VCFA/Goldblatt: Angela Johnson Scholarship for New Students of Color or Ethnic Minority

I mention my MFA alma mater Vermont College of Fine Arts a lot. My time at VCFA was a life-changing experience. By 2009, I had already spent a good eight or so years on writing for children. I had a few dollars in my pocket from selling my poetry to wonderful magazines such as Ladybug, Babybug, and Highlights High Five. I was steeped in New England SCBWI and had attended numerous conferences asking many questions of fine faculty. In fact, that year I was the Director for the annual spring conference. (more on that later) But the letters I got from agents and editors were maddeningly similar. Basically they all said… there’s good writing here but you don’t quite have the craft down yet.

VCFA was all about craft and nothing about business. Coming from SCBWI this was frustrating, but eventually it was freeing. After the first residency at VCFA I realized that I hadn’t had enough knowledge to even know what questions to ask. The community, the award-winning faculty, and the program helped me to climb away from my plateau and make my work better. After VCFA, I read differently, I wrote differently, I taught differently, I was supported differently, and I supported others differently.

One thing that really bothered me at VCFA was that the faces of the students in the WCYA program did not look very diverse. Diversity in children’s literature is an ongoing issue. That SCBWI conference that I’d been planning for two years was titled, Many Voices and sought to include more people of color in the faculty and participant pool. If you’ve been following the CBC Diversity blog, or Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Coloring Between the Lines, or reading Christopher Myers article in Horn Book, you know that the issue of diversity in children’s books is a huge problem. (See Tina Kügler’s great info graphic below.)

Infographic by Tina Kügler originally for Illustration Friday

What is to be done? Many people think that the answer is in enrolling more people of color at great MFA programs like VCFA. To that end, the agent Barry Goldblatt established a scholarship in honor of Angela Johnson, the critically acclaimed African American poet and author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. She has won the Coretta Scott King Award three times, the Michael L. Printz Award, and received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. Her work explores the lives of characters of color of all ages, in historical and contemporary settings and celebrates a myriad of experiences growing up in America.

In addition to honoring Ms. Johnson, this scholarship will help to fill the void of multi-cultural voices in the world of children’s and young adult literature by providing scholarship assistance to minority students attending VCFA.

The recipient of the scholarship is in no way obligated to submit works to, or seek representation by Barry Goldblatt Literary, LLC.

Here are the details of the scholarship directly from the VCFA press release. If you fit the eligibility criteria, please apply. You have nothing to lose and the world and its children have so much to gain by hearing your voice!

Award Amount

One or two scholarships of up to $5,000 will be awarded annually and will be applied to the student’s tuition costs.  The maximum scholarship awarded will not exceed $5,000.

Eligibility  Criteria

Qualified applicants will meet the following criteria:

  1. A minority, defined as a person of color or a person of ethnic minority in the VCFA community
  2. Demonstrates talent, promise, and commitment to a career as a writer in the children and/or young adults field of literature.
  3. Has strong financial need.
  4. Priority will be given to incoming students.

Application Process

Eligible applicants must submit an essay (see below) by April 30.  Essays are to be emailed to:  Melissa Fisher, Director, Writing for Children & Young Adults  at  with the words “Application for Angela Johnson Scholarship” in the subject line. Essays emailed after April 30 will not be considered.

Essay are not to exceed 350 words and should describe the applicant’s:

  • Commitment and or passion for the literary field of children’s and young adult literature;
  • Extenuating or financial challenges.

A Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form must be filed by April 30.


Email Melissa Fisher, Director, Writing for Children & Young Adults at

Member Monday: So others may read

Book worship is inherent in all of the posts here at Creative Chaos. The art and craft of the book as object is certainly part of this but more– it is about the unlimited possibilities and pleasure of reading. As many of my blog readers know, I’ve posted before about the  many children and adults around the world who struggle with illiteracy. However, we need not travel far from home to find people who are learning to read.

