Closing Keynote Speaker
Renée Watson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her poetry and fiction often center around the experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender. Renée served as Founder and Executive Director of I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts, from 2016-2019.
Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon, and splits her time between Portland and New York City.
(Image credit © Shawnte Sims)
Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead and This Poison Heart, and is a classically trained vocalist. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing, you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theatre, watching scary movies and spending time with her kids.
She lives in Ithaca, New York, with her family.
Maisie Chan is a children's author whose debut novel DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS won the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award in 2022.
Her latest novel KEEP DANCING, LIZZIE CHU is out now with Piccadilly Press. She also writes the series TIGER WARRIOR under the name M. Chan. She has written early readers for Hachette and Big Cat Collins, and has a collection of myths and legends out with Scholastic.
She runs the Bubble Tea Writers Network to support and encourage writers of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) descent in the U.K. She has a dog called Miko who has big eyes. She lives in Glasgow with her family.
In 1988, keenly aware of the need for more books for young people that celebrate and center Black people, history, and experiences, Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson founded Just Us Books. Grounded in the belief that “good books make a difference” – Just Us Books set out to publish the kind of positive, affirming titles the couple wanted for their own children. Under the Hudsons’ leadership, Just Us Books has become an institution in the publishing industry and the Black community and remains one of the nation’s few Black-owned presses. In 2008, the Hudsons launched Marimba Books, an imprint that focuses on multicultural literature for children. As publishers, authors and editors, the Hudsons have helped bring to market hundreds of diverse children’s books that inspire, educate, entertain and allow children to see themselves reflected in stories.
Wade has written more than 30 books for young people including, AFRO-BETS Book of Black Heroes; Jamal's Busy Day, and Powerful Words. He is co-editor with Cheryl of three anthologies published in partnership with Crown Books for Young Readers, including the latest: Recognize! An Anthology Honoring and Amplifying Black Life. His most recent book is the coming-of-age memoir, Defiant: Growing up in the Jim Crow South, which Kirkus Reviews called a “powerful testimony from a children’s literature legend.”
An author, editor and art director, Cheryl has written over two dozen children's books, including AFRO-BETS® ABC Book; Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; My Friend Maya Loves to Dance; and her collaboration with the National Museum of African American History & Culture: Brave Black First, 50+ Women Who Changed the World. She is co-editor with Wade of three anthologies including the award-winning We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices.
Wade and Cheryl have received many honors including induction into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent and the 2019 Children’s Book Council’s Diversity Achievement Award. Leading advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion in kidlit, and mentors to aspiring and established authors and illustrators, the Hudsons and their pioneering efforts have helped to change the landscape of the industry and enrich readers everywhere.
Danielle Jawando is an author and screenwriter.
Her debut YA novel, And the Stars Were Burning Brightly, won best senior novel in the Great Reads Award, and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the YA Book Prize, the Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize, the Branford Boase Award and was longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the UKLA Book Awards and the Amazing Book Awards.
Her previous publications include the non-fiction children’s book Maya Angelou (Little Guides to Great Lives), the short stories Paradise 703 (long-listed for the Finishing Line Press Award) and The Deerstalker (selected as one of six finalists for the We Need Diverse Books short story competition), as well as several short plays performed in Manchester and London. Danielle has also worked on Coronation Street as a storyline writer.
Her second YA novel, When Our Worlds Collided, was published in March this year.
Leila Rasheed is the author of several books for children and teenagers, including EMPIRE’S END (Scholastic, 2020, shortlisted for the Tower Hamlets book award) and the AT SOMERTON historical YA romance series (Hyperion, 2021).
She has an MA with distinction in Writing from the University of Warwick, where she also taught for several years, and an MA in Children’s Literature from the University of Surrey (Roehampton).
In 2015, responding to the absence of people of colour in British children’s literature, she created the Megaphone Writer Development Scheme which recently became Megaphone Writers C.i.c.. The scheme provides writer development and mentoring for people of colour writing for children and teenagers.
She grew up in Benghazi, and currently lives in Birmingham.
New York Times best-selling author Carole Boston Weatherford recently released Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe and R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
Her 50-plus books include the Caldecott Honor winners Freedom in Congo Square, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.
She won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Becoming Billie Holiday, NAACP Image Awards for Moses and for Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, and an SCBWI Golden Kite and WNDB Walter Award for Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library.
Among her most popular titles are Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins and The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop.
Baltimore-born, Weatherford teaches at Fayetteville State University In North Carolina.
Nadine Aisha Jassat is the author of the poetry collection Let Me Tell You This; described as a ‘beautifully written, immense and full of passion’ by Nikita Gill, and ‘a joy both live and on the page’ by Hollie McNish. She has been published widely; including in popular anthologies such as Picador’s It’s Not About the Burqa (Shortlisted for Foyles Non-Fiction Book of the Year) and Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Human.
Nadine has performed her work internationally, including as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Outriders Africa, and has appeared across media, including BBC’s The Big Scottish Book Club.
As a creative practitioner, she delivers projects connecting themes of storytelling and social justice, and has taught creative writing across the UK and internationally, including for BBC Words First and The Arvon Foundation. Her recent adventures have included working with the Scottish Book Trust and University of Glasgow as an author in residence in a local school, being selected for Moniack Mhor’s International Writers’ Residency, in partnership with Lagos International Poetry Festival, and reading - and writing - as much as she can. Find out more at nadineaishaj.com.
Photocredit Danielle Watt