Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Japan Writers Conference 2016

October 29-30, 2016

Posted by Suzanne Kamata, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Mari Boyle and Holly Thompson

On October 29-30 the annual Japan Writers Conference (JWC) was held at Tokushima University in Shikoku. Several SCBWI Japan members presented and attended; in their words, here are comments about the JWC experience. 

Suzanne Kamata
On October 29-30 I had the great pleasure of hosting the Japan Writers Conference at Tokushima University in the new Glocal Communication Center. Although many people think that Shikoku is remote and difficult to get to, I'm happy to say that we welcomed participants from Thailand, Australia, the United States, and Hong Kong. We were also privileged to have children's book illustrator and Shikoku resident Toshikado Haijiri join us for lunch. We talked about his contribution to the book Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko,  which has been getting all kinds of positive attention in the United States and Canada.  I was impressed by his humility, and by the fact that his work, done from "remote" Tokushima, is reaching the world. Writing in English while living in this part of Japan can sometimes feel lonely, so it was wonderful for me, personally, to connect with other local writers who are interested in children's literature and to reconnect with SCBWI members who live in other parts of Japan. During the rest of the conference, I enjoyed the presentations related to children's literature including Avery Fischer Udagawa's talk on the importance of literature in translation. In fact, I was motivated to buy a couple of the translated books she discussed, and to commit myself to reviewing more books in translation. I also enjoyed Holly Thompson's introduction of verse novels for younger readers.

Avery Fischer Udagawa

I attended JWC for the first time this year, after hoping to attend for several years. I had a wonderful time! I saw a number of friends and acquaintances while also meeting new people. I enjoyed meals and sessions with writerly folk whose focus is not children’s  literature—and this helped me see my work in new ways, and develop strategies for discussing it. I gave a talk on sharing literary Japan with young readers through translations. Sessions that I attended included Diane Hawley Nagatomo’s talk on academic writing (a matter of practical concern for many of us); Michael Pronko’s session on writing essays (I’ve written dozens, he’s written hundreds!); and the "Inspiring Fiction: Where Do You Get Your Ideas" panel by Sara Ellis, Suzanne Kamata, Elaine Lies, Karen McGee, and Wendy Jones Nakanishi.

2016-10-29 16.17.59 copy

This panel focused on generating ideas for fiction, and while I don’t generally do that as a translator, I enjoyed taking a peek backstage at the author's process. Holly Thompson’s sessions on verse novels and narrative poetry, and a reading of poets published by Isobar Press, gave me my first taste in a long while of superb poetry in English read aloud. I’m ready for more!

Mari Boyle

JWC was my first writers conference. At the two-day conference at Tokushima University, many of the writers attending write mainly for adult readers rather than children and YA audiences, but there were a few members of SCBWI running sessions too, so I knew there would be some friendly faces.

The sessions I attended were varied and wide ranging. A couple focussed on academic writing, (Diane Hawley Nagamoto), and writing textbooks, (Todd Jay Leonard), which were useful for my day job. I also sat in on a session about cookbooks by Richard Conrad, mainly because I love a good cookbook, but it was fascinating to learn about the role of an editor in this medium. Others were more general, for example, Marie Orise’s session on how to deal with being a perfectionist in writing. Marie highlighted the difficulties of finishing, and for that matter starting, a manuscript when almost perfect is not good enough.

A group session by several authors, including Suzanne Kamata, examined where authors get their inspiration from.  Weird news stories, science journals, family incidents, food, places and objects all featured, as each author re-told how their inspirations had flowered into full manuscripts and been published. Hans Brinkmann also showed how, by changing the odd detail here and there, he used many of his own true-life experiences to create autobiographical fiction.

Holly Thompson gave two insightful sessions, one on verse novels and the other on narrative poetry. These are both writing forms I enjoy reading, but have yet to try writing in. However, Holly’s second session included a workshop element which opened my eyes to the possibility, (though I’ll need a lot of practice).

Avery Fischer Udagawa’s session on children’s literature considered how we are introduced to books and story as children, and the important role that translations of children’s literature can have. Avery noted that while scores of books written in English are translated into many other languages, the reverse is not as true. She provided a few examples of Japanese texts translated into English and notably, many of the translators are members of our SCBWI translators group. If we really want diverse books and diverse authors to reach out to young minds, it is vital that the doors be wide-open to translations.

2016-10-30 11.03.02 copy

In the spaces between sessions I had the opportunity to talk ‘writing’ with a wide-ranging group of authors. So, whilst this was not a ‘kid-lit’ conference, the opportunity to look at the craft of writing from many perspectives was interesting and inspiring, and one I’d seriously recommend to any SCBWI member. 

Holly Thompson

I have attended JWC in previous years but had missed the last three, so I was pleased to be able to join this year. I attended sessions on short stories, writing mysteries, and writing and publishing really short poems–a great variety.

I also enjoyed a panel session on getting ideas for fiction that featured SCBWI member Suzanne Kamata, and the session "Growing our Future Audience: Japan and Young Readers" with SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator Avery Fischer Udagawa. I presented the sessions "Verse Novels Crossing Borders" and "Poems with Plot–A Narrative Poetry Workshop." And I loved playing a bit role in a session that included readings by various poets published by Isobar Press–my role was to read one of the voices in a 3-voice haiku sequence from Snow Bones by Masaya Saito. 

2016-10-29 15.06.17 copy

Though a bit out of the way for some, the Tokushima location for the 2016 conference was wonderful and provided a perfect excuse to explore the area prior to attending the conference. Thanks to Suzanne Kamata and Tokushima University for hosting!