Very close to my heart and home, at my own Shepherd Elementary school in Northwest Washington, DC, my Mom and a group of volunteers are working with ESL and other early reading students three times a week to bring them one on one and small group read aloud experiences.

Bicentennial Anna. As a proficient reader, I was skipped to 1st grade when I turned six years old.

Because of ubiquitous budget cuts the Shepherd School library is no longer staffed and the books are outdated.  Today I’m calling on all authors and readers out there for book donations. Students in the program are African-American, Asian, Latino, and African and the organizers are especially interested in books that mirror this diversity.

If you have written a picture book or early reader and you are wondering what to do with your author copies, consider donating them to the Early Readers Program. If you are an MFA student at VCFA, Hamlin, Lesley, Simmons, or any other Children’s and Young Adult Writing/Literature programs, I know you have a shelves of books. Yes, some of them you will love and cherish forever, but some you could pass along to others. If you are just a reader. Just a reader? A wonderful, amazing reader… Please consider donating a book to:

Early Readers Program
1220 East West Highway, Apt 504
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Thanks to all and happy summer reading!

Reading Time

The past month I’ve spent reading and preparing for my first Vermont College Residency. Some of the reading is required, some suggested, and some is my own desire to read the books of faculty members so I know them better as I am placed with a faculty advisor for my first semester. I’ve also been reading and enjoying the worksheets (manuscripts) of my workshop group. I’m very excited to meet everyone and can’t wait to hear the conversation of fellow students or the guidance of our instructors.

Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Impossible, Nancy Werlin
The Postcards, Tony Abbott
Runt, Marion Dane Bauer
The Underneath, Kathi Appelt

…and because the movie Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince comes out in theatres this month, I read it aloud to I. who has finished books 2-5 on his own. 

There are a few more that I am trying to finish up this week:
Red Butterfly, Deborah Noyes
Criss Cross, Lynn Rae Perkins
Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It, Sundee Frazier
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf (non-fiction on how we read and how our brains change as humans have learned to read)

Five on Friday

 1. I am just home from the dentist and feel like a drunk chipmunk. She had to remove a crown, fill a cavity and give me a temporary crown. The worst part was keeping my mouth open for so long. I’ll go back in a few weeks to have the permanent crown put in.

2. I’ve just completed two whole semester classes compressed into three very busy weeks. Well almost complete. I have a paper and a take-home final due for one of the classes still. One was an art history class the other a plein air painting class.  The coursework in the time allowed was very challenging. The Art History class included an essay, a class presentation, a mid-term (half in class/half at home), a final paper and a final exam. In the painting class we completed 5 oil paint canvases (including a transcription), 2 pastel drawings, and many other ink, charcoal and graphite drawings. 

3. I’m going to show my work from the last two semesters at our Maryland house on June 20th in the afternoon and evening. I’m hoping to post the images online for people to see. All work is for sale and the proceeds will pay for…

4. The MFA Writing for Children program at Vermont which I will be attending this July!

5. I’m really looking forward to getting back to New England and the Brunswick community. I’ve missed the Maine Illustrators’ Collective and my writing partners so much. The end of the tunnel seems a little closer each day. The kids are out of school next Friday.

The Big Decision

This morning I couldn’t sleep in. I don’t know how some people can readjust their biorhythms to weekend time. My body just does the same thing each day. Wake up time, six am. So I went for a lovely walk. The weather is muggy today and threatening rain. The forecast says it will be in the 80’s today. We had a beautiful spring that lasted a very short time and now we are full on into summer. Ick, hot and humid. Good thing the pool opens on Memorial Day.

For those of you who do not know, we’ve been in Maryland this year and it just wasn’t a good fit (to use publishing lingo). We will be back in our Brunswick, Maine house come August. I’m applying for jobs– mostly teaching positions but I just found and applied for a community educator’s position with the U Maine extension office in Portland. This would have so many benefits, including a possible tenure track. Cross your fingers for me and if you know anybody in that office, call and tell them nice things for me. Thanks.

