Joyce Sidman received the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, which is given every two years to a living American poet in recognition of his or her aggregate work. She is the author of many award-winning children’s poetry books, including the Newbery Honor-winning Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and two Caldecott Honor books. She teaches poetry writing to school children and participates in many national poetry events. Her recent book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.Joyce lives with her husband and dog near a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota. For more info, visit her website.
What do you waste time doing?
Fussing with digital photographs. Cropping, adjusting contrast, etc. I’m taking a photography class and just love it. I look up and two hours have gone by.
If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be?
Old Mother Elephant.
If you could own a store, what sorts of things would you sell?
Children’s book art! Cards by Pamela Zagarenski. Hats. And chocolate.
What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?
Any big, thick historical biography. My mind shuts down by page two. I’ve learned all my history through historical novels.
What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?
My German grandmother would make these blueberry pancakes fried in Crisco and sprinkled with sugar. To die for.
What do you do every day, without fail?
Walk in the woods with my dog.
What is something you wish you did every day, without fail?
Dream up a brilliant writing idea.
If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?
The smart phone. No one talks to each other anymore! Of course, I don’t have a smart phone. Once I do (it’s inevitable), I’ll probably be just as addicted as anyone else.
What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?
This is embarrassing, but I love cute animal videos, especially hedgehogs.
What compliment do you wish someone would give you?
I’ve already received way more than my share.
Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?
Oh, this happens all the time. It gets worse with any attention—awards, conferences, etc. I become afraid to fail. I have work hard to shut down the greedy, approval-seeking part of my brain and open up to wonder again. I have a quote over my desk by Gregory Ciotti: “A passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.” That’s what I strive for.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
Read. Walk. Visit a museum. Go hear another writer/artist talk about his/her process. Art begets art.
How would you define creativity?
Oh, gosh, if we could define it, it wouldn’t be as interesting. A mysterious spark of joy? A glimmer of knowledge, and the words or images to capture it? A connection between two things that reveals insight?
Who do you consider a literary genius?
The children’s writers I really admire take chances and explore lots of genres. People like Cynthia Rylant and Kevin Henkes, who write picture books and novels beautifully (Kevin is also a Caldecott-winning artist—jeepers). Novelist Walter Dean Myers, who also wrote gorgeous poetry. They inspire me to try new things.
What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?
I have been very lucky in many ways. But my biggest challenge was continuing to believe in myself as a writer in the face of ten years of rejection.
How did you pick your writing genre?
It picked me. Once I started reading poetry in high school, I was hooked. That said, it took me a while to discover children’s books—having kids and reading to them was a big influence. I still feel as though I don’t write specifically for children, but for the part of me that loves to wonder and learn about things.
How do you know when a book is finished?
An interesting question. Some of it is a sense of a circle completed, an idea captured. Some of it is just the feeling of enough is enough. To quote Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem entitled “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?” which likens a poem to a room you are rearranging:
I think you could keep doing this forever. But the blue chair looks best with the red pillow. So you might as well leave it that way.
When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?
At age sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be a professional poet. Occasionally I wish I did something more useful. But mostly I just feel lucky.