March Third Thursday: “Dedicated: Who We Write For and Why” Recap

As writers from all over Texas descended on BookPeople for our March Third Thursday event, I had two questions in mind: firstly, how much the panel would cover about inspiration and dedication, and secondly, how much money I would be giving to the siren call of independent bookstores.

Reader, the answer to both was a lot.

But it was worth it to hear our panelists—Sasha West, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Roger Reeves—discuss who they wrote for and why.

The panel kicked off with a literal interpretation of the question, leading each author to talk about the dedication pages from their latest works. West, whose newest book How to Abandon Ship focuses on the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, spoke about how honored she was to dedicate her book to “the mother that made her a daughter and the child that made her a mother”. I was touched to hear how lucky West considered herself that her child had come out as non-binary before the dedication went to print, and how important it was that the language in her work reflected her child’s identity.

Reeves had a similar story for the dedication of Dark Days, his latest essay collection: for his daughter, “because you must live here for now.” He told the powerful story of taking his daughter to several Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and of preparing her to grapple with the difficulties of being a Black person in America now and in the future. He also said he wants to motivate her to “eek out moments of joy” in the midst of hatred and to inspire hope, “because you must live here for now”.

Scanlon, notable picture book author, says that her newest book Everyone Starts Small isn’t dedicated to her kids because she’s “dedicated too many books to them”. Instead, it’s dedicated to a neighborhood family that grew up alongside hers, who she credits as “starting small” with her family. In a book centered around the little things in our natural world, starting small is a mark of great promise.

The panel then shifted to the question of audience in regards to the writing process, and how much our authors consider their readers when they write for. Scanlon’s answer was particularly intriguing, as her audience is twofold: both the children who will enjoy her books and the “gatekeepers” (teachers, parents, and librarians) who will actually purchase them. Scanlon says that although she keeps gatekeepers in mind while writing, they are just her doorway to her actual audience. From there, she has to consider the age of her readers in relation to the format of the book she intends to write.

It was interesting to hear how differently Reeves and West thought of their audiences throughout the process, since they both write in the same genre. Reeves doesn’t normally consider his audience while writing, as his first reader is himself. He writes not for others but to hopefully gain a new way of seeing or thinking. West, conversely, says that she tries to write for everybody, for “people that don’t read poetry and for people that read too much”. However, both authors agreed that an audience is of secondary importance to the work you want to create. As Reeves put it, “Your first allegiance is to the thing you’re making.”

The panel wrapped up with a question posed by our intern (answers to which you might have caught on our Instagram): what is one book that you feel like was specifically dedicated to/created for you?

West: Thin Skin by Jenn Shapland, a novel that explores her home of New Mexico;

Reeves: Beloved by Toni Morrison or Bewilderment by David Ferry, a late friend;

And finally, Scanlon with a classic: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

Be sure to catch our next Third Thursday on April 18!

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