This week, Anita Loughrey interviews Elizabeth Dulemba, a SCBWI member since 2001.

I have been a member for eighteen years! SCBWI has been a cornerstone in my life. When I first joined, my husband and I had just married and moved to a new town. I went freelance with my graphic design and began chasing my dream of illustrating picture books, sending out postcards to art directors and researching the industry. I clearly remember sitting at my desk, reading all the reports of how hard it was to break into children’s publishing — sometimes taking up to ten years — and how I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, here’s day one!” It’s now eighteen years later and I have sold almost 30 books as writer and/or illustrator. I never could have guessed I would have gotten this far.

My favourite thing about SCBWI is I love hanging out with fellow children’s book creators. It’s impossible to have a boring conversation at a conference, as all those creators are into the most interesting things! And its lovely to be in an environment where you can drop names that nobody in the outside world knows, but everyone at the conference will nod to, because they know exactly who you are talking about. Children’s book creators are my peeps! Conferences are like giant slumber parties to hang out with my friends.

I was Illustrator Coordinator for the Southeast US (Southern Breeze) region of SCBWI for over six years. In that time, I created annual Illustrator's Day conferences, gallery shows, an online member’s portfolio, and a scholarship program, connecting the local community and helping hundreds of up-and-coming creatives. I absolutely adored the position. I met so many people in the business through my role, won a national SCBWI Volunteer-of-the-Year scholarship to go to the LA summer conference, and received funding to attend two more of the national conferences (LA and NY).

Elizabeth (left) on the first tIllustrators' Day in 2008 with Lorraine Joyner (right).
Nowadays, I speak at conferences and do portfolio reviews and manuscript critiques when asked, which I LOVE to do! In fact, I’ll be doing just that at the Europolitan conference this May.
SCBWI has helped me in my writing career. First of all, it taught me how to write. Attending lots of SCBWI conferences is equivalent to doing a master’s degree in writing/illustrating for children. That is where I learned my craft. It’s also where I met so many of the publishers, art directors, editors, and agents that I’ve come to work with over the years. But best of all, it’s where I made friends who have been enormously supportive of me and my career all the way through, via critique groups, individual readings, or a hug when you’re feeling beat up. It’s a great group of people to hang out with, even if you never get published.

Illustration conference mentees, 2013

One of the best things ‘ever’ about my time as a SCBWI member is it gives you instant friends all over the world. I’ve attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair twice now, both times when SCBWI was there too (they go every other year). I used the SCBWI booth as home base, went out to dinner with SCBWI folks, to the SCBWI party, and reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in ages. It made the book fair personal, smaller, and easier to manage – not to mention FUN! And it’s like that no matter where I connect with my SCBWI peeps.

With Maurice Sendak, 2007
When you find your passion in life, in this case children’s books, I think it’s wise to immerse yourself in the world of that passion—get to know the key players, learn the rules, make friends, etc. Not only does SCBWI provide a wonderful support network, it brings a social aspect to your life and career that can stay with you forever, and wherever you go. It’s amazing to have a resource like that. It makes the world, and this very tough business, a much friendlier place.

Website: Twitter: @dulemba

* Header image shows Elizabeth at her gallery show in 2008.
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dulemba.

Anita Loughrey is SCBWI's Membership Coordinator. Anita writes fiction for all ages, graphic novels, audio books, teacher resources, educational fiction, non-fiction and creative non-fiction on a wide variety of subjects for a wide range of publishers. She has over 85 books published in the UK and many more worldwide. She also writes two regular double-page spreads for the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum and teaches creative writing.

You can find out more about Anita Loughrey on her website and on her blog. Or follow her on Twitter @amloughrey and Instagram @anitaloughrey

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