"What I Need is a Break." Kyle Lukoff Finds Welcome Respite from Censorship.

Newbery Honor and Stonewall Awardwinning children's author Kyle Lukoff focused only on the creative work at a weeklong youth literature workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.

Being an author whose work and identity are under attack takes its toll on creators. Not only do they watch their books get removed from library shelves and face very public personal attacks, censorship becomes the only thing anyone wants to discuss with them.

Two-time Stonewall Award winner (Too Bright to See, When Aidan Became a Brother) Kyle Lukoff wants to be recognized for his work, discuss the craft, leave censorship at the door, and enter a room as a professional and successful children's author, not an oft-targeted trans author of challenged books with LGBTQIA+ characters.

Kyle Lukoff reads to children at a library event
as part of the Fine Arts Work Center's Youth Lit Week.

“I wanted to be seen as a professional first and targeted creator second, if at all,” says Lukoff, who also won a Newbery Honor and was a National Book Award finalist for Too Bright to See. “What I need is a break. What I need is to be seen and respected as a picture book author who is good at his job and not someone to pay attention to only because he is currently under attack.”

Lukoff found that respite this summer in Provincetown, MA. But it wasn’t a vacation. Lukoff curated the Fine Arts Work Center (FAC) Summer Workshop Program’s inaugural Youth Lit Week. The Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) has run its summer workshops program since 1995, but this was the first time they had a week focused on children’s creators.

In 2022, Lukoff reached out to FAWC program director David Simpson about possibly speaking during a program one day. Instead, Simpson asked Lukoff to curate an entire week of programming dedicated to children's literature.

“I was afraid if I said no that I wouldn't be invited,” says Lukoff. “So I said yes, and it all went from there.

“I wanted to focus on books for young people because that was my career. And I wanted to create a space where I could talk about the craft of writing picture books, as someone who is an expert in that field, and not as someone who is of a community and a perspective that is targeted right now.”

It was a new endeavor for the former school librarian and long-time author.

“I've never actually taught adults before, and I've never actually even been in a writing workshop as a student,” says Lukoff, who did not share that lack of experience with Simpson at first. “I had no idea how those were supposed to be run. I also decided not to ask any of my teacher friends because I was worried that they would think that I was like some arrogant monster for thinking I could do this without experience. I do have experience as an elementary school educator, and I figure if I can teach like second graders I can probably teach adults who are just happy to be there.'

He ended up pulling together quite a lineup of creators, including Brandy Colbert on the power of nonfiction for young people, Mike Curato teaching picture book illustration, Aaron Aceves on YA writing, Leah Johnson leading the workshop on crafting believable YA characters, and Cecilia Ruiz on block printing for picture books, among other participants. The length of the workshop and the quality of the print shop made accepting the offer to teach for the week a “no-brainer” Ruiz says.

With a group of five students of different ages and backgrounds all intent on getting the most out of their time there, “It was just wonderful,” Ruiz says. “The environment really, really invites people to just feel very comfortable just doing the work. And also, because, you know, everyone signed up for this thing, I think they all want to get the best out of it. I just had very, very good students, hard-working students that gave it their all to create really interesting stuff.… They all did beautiful, beautiful work.”

Lukoff taught picture book writing and was happy to see the structure he developed worked very well.

“The discussions were interesting, and I learned so much,” Lukoff says. “There was a real incredible mix of expertise in the room.”

Lukoff led a group that included a poet, educator, and long-time psychologist, among others who worked on book projects at different stages of development.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that this was a life-changing experience for me,” Lukoff says. “It was my first time having that experience of like, working with adults who really wanted to do this, and it was just magical.”

It also turned out to be the week he really needed during these very difficult times.

“It felt just so validating to be seen as a picture book author with 22-some published works and years of experience, talking about the craft of picture books and not being asked, ‘As a transgender author, what do you think trans kids need?” he says. “That's fine, but that's really outside of my expertise. I am not a therapist. I am not a counselor. I am not a psychologist. I am a writer. And I don't often feel very seen as a writer. I did that week.”

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