first two, he researched and consulted with Native tribes from the areas where the stories were set. He was pretty proud of his effort—and the results, he told the audience. But then he went to a writer’s conference and his thinking and process changed.

An author of color was explaining own voices and the reason why it is important to have the people who share the identity of a book’s character write the story.

“I was like, 'Wow, I’m an idiot,'" said Gidwitz. "But it’s not that I’m an idiot. I have grown up in a system that has privileged whiteness and has privileged maleness for my whole life. I grew up in a country where black people have been enslaved and kept down, a system that was made to keep brown and Asian people working for white people, a system that was made to erase Indigenous people and to keep women silent. I benefitted from that for my whole life.”

He stands by his first books, saying they are “really, really great books, but we realized we could do even better.”

To that end, he started reaching out to authors from different cultures.

“I just found authors that I really loved their work and prayed and hoped they would want to work with me,” he said.

First was Native American author Joseph Bruchac, whom Gidwitz had heard speak at a conference.

“I was like, ‘That is the best storyteller I think I ever heard in my whole life,’” said Gidwitz, who wrote to Bruchac and asked him if he’d be interested in the project. “He was excited to do it, so we wrote Sasquatch and the Muckelshoot, which takes place in the Muckelshoot reservation in Washington state.”

Next came Bowles for book four. Gidwitz is writing the fifth book with Emma Otheguy, who is of Cuban descent, and the sixth with Pakistani American Hena Kahn.

"All of these authors have made the series much, much better, deeper and richer," said Gidwitz. "I’m just very grateful they were willing to write with me."

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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