Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman

On Creativity: Jen Bryant

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.


Jen Bryant

Jen Bryant writes:

Dear Karen (with gratitude for bringing us all together in this conversation):

Where to begin, where to begin . . . ??? How is it possible to keep putting one foot in front of the other—one word after the last word—one breath after the next one? I think perhaps the answer is different for each of us, just as the flow of writing flows from very different sources in each of us.

For me, the words of those I admire, of those I’ve looked up to and have been mentored by—provide comfort. They comfort because even though the November election left me in an unprecedented state of disbelief, disappointment, and just plain disgust, I have faith in the goodness of ordinary people. I have no idea why this is true, but I think it has something to do with my chosen profession as a children’s author and poet. Children represent hope; poetry (inasmuch as it is singing from the soul) represents survival.

I have MANY quotes from writers past and present taped up on my desk and on the walls of my writing room. On the really bad days (when the best thing I can find in my morning’s New York Times is that Congress has adjourned for the weekend . . .) I pause to read as many of those quotes as I can before I sit down and begin to work. Today, I lingered over this one by my friends and long-time mentors Jerry and Eileen Spinelli. It’s the final page of their collaborative book Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself (Random House Children’s Books, 2009), which I highly recommend:

“I understand that some things are beyond my control. I also understand that my view of life depends on choices I make. I hereby choose to view the cookie as half remaining rather than half gone. When life challenges me, I shall turn to my resources the healing love of friends when I am hurt, the promise of new opportunity when I am rejected, my own common sense when I am afraid, confidence in myself when I am alone. I hereby choose to believe that life is good.”

It’s not always easy in times like these, but in the end, the only thing we REALLY control is our attitude. Therefore, we need to believe that life is, indeed, good—and do our small part, each day, to make it so.


Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels, and poems for readers of all ages. Her three biographies illustrated by Melissa Sweet—A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus—have earned Caldecott Honors, a Sibert Medal, and the Schneider Award from ALA and the Orbis Pictus Award from NCTE. SIX DOTS: A Story of Young Louis Braille, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, won the Schneider Family Award for Young Readers this year. Jen’s historical novels in verse include The Trial, Ringside 1925, Pieces of Georgia, and Kaleidoscope Eyes. Jen lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Visit her on Facebook or on the Web.

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