I have good news to share. I got into both the Vermont and Lesley MFA programs. Now comes the hard part, deciding where to go. Vermont offers more rigor and a more established faculty and program. Lesley offers a cross-genre program with interdisciplinary studies that would allow me to work with illustrators and maybe get some teaching time at the university level. (Always good on a resume.) I spoke with the Lesley Director this week and will speak with Vermont next week. I think it may come down to the money issue with financial aid. 

Happy to  hear your comments below and if you want to talk with me about it further please email. I’m open to advice.


We just cannot get a break from the rain down here in Maryland. It was rainy all weekend and the beginning of the week. Yesterday we had dramatic thunderstorms and tornado warnings. All we saw were high winds in the early hours though. On the bad side, my sons have not been able to play in their scheduled baseball games and are generally bouncing off the walls from staying inside for recess. The good side is that I’ve not been tempted to stray from my final projects and papers to go outside. (Don’t worry procrastinators, there’s always the internet.) My drawing project process is below and the final critique went really well yesterday. I’m thinking of having a small art show in my house for friends, "A Semester of Art." I’ll photograph it and put it on my Facebook page too so that you all can enjoy it. BYOW&C. (That’s wine and cheese.)

Here are my past paintings torn to bits.

Here are the pieces reassembled in a blue gradient.

Here is the final drawing. "The Mythology of Epiphanies."

For the background (the mythology) behind the artwork see this previous post.

Now I am onto the next thing in my to do list: writing the critical essay for my Vermont application!

Four Days Left

Well friends, at this point the conference is pretty much on auto pilot. Saturday is sold out and I’m so excited to see it all come together. What isn’t on autopilot is my creative work. For some wacko reason I signed up for the poster showcase and a portfolio review. HA! Ha-Ha. This is me laughing at my insane overestimation of my own ability to create on deadline. I’ve got the next three days to paint a couple of new images that are all sketched out and get copies of them. The poster needs to be printed out too. I figure if worse, comes to worse, I can just bring my laptop and show it to the art director. (I’m joking! Don’t do this.)

In other news, Scholastic said "no" to my novel. This was a big disappointment as I met the editor at the conference last year and she had asked for my full manuscript. I was so hopeful. I wasn’t even expecting a "yes, we’ll take it," I was hoping for an editorial letter. Basically she told my agent that there was some nice writing but it was a little didactic and heavy handed. (My words not hers.) I’m looking forward to the time to revise it with this in mind. I’ve applied to the Lesley MFA program. If I get in, it will be the perfect environment to break my work down and build it up better than before. And so, this quote:

 Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge
30th president of US (1872 – 1933)


Five on Friday

1. I’d really like to get my MFA in writing for children. One of the things that has held me back is that there doesn’t seem to be any program that includes a certificate or even studio classes in illustration. (the other is money)

I’ve been looking into Simmons, Vermont and Hamline and I’m wondering if any of you graduates would be willing to talk a little about what you think is different about the programs. Certainly faculty is different and that must effect the culture of the program. If you’d like to comment that’s great. If you have more to say and you’d prefer to write me directly contact me at anna at annajboll dot com. That is my website address. Thanks

2. I love snow, but ice storms not so much. I guess that is one benefit of living south this winter.

3. My freelance work may be over. The client says they love me but are cutting expenses. They might try to do it in house or they may hire me. We’ll see.

4. My toe is healing from a nail-echtomy. It actually hurts less than it has for the last two weeks. I originally injured it on the surfing simulator at the Great Wolf Lodge. I know, I know… I didn’t mention it before. What? I didn’t want to be bother. 

5. I’m heading into DC tomorrow to see Mom and Sister. I better get Chanukah candles while I’m there. I sure as heck won’t find them around here. 

6. I’m in the waiting room on a picture book manuscript. All fingers crossed.