Members of the PEN Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors Committee at annual holiday party

The Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in New Orleans recently recognized the members of the PEN Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors Committee and authors who visited the school for a series of writers’ workshops from 2006 to 2011. The presentation of a plaque took place at the school’s annual gala and then again at the PEN Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors Committee holiday party on January 19, 2012. The visiting authors honored were: Fatima Shaik, Elizabeth Levy, Susan Kuklin, Robie Harris, Zetta Elliott, Mary Ann Hoberman, Linda Winston, Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson, Amy Nathan, and Lyn Miller-Lachmann. PEN Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors Committee members attended the party, as did PEN staff and administrators including director Steve Isenberg, and PEN friends including Marvin Terban of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI sent books to the school on the recommendation of the PEN committee. The decision was made to support an authors’ visit program for five years at MLK, beginning  in 2006 when the school was still struggling to get permanent housing and needed to replace its centerpiece, a public library. Committee members and friends funded and designed the program, and volunteered their time. Dr. Doris Hicks and Ms. Karen Ott at MLK organized and coordinated the program while they were still recovering from the traumas of Katrina and lacked stable housing. The result of these efforts included a book written by the children of MLK, The Story is Us! But the children also interviewed Civil Rights leaders, wrote letters to fictional characters in Chile, participated in National Poetry month with the U.S. Poet Laureate for children, modeled becoming publishers, and many other activities. Several young students at MLK have even expressed a desire to become writers themselves. The writers dedicated themselves to MLK not simply because of the disaster but because censorship begins long before adulthood with poverty, discouragement, and illiteracy. For the visiting PEN members, the trip to New Orleans netted many new friends, and launched explorations of several musical and epicurean frontiers. Anyone can help the MLK school children in New Orleans with earmarked donations. The  Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors Committee is committed to another five-year cycle.