Big names in children's poetry, fiction and illustration headline April 5 literature conference

The three featured speakers at Tennessee Technological University's annual Literature Conference for children represent three different areas of publishing: poetry, fiction and illustration. The one-day event on Saturday, April 5, features short seminars for parents and teachers, lectures and book-signings by the guest speakers and a host of vendors offering children's literature.

North Carolina author Gloria Houston provides the keynote address for the conference. Houston, author-in-residence and visiting professor at Western Carolina University, has a slew of children's books to her credit -- and a slew of accolades to go with them. Among her most popular books was the 1988 offering, "The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree," a holiday story set in post-World-War-II Appalachia. "Booklist" chose it as one of the Best Books of the Decade, calling it "warm, heartfelt . . . movingly told . . . a beautifully wrapped present for readers of all ages." Houston is currently associate producing a film version of the story.

Houston also authored "Littlejim," which earned a Teachers' Choice award from the International Reading Association; "Littlejim's Gift: An Appalachian Christmas Story," which received state awards from both North and South Carolina and Kansas; and "Littlejim's Dream," due to be released this spring.

In addition, Houston wrote the award-winning children's books "Mountain Valor," "My Great Aunt Arizona" and "My Brother Joey Died."

Houston notes, "I write for children because children are a more important audience than adults. Books we read as children impact our lives far more than adults."

Writer/illustrator Anita Riggio presents the conference's mid-day general session. Riggio, a New Jersey native who now lives in Connecticut, has authored 19 children's books, most recently "Secret Signs."

"Secret Signs," a dramatic story set in the mid-1800s, draws on Riggio's experience teaching at the American School for the Deaf. "The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story," which Riggio illustrated, won the Teachers' Choice award from the International Reading Association, among other awards. Reviewers of Riggio's books consistently praise her detailed and evocative oil painting illustrations as well as her stories.

Riggio lectures throughout the Northeast on writing and illustrating for children's books. She also visits schools and libraries to discuss her work directly with her audience. In a message to her readers, Riggio writes, "Even though we may never have met, you and I connect each time you read one of my books. That's the magic."

Tennessee's poet laureate, Maggi Vaughn, will deliver her poem "Who We Are," the official Bicentennial Poem for the State of Tennessee, at the conference. Vaughn, poet-in-residence for the Tennessee Arts Commission and also the official Tennessee State Bard, has published numerous books of poetry and has written several plays that have been produced in Tennessee.

A native of Mississippi and a current resident of Bell Buckle, Tenn., Vaughn finds in her Southern heritage inspiration for her work. Among her most popular works are "The Light in the Kitchen Window," "Acres that Grow Stones" and "Kin."

Throughout the day, conference participants can take part in 45-minute interest sessions on everything from quilting traditions in children's literature to storytelling to electronic mail literature exchanges. The guest authors will be on hand to sign books, and vendors will provide exhibits of the latest children's books.

Admission to the conference is free, and everyone is welcome to attend. A luncheon will be held at noon; the cost is $7, and reservations must be made by March 31. For a detailed schedule of events or to make reservations for lunch, call Connie Nichols at 615/372-3791. The conference is funded in part by the Tennessee Humanities Council.

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