Virginia Hamilton’s books defined a direction and capacity for thoughtful storytelling that many others have since sought to follow. Her fiction for children has been honored many times and her picture books, which came about later in her career, have received just as many accolades. Virginia was a deep thinker who surrounded herself in the traditional and oral tales of many people around the world and as a result her work comes from a place of deep meditation about people, culture and times. She is able to weave a storytelling frame over sometimes very philosophical characters or conflicts. When we talk about labeling, and self identification, we are trying to get at what it is that we feel describes us the best, which is sort of inherently limiting. Virginia was so fiercely independent that she her self identification expanded her sense of self, rather than limit it. She reveled and thrived in being a multifaceted, multilayered personÂ
You can tell that she was a singular voice in children’s literature. She speaks so loudly that her work has inspired an annual conference that just met for the 26th time just a few weeks ago. From the conference website: “Young Virginia, named for her grandfather’s home state, was one of these children listening at her mother’s and father’s knees. “My mother said that her father sat his ten children down every year and said, ‘I’m going to tell you how I escaped from slavery, so slavery will never happen to you,’ ” the author related in a telephone interview. She added that she traces her own interest in literature to the fact that her parents were “storytellers and unusually fine storytellers, and realized, although I don’t know how consciously, that they were passing along heritage and culture and a pride in their history.”
The conference focuses on multiculturalism in children’s literature. I attended (and so can you next year!) sessions where speakers presented the best new books that feature people, stories and themes from a variety of cultures. I also heard some incredible speakers who represent some of the best current work in this area of children’s literature and art. Check out R. Gregory Christie, Pam Munoz Ryan and Laurie Halse Anderson. And Virginia Hamilton if you haven’t already!