This past March, Meg Medina was named one of CNN’s 10 Visionary Women.
“They listed me as a ‘Reading Revolutionary,’ which was surprising in a way, because I don’t feel like what I’m doing or saying is necessarily revolutionary,” she says. “It always reminds me to live up to that. I keep at it; I use my career as a writer as a way to do something more than just sell books.”
Meg Medina, who grew up in a bicultural Cuban family, didn’t start out as a writer. Now, several years and careers later, she is making huge strides in not only the children’s literature community, but also the Latino community.
Medina will be one of more than 30 featured authors at the 12th Annual James River Writers Conference, which will be held Oct. 17 to 19. This year, the conference is also a part of the Virginia Literary Festival in Richmond.
“We have panels of writers, editors, agents and other luminaries that we bring to town to educate writers and attendees through the different stages of their journeys,” says Katharine Herndon, executive director at James River Writers. “We’ve been known as a place where people really find valuable connections.”
The 300 or more writers and attendees of the conference will have the opportunity to attend a range of six master classes that will be offered throughout the weekend, as well as listen to various speakers. Of the 30 authors invited, five — including Medina — call the Richmond area home.
“Meg is wonderful; she’s really down to earth and is one of the strongest voices — not only about needing to find a book that speaks to you,” says Herndon, “but also a great voice for the message about bullying and taking care of kids and doing what we can to prevent people feeling marginalized.”
Medina points out that adults sometimes look back on childhood as being “innocent and easy, but if you really remember, that’s actually not the case — it’s hard,” she says. “I write about the universally hard parts of childhood, and I add a Latino lens.”
She goes on to explain that her work matters even more as time passes and the nation’s demographics change. NBC Latino recently reported that “for the first time, this fall, there will be more minority students enrolled in U.S. public schools than non-Hispanic whites,” meaning that minority groups collectively will make up the majority.
“We need books that really speak to and affirm everyone’s experience,” she says. “It creates empathy and a healthy [self] concept among children, especially for children who can see themselves in a book.”
Medina’s message of diversity in children’s literature has gained momentum in recent months. This year, she was awarded the Pura Belpré Award for her book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. The award is presented each year to an author whose work affirms Latino culture in a children’s book.
“Winning that award feels like joining a family,” says Medina. “This is a prize that has to do with the language of our mothers, the places we are originally from, and finding a new way. If I never get another award again, I’ll be happy.”
Outside of her own writing, Medina is active in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. It’s a social media campaign working to overcome the lack of diversity in children’s literature. After the first campaign tweet on April 24, #weneeddiversebooks began trending internationally just five days later.
“It’s all about appreciating diverse books and helping people see titles that could represent other lenses,” she says. “It feels very energized and fresh this year.”
Medina will bring her insight from all of these experiences to her panel discussions at the James River Writers conference.
“What I love about the conference is that it’s not specific to one genre; we’re all writers and it looks at the craft of writing no matter the type of writing,” she says. “It’s about the community and pulling together people that are all in the same boat. It creates energy and excitement for writers at different points in their careers — it creates unity.”