Critique Group Interview: Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen‘s critique group includes: Patricia MacLachlan, Leslea Newman, Ann Turner, Ellen Wittlinger, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Anna Kirwan, Corinne Demas, and of course Jane herself.

How did you all come together?

I began the group—in a different incarnation—almost 45 years ago. We had just moved to Western Massachusetts, and I wanted to join a group. There was none.

I am the only one remaining from that original group. But as members dropped out, new ones came in.

Patty joined about 35-38 years ago, then Ann, then Barbara, Anna, Corinne, Leslea, and lastly Ellen, who came about three years ago.

How do you structure your schedule, meetings, menus (if applicable)?

We try to meet once a week, and as long as three or four of us are available, we manage.

Summers are difficult—Corinne and I are out of the area, Patty is sporadically away.

And of course we have kids, grandkids, partners, spouses, illnesses (of ourselves, of our relatives), book tours, teaching gigs, etc.

Where do you meet?

We take turns in one another’s houses.

Why is that space good for y’all?

It is familiar family. We can lean back, kick back, and simply deal with the manuscripts at hand. We have snacks, coffee, tea, etc.

We begin with the news—sales, rejections, F&Gs, family stuff, agent problems, editor tough love, etc. About an hour of that.

Then it’s manuscripts all the way.

So, who’s your big-picture person?

Ann, Me, sometimes Leslea.

Your logic guru?

Probably Leslea or Corinne.

Your poet?

Ann, Leslea, Anna, me.

The line-editor?

Ann, Leslea, Corinne, me.

What other superpowers have I missed?

The humorist: Patty. Barbara.

The professor: Corinne.

The sly one: Barbara.

The passionate one: Leslea, Anna, Corinne.

The tender one: Corinne, Anna.

What have been a few of your most glowing moments?

Patty winning the Newbery.

My Owl Moon, illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomel, 1987) winning the Caldecott.

Other awards for other members. Also the births of grandbabies, Leslea as Northampton Poet Laureate, New York Times bestsellers, birthday celebrations. And every single new book sale!

How has the vibe and/or membership changed over the years?

The first incarnation was full of unpublished but good writers. Now we are all professionals.

What makes your group special?

The members. Really. We read aloud rather than pass manuscripts around, and we care truly and deeply about one another’s work and successes.

Cynsational Screening Room

From Robert H. Jackson Center: “Jane Yolen, noted author, spoke at the Jackson Center on April 5 and 6, 2011. In these excerpts, she (1) reads her Holocaust-themed poem “Alphabet”; (2) speaks about and reads from her book The Devil’s Arithmetic; (3) reads her poem, ‘The Rivers of Babylon, In Memoriam’; and (4) reads her poem, ‘Ich Bin Ein Jude.'” Note: The Devil’s Arithmetic (Viking, 1998) is highly recommended.

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