Multicultural Children's Book Festival

Okay, I confess: I haven’t been doing well with the label “multicultural.” Those five syllables can make a writer feel tokenized and sidelined in the blink of a well-meaning eye. But all that changed on November 3, 2007 in our nation’s capital, when I fell back in love with the word.

The taxi whisked me from Reagan Airport to the Kennedy Center. Inside the spacious, flag-lined lobby, I was greeted, taken on a tour of the Festival venue, and guided into the theater for a sound check. All the authors scheduled to sign and read were fed (stuffed, in fact) and assigned a Kennedy Fellow as an escort. My personal TLC giver accompanied me to a signing area, toting a large bottle of icy water, a good pen or two, and more snacks to sustain me. A poster featuring my face (albeit a somewhat younger version — must update my bio photo) adorned the table, along with stacks of my books waiting expectantly to be connected to readers.

It was time. A ribbon was cut with oversized shears, music began to play, and a bevy of children and parents streamed into the large room. What a relief to be here, I thought, surrounded for once by piles of books featuring non-white protagonists. But even more intriguing were the eager eyes of children taking stock of a banquet of stories about kids like them. For once, they weren’t on the margins. For once, an entire event was about their stories. As I watched and talked and signed and listened, I realized anew the importance of providing a “multicultural” feast of literature, and gave thanks that I’m able to contribute to the spread.

I loved meeting the talented Kennedy fellows who guided us through the day, gave my best effort as I read from Rickshaw Girl in the Center’s acoustically and aesthetically perfect theater, and in short was thoroughly spoiled by the organizers’ gracious attention. The entire event was marked by professionalism and courtesy, but best of all it helped me make peace again with an overused but still desperately needed label: confound it, people, I am a multicultural author. And proud of it, too.