Blog tour: Logan Kleinwaks

Today, welcomes author Logan Kleinwaks as he stops by on his blog tour.

“Making an Anthology: A Project for Darfur”

Logan Kleinwaks

I wish you could have been there to experience the moment an idea became a book. Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, was on an American tour that, as luck would have it, stopped practically around the corner from my literacy charity, the Book Wish Foundation. From this point on, we thought we could create the anthology that became What You Wish For (Penguin, 2011).

Alexander McCall Smith has deep personal and literary connections to Africa, and, as the biographies at the end of What You Wish For reveal, many of the 18 contributors have been inspired to support this cause. Ann M. Martin, for example, the mega-bestselling author of The Baby-sitters Club and a Newbery Honoree for A Corner of the Universe, has run two literacy charities of her own for 20 years. Cornelia Funke, before gaining international fame for The Thief Lord, Inkheart, and Dragon Rider, was a social worker helping abused and ill children. To make this anthology great, we intentionally sought authors who might feel a connection between the cause and their own experiences. In fact, Alexander McCall Smith, Ann M. Martin, and Cornelia Funk felt such a commitment to the cause, that they signed on even before we had a publisher for the book!

Darfuri children in a classroom in Djabal Refugee Camp, eastern Chad
Photo © UNHCR / H. Caux, 2011

At the annual publishing convention BookExpo America, we pitched this book to editors on the basis of the first three authors. To our tremendous delight, Penguin made an offer for the book through its Putnam imprint. A generous literary agent helped negotiate the deal pro bono.

Even in the first meeting with Penguin, before we had signed the contract, ideas were proposed about the format of the book. We should feature poems, not only short stories, and what about a graphic story? Varying the format turned out to be quite significant, I think, in broadening the book’s emotional range.

At UN Headquarters in NY for the launch of What You Wish For, panel discussion with authors (l-r): on the screen, Cornelia Funke and Meg Cabot, sitting, Marilyn Nelson, Karen Hesse, Sofia Quintero, R.L. Stine, Nate Powell, Ann M. Martin, Jeanne DuPrau.

After signing the contract with Penguin, the theme of “wishes” came to light. In my “Editor’s Note” at the back of What You Wish For, you can read more about how this theme relates to our goal of bringing libraries to the Darfuri refugees. We also selected the theme to give authors ample artistic freedom and to help unite the topics they would touch on separately, such as bullying, friendship, and love.

For months, we sent out invitations to authors, building a hugely talented and popular list of contributors. Two Newbery Medalists, three Newbery Honor recipients, a National Book Award winner, ten National Book Award nominees, two Nebula Award recipients, a Caldecott Medalist, Printz, Walden, and Edgar Award-winners, and numerous #1 New York Times bestselling authors … With each “yes” from an author, the potential impact of the book grew. Ultimately, we decided to give all our proceeds to the UN Refugee Agency to ensure that our collective efforts, and the goodwill of readers, would provide the greatest benefit to the refugees through library development.

Boy from Darfur in Djabal Refugee Camp, eastern Chad
Photo © UNHCR / H. Caux, 2011

As our editor worked with the authors to polish their stories, we approached our final tasks in the anthology creation process. How should the 18 contributions be arranged, and what photos should we include? I was surprised by how important I felt the answers could be. I realized that a great anthology is bound by more than just its covers; it’s the thread of ideas that really speaks to us.

Learn more about the Book Wish Foundation at their website.

Logan Kleinwaks started Book Wish Foundation in 2007 after reading a Washington Post profile of a Darfuri refugee yearning for books. Four years after fleeing Sudan, the refugee was still stuck in a refugee camp reading the few titles he had managed to take with him over and over. His simple request: to know what had happened in the world and in his former profession, and to have access to the books that could tell him.

Logan has since been working with his bibliophile mother, the publishing industry, and readers around the world to fulfill the specific book wishes of refugees. Whatever books have meant to you, for your education or your happiness, imagine what they could mean to the traumatized and isolated victims of genocide.

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