WNDB Native Children’s – YA Writing Intensive Applications Open

By Gayleen Rabakukk

A writing community can make all the difference in navigating the long and often frustrating journey of becoming a published author. Whether it’s sharing craft tips or submission opportunities, writing buddies provide the encouragement and support needed for going the distance. But connecting can be a challenge, especially if a given community represents a small percentage of the population.

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Photo by Christopher T. Assaf/

Providing that opportunity to Native/First Nations writers has long been a dream of Cynthia Leitich Smith. In fact, it was at a Native writing retreat that Cynthia decided to move forward with We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh‘s idea of approaching HarperChildren’s about launching Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint. In conjunction, a generous annual donation from Harper to WNDB established the We Need Diverse Books Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive.

Cynthia said, “So much of the recent growth in Native children’s-YA literature can be traced to the LoonSong: Turtle Island program in 2018. I’ll be forever grateful to Debby Dahl Edwardson for bringing together Native writers and publishing professionals to discuss Indigenous writing styles, traditions, philosophies, and how we could decolonize children’s bookshelves. Hopefully, we’ve carried that spirit and those goals forward. I’m delighted to say that several of the writers at our first two WNDB Native Intensives have gone on to successfully sign book deals for their manuscripts.”

The four-day We Need Diverse Books Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive will offer insights, information, resources, and contacts related to children’s and young adult writing, Native books for young readers, and the publishing industry. Though 2022 will mark the third year of the program, this summer will be the first time the workshop will be held in person.

It is scheduled for Aug. 4 to Aug. 7 at The Writing Barn in Austin.

Registration and lodging scholarships are available. Applications will be accepted through May 1.

“We’re committed to community building, nurturing new voices, supporting working literary artists, and serving kids and teens while centering the needs of Native youth,” Cynthia added.

The weekend will include reflection, conversation, and celebration as well manuscript and career development.

Leslie Stall Widener (Choctaw) attended both previous online intensives and is returning as a faculty member representing We Need Diverse Books this year.

“From the first moment, I knew I was in the right place,” Leslie said. “I’d worked for years on a novel about Choctaw history and felt with such a narrow focus, it would probably never be published. But after a weekend of discussions with so many talented people, I had a rush of hope! Even though it still isn’t finished, I have a nonfiction PB coming out in 2024! I’ve also gotten involved with the WNDB organization volunteering as the Native Fund Chairperson. I know these opportunities wouldn’t have happened without all the encouragement I received during both Native Intensives.”

The program will include faculty presentations, critiques, readings, and writing time.

The event has been designed to serve writers at various points on their creative journey, from apprentice/beginner through agented/published. All Native/First Nations/Tribal citizens/members or recent descendants who are connected to their community are encouraged to apply, as are Elders, 2SLGBT+, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, Black Indians, Indigenous Freedmen, etc. Writers working as a creative team (e.g., siblings or parent and adult child) are encouraged to mention that in their applications.

Native/First Nations writer-illustrators are also welcome to apply, though the program emphasis will be on writing rather than illustration.

In addition to Cynthia and Leslie, the faculty also includes:

  • Best-selling author Monique Gray Smith (Cree, Lakota and Scottish), author of eight books for young readers, spanning board books through young adult. (Her first published novel, Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience, won the 2014 Canadian Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.)
  • Publishers and editors Elizabeth Albert-Peacock and Thomas Peacock (Ojibwe) of Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing. (Since 2019, they’ve published more than 25 books, all by Native writers, and mostly Native illustrators. Thomas is an author as well, the recipient of two Minnesota Book Awards and the Multicultural Children’s Book Award from the National Association on Multicultural Education.)
  • Rosemary Brosnan, Vice President and Publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books. (Rosemary recently launched two imprints: Heartdrum and Quill Tree Books. Throughout her career, she has been committed to publishing diverse voices. She has published picture books, nonfiction, chapter books, graphic novels, and fiction for all ages. On the Heartdrum list, Rosemary has published books by Indigenous authors Christine Day, Jen Ferguson, Dawn Quigley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Brian Young.)
  • Adriana Dominguez, Aevitas Creative Management. (Adriana represents award-winning illustrators including John Parra, a New York Times Best Illustrator and recipient of three Pura Belpré Honors, Kirkus Prize finalist Jaqueline Alcántara, and Orbis Pictus Honor recipient Juliet Menéndez. Her author list includes NAACP Image Award winner Katheryn Russell Brown, Pura Belpré Honor recipient Angela Cervantes and Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. Adriana has wide-ranging experience in publishing; she began her editorial career at Scholastic in the 1990s, served as Children’s Reviews Editor at Críticas Magazine (Library Journal), and as Executive Editor at HarperCollins, where she led the children’s division of the Latinx-focused Rayo imprint.)
  • Tara Gonzalez, Associate Agent at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, as well as the assistant to Erin Murphy and social media coordinator for EMLA. (Tara is actively building her client list and loves all ages of children’s literature, but her passion is in young adult and middle grade novels. Her taste spans across broad ranges of genres, from contemporary, historical, literary, to adventure and fantasy. She recently graduated with her master’s degree in Media and Communication Studies, and is always looking for the next opportunity to travel.)

Cynsational Notes

Gayleen Rabakukk handles administrative tasks for the WNDB Native Children’s – YA Intensive. She also teaches creative writing classes for the Austin Public Library Foundation, is an active member of the children’s literature community and Austin SCBWI. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Follow Gayleen on Twitter and Instagram.