We’d like to thank Winsome Bingham for dropping by the blog today! Winsome chatted with Highlights Foundation Ambassador Rona Shirdan about her book SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, the community she found at the Highlights Foundation, and her journey to publication.
Rona: Let’s get a table and order a snack while we chat. I’m going to get a caramel frappe and a chocolate almond croissant. What would you like?
Winsome: A cup of sugar with a little bit of coffee 😂. That’s what the people in my life say I drink. I’m not a big “sweets” person. But when I’m drinking coffee and sweet tea, I need it to be super sweet. Go figure!
Rona: I remember meeting you several years ago at the Chapter Books/Early Readers workshop at the Highlights Foundation. How did you hear about the Highlights Foundation and was that your first writing workshop?
Winsome: Yeah, you were so kind to me. Thanks for doing that! You spoke to me and made me feel so comfortable there. You don’t know how much that meant to me because to get to Highlights was wrecking for me traveling there with the mob of people traveling, kind of freaked me out. But you were so kind. So, thanks for doing that! I mean it! Thank you!
So, I think that was indeed my first writing workshop at Highlights. I wanted to learn to write chapter books and early readers. (They are my passion!) And I had an idea and I wanted to explore it. So, I took that workshop to learn how to write chapter books. It was there that I met Wiley Blevins, who was facilitating the workshop at the time. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think SOUL FOOD SUNDAY would have made it into the world. Because I wasn’t checking for it. I didn’t think the world was checking for a book of that nature at that time. But he saw something special in that book when he critiqued it.
And Wiley and I stayed friends. He convinced me to give publishing a try. And after I got my MFA, I applied for a job at ReyCraft Books. We even collaborated on a book together that went to auction.
I’ve always heard of Highlights, whether from other writers or research, but I couldn’t afford the classes. And when the offer came in on my first book sale, I splurged, treated myself to the workshop, and went.
Rona: How was your experience as a student? What did you take away from the workshop?
Winsome: As a student, my experience was great. I like the workshops you offer. I always approached writing like I approached teaching, there is a reason for “Professional Development.” It enhances your skills and keep you up to date and in-the-know of what is going on in your profession. So I treat writing in this same regard.
Also, being new to the writing game, I want to learn. I want to be able to break rules, but first I need to know them so I can break ‘em. 😂
Rona: I was honored to have had the opportunity to read a draft of SOUL FOOD SUNDAY while we were at the Highlights Foundation. Thanks so much for sharing it with me! I really enjoyed it. And now, I have a copy of the book in my personal library. What inspired you to write the story?
Winsome: There is a lot of inspiration when it comes to that book. I thought I wrote it in 2013, but found a draft dated back to 2012. I was unaware that I was allowed to send in a manuscript to get critiqued at the workshop because I signed up for the class at the last minute. And when Wiley said, “You can get anything critiqued,” I thought of SOUL FOOD SUNDAY because a week or two before the workshop, I came across it and made a mental note to revisit it.
The inspiration came from not seeing stories like that on the shelf as well as teaching my friend’s child to cook when she was with me as a punishment. It was interesting watching her follow my directions doing things. But I also realized she got a second wind when I praised her for doing something right.
As I reflect on why I wrote SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, I realized it’s a combination of things that inspired me to write it. Looking back, the inspiration can be attributed to more than just one thing.
Rona: Tell me a little about your journey towards publication after the workshop. Did the story change a lot in the process?
Winsome: Well, when I came to the workshop, I had already sold a manuscript to Simon and Schuster. My agent was negotiating the terms of that deal. SOUL FOOD SUNDAY changed in the process. It was a long story, so it needed to be cut. The main character changed. But the heart of the story stayed intact. And I got to tell the story I wanted to tell.
Rona: How has your writing life changed since the publication of your book? What new opportunities have opened up for you that you’ve enjoyed? I see that you will be participating in the SCBWI Summer Conference in August. That’s awesome!
Winsome: Well, my writing life changed because now I have no time to do anything. 🤣 My publication with SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, my MFA in Writing, and my work as an acquiring editor gives me credibility and validity, so now I get invited to events to share my knowledge and experiences. I didn’t see that happening.
Yes, SCBWI contacted me to participate in their Summer Conference by teaching a writing session and sitting on a panel. I welcome that because I love the sense of community and sharing knowledge. I write with musicality and cadence and sharing with writers how to incorporate rhythm in their writing makes me feel good. So shout out to SCBWI for reaching out; and thanks to whomever suggested me for this opportunity.
Rona: At the upcoming conference, you are part of a panel that will give creatives an honest look at the path to publication. What tips do you have for new writers? What would have been helpful for you to have known, or to have done, from the start?
Winsome: Tips for new writers:
Something that would have been helpful to know from the beginning is that publishers have different ways of marketing writers. As a writer of color, I find that they have to market us differently and that it helps you to have ideas and suggestions for your marketing team. (And that’s if they think to give you one.)
Rona: How would you like your work to impact the children who read your books?
Winsome: I want children to be entertained, but also to be seen. I want them to learn something new and appreciate their world. I want to normalize their life, their communities, their homes. And I also want to normalize their “home language”.
I know there are editors who hate to see non-standard English in children’s books. But we cannot be authentic if we do not write the way ALL speak. Them seeing the way they speak, their families speak, their communities speak let them know there is nothing wrong with them and the folks that love them. And on that note, put that nonstandard English in quotation marks 🤣
Patois (a dialect of the English language used on the island of Jamaica), BEV (Black English Vernacular), AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) are all languages and are recognized by sociolinguists.
Rona: Is there anything else that you would like to add? Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?
Winsome: You need to know that folks are out there putting in the work. ReyCraft Books has always had the mission to give underrepresented authors a platform. I love that. We acquire from EVERYBODY!!! We do not discriminate.
At the end of the day, we just want great stories; and we do not care who is writing them. I just want to read amazing stories! So please, don’t think if you are not a marginalized writer, I don’t want to read your stuff. I do! I just want to encourage marginalized writers to feel free to let me read their stuff because their stories do matter. That’s it!
Winsome Bingham is a soul food connoisseur, master cook, and a US Army war and disabled veteran. She received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults. She has more than 15 years of teaching experience. You can find her writing on a deck while waiting patiently with a camera to capture a submarine shooting out of the water. Her debut picture book, SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, illustrated by Charles G. Esperanza, was published by Abrams Books in November 2021 and received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. She has more books on the way, including LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (Beach Lane Books); MISSING MAMA, THE WALK, and THE PARK (Abrams Kids); and books 1, 2, and 3 in the Fort Goode chapter book series (ReyCraft Books). She is an acquiring editor at Reycraft Books.
Rona Shirdan is living her best life as a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. She is the mother of two adult sons and a cat named Lola. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College, and is retired from many years in the corporate world. She serves as the Customer Experience Coordinator, Ambassador, Beta Reader, and guest faculty at the Highlights Foundation. Rona is the Co-Regional Advisor for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of SCBWI. Her published work is in the Christian and educational markets. She is committed to the process of peacebuilding in the areas of social justice and DEI. Her focus is on children’s literature (especially picture books!) and partnering with organizations that embrace these initiatives. When she is not engrossed in kidlit, she enjoys traveling with her husband, Andre. Rona lives in the Philly suburbs but would prefer the perpetual sun and palm trees of southern California. You can find out more about Rona at: www.ronashirdan.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.
Posted on: July 20, 2022