Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Arts Bash: An Unlikely Explosion

You have heard of the Book Arts Bash, right? It's a new writing program and contest for homeschooled writers, with twenty categories across the full spectrum of literary arts from novels to poetry to storytelling, dramatic skits, and book cover art. With five age groups in each category (including homeschooling moms and dads!) the Bash has something for everyone. Shez and I have been working hard to promote and organize the project, in this our "beta" year, and we've run into some major shocks.

First, the judges. Now peel your eyes open. I know you had a late night watching the Olympics. Take a deep breath. Shoulders back. Just have a look at a few of the people we have on our roster of judges for the Book Arts Bash.

Bestselling authors: Sara Gruen, Karen Abbott, Joshilyn Jackson, Dan Elish, Michael D'Orso, Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart.

Industry Pros: Caryn Karmatz-Rudy and Emily Griffin (Editors, Grand Central Press), Kirby Kim and Daniel Lazar (literary agents in NYC), Caitlin Roper (Managing Editor, The Paris Review), Cressida Leyshon (Fiction Editor, The New Yorker), David Lynn (Editor, Kenyon Review).

Then we have homeschooling moms who are also published authors: Julia Devillers, Jennifer Roy, Melissa Wiley. Storytellers Bobby Norfolk, Odds Bodkins, Joel Ben Izzy. Internet Favorites: Ann Zeise (A to Z Home's Cool), Mir Kamin (Woulda Coulda Shoulda), Michelle Mitchell (Scribbit).

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.

Are you kidding me? Does it not bring a tear of joy to your happy eye to see such glorious support for homeschooled writers from all over the literary world? I cannot tell you how shocked and amazed I am at the response from everyone we've contacted. Many more have said they can't help this year, but asked to be kept in mind for future years. These are busy, busy people who are juggling speaking engagements, new projects, book promotions, and regular jobs, as well as parenting and grand-parenting and the rest of life. They have agreed to help us with our project, to get more kids to try different types of writing and art, and to encourage homeschool teachers to use writing and art across different areas of the curriculum. A big booming thank you to all our judges, the ones I listed here and the other twenty exciting names I have not yet announced.

The judges will be reading the world of all 300 finalists in each of 20 categories, 5 age groups each. All of the adult groups will be judged by industry pros. All of the winners will receive critiques and comments from the judges, glory and recognition on the web site. The younger kids will get prizes too. One early critic of the Bash sourly and openly speculated back in June that the prizes would probably be pencils, and the judge would probably be the lady down the street who edits the local homeschooling newsletter. I can assure you (and her) that this is not the case.

Here's another shocker: This was originally intended to be a rather localized program, reaching out from our home base in Norfolk, maybe across Virginia and down into North Carolina, possibly up to DC. The idea started as a book fair to complement our science fair, to showcase literary efforts of local homeschoolers. However, when we started getting "yes" replies from big names like judges Robert Pinsky and Sara Gruen, we also started getting urgent interest from elsewhere in the country and even in the world, as far away as South Africa and Australia. We had never meant to exclude anyone, but we didn't think people from other areas would really be interested. But they were. So, would we open the contest to people outside Virginia? We decided yes.

Such a swell of interest from such widespread locations led us to really examine the original idea, which was to have an event in Norfolk, at the Chrysler Museum, where we'd invite in one or two visiting authors, showcase the finalists in a reading and a display in the museum lobby, and party down to celebrate homeschoolers' creativity. We can't celebrate finalists from Oregon if the party is in Norfolk. Then there's the question of the visiting author: We've been in conversation with Christopher Paolini's publicist, but will we be able to actually swing a visit from that homeschooled superstar?

How many people will ultimately enter? Is it fair to have an actual Book Arts Bash event in Norfolk when our finalists will be from all over the country and mostly unable to attend? Will we get a great big name for the event? Will Walt Whitman sign on as a judge? What will the prizes be for the younger age groups? Trips to the moon? These questions are all still in the air. As we put together this experience for homeschooled writers, illustrators, and teachers, we are watching it unfold in front of us. As we were shocked with the level of judges we were able to get, shocked with the amount of interest from around the world, we hope to be shocked by more developments as we move into fall.

The entries have started to come in. Will you be among them? Do you have any advice for us? Can you help us promote the project? Are you a close personal friend of Mary Pope Osborne, and can you convince her to speak at the Book Arts Bash in November? We welcome all your comments and suggestions. And of course your best work!


  1. Wow! It looks like organizing this is turning into quite an adventure for you.

  2. What a great idea! I'm glad it is growing. Will you be doing this next year? I'm not sure my son is up to this yet, but we are going to be working on writing a lot this year.

  3. I am truly impressed! Will be looking for updates, and also have the same question Renae did. Will there be a repeat? I'm trying to find creative ideas for getting my children more interested in writing. They both have such amazing imaginations (don't all kids? LOL) but writing their ideas down just doesn't seem to interest them, especially my son.

  4. We are planning another one for Spring 2010.

    Right now our recurring (we hope!) science fair is happening in the spring and recurring (we hope!) book fair happening in the fall. We need to switch these two things around so that our science fair winners can qualify for the regional fair. So in the next year there will be a bit of reshuffling.

    At the moment, the next Book Arts Bash will be in a year and a half... tenatively.