Just after the turn of the twenty-first century, a group of striving Connecticut writers and illustrators sat around a kitchen table, hatching a brand-new idea. Grateful for each other’s support as they sent their work to countless literary agents and editors around the country, they realized that other children’s book writers and illustrators worked without similar support. Why not, they thought, nurture a sense of community in a discouragingly competitive marketplace? Why not boost others’ efforts to have their work reach the desks of industry leaders? Why not create a literary competition that would encourage other Connecticut writers and illustrators?
Over several months, the eight writer/illustrators honed a plan: Each year, they would offer monetary prizes for excellence in children’s literature for emerging Connecticut artists. Five prizes were imagined for an illustrator portfolio, an illustrated picture book, a picture book text, and novels intended for middle-graders and young adults.
These founders set a high bar, requiring entrants to prepare their submissions according to rigorous industry standards. Why so tough? Because they wanted to help one another learn how to prepare for the stiff competition ahead. Confident of their aims, they searched for a fiscal sponsor who shared their passion for the arts and for Connecticut artists. By 2001, the details were firm: The Shoreline Arts Alliance would advertise and administrate the competition; the founders would form the guidelines, shepherd the entries to noted judges, and nurture the community of artists they hoped to encourage.
They called their new literary competition the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children’s Literature. An accomplished champion of children’s literature, nonagenarian Katherine ”Tassy” Gessel Walden had been a generous member of the Connecticut literary and library community. A graduate of Vassar College, Tassy also earned master’s degrees in education and library science. She taught in New York City and in Guilford, and she served as president of the Connecticut State Library Association. She taught children’s literature at Connecticut College and was active with the Literacy Volunteers of America. In short, Tassy understood excellence in children’s literature.
Now in its sixteenth year, the statewide Tassy Walden Award competition has awarded more than $18,000 in prizes to more than seventy-five winning entrants. Many talented Tassy finalists and winners have found publishing success directly attributable to their engagement with the “Tassy” community. More than one hundred picture books and novels have Tassy roots, and winning Tassy illustrators have been featured in print as well as in exhibitions. Many Tassy writers and illustrators have earned notable awards and accolades, landing on such bestseller and best-books lists as the New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book, and the National Council of Teachers of English and of Social Studies. Multiple Tassy winners have been nominees or winners of the CT Book Award, a previous project of the CT Center for the Book, and three Tassy winners are among the contributors to The Great Connecticut Caper, a serialized children’s book project sponsored by CT Humanities. At the annual award ceremony in June 2016, the Tassy founders look forward to welcoming and applauding the newest members of the Tassy family.
Guest post submitted by Doe Boyle. Doe is an author, an editor, and teaching artist working in association with the CT Office of the Arts. She is one of the eight founders of the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children’s Literature, sponsored by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. For more information, visit http://www.shorelinearts.org/pro_tassywalden.html