Conference Scholarships

Conference Scholarships

Every year KidlitNation awards mentorships to diverse voices in children’s literature. This year’s scholarship will cover fees for the 2020 SCBWI Illinois Interactive online conference. The scholarship is open to any children’s writer or illustrator of color who has never attended SCBWI-IL’s yearly conference. 

Previous Scholarship Winners

Leah Schanke

2019 Scholarship winner

A New York City native with an interest in U.S. history and particularly stories of social justice, Leah is inspired by her African-American heritage to write narrative nonfiction and historical fiction books for children. Leah was a finalist twice, 2013 and 2014, in the children’s book category of the PNWA Literary Contest for Unpublished Works. In 2017 her picture book biography of a Harlem Renaissance poet was a winner in the KidLit College Picture Book Contest. Leah is a member of the Author’s Guild and associate member of SCBWI. Leah can be found online at www.lhschanke.com and on Twitter at @LeahSchanke.

Donna Beasley

2019 Scholarship winner

Donna Beasley graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Norwich University. She is also a genealogist who has traced her family’s history. That connection to history influences her work. As a writer she tells children stories that have a positive tie-in to some aspect of both Black History and family. She is also a member of the middle-grade fiction critique group, The Golden Manuscript Society. Being in a weekly critique group has helped her keep pushing forward on her writing goal. Donna just completed the first draft of a middle-grade adventure novel.

Gabriela Romero

2019 Scholarship winner

Gabriela Romero was born in the central valleys of Mexico and grew up in Oregon, home of evergreens, rushing rivers and Nike. As a child coming to a new country and not speaking the English language, she had to learn quickly. Her experience as an immigrant created the foundation for her interest in education and advocacy. As a former dual language teacher, she wanted students to feel empowered by their diverse experiences. When she found that diverse voices and imaginations were not fully represented on the classroom bookshelves, she encouraged her students to write stories from their perspectives. While she holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, she continues to pursue opportunities to nurture her craft. She has taken local and online courses on children’s picture book writing and attended workshops at The Highlights Foundation and received the Yuyi Morales Scholarship from The Children’s Book Academy. In addition to taking part in local and online writing critique groups, she is a SCBWI-Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) representative and a 12×12 member.

Kuldeep Kaur

2019 Scholarship winner

Born and brought up in India, Kuldeep did her post-graduation, worked as a Science teacher/Elementary school teacher for many years before moving into writing field. She has written many articles and educational worksheets for school children in India. Presently, she lives in western suburbs of Chicago with her family. As a volunteer, she enjoys presenting international story-time (Hindi) in local libraries. She also writes blogs about picture books.

Sandra Mazuera

2019 Scholarship winner

 Sandra Mazuera is a self-taught illustrator and aspiring writer for young adults. Her first job out of college took her from Chicago to Boston to work as a high school academic tutor, and she’s encouraged teens to be life-long readers and dream-chasers ever since. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in traditional animation through DePaul University, and volunteers at Open Books for their summer youth writing camps. Whenever she isn’t reading up on storyboarding techniques, or practicing animation on TVPaint, you will most likely find her running along the lakefront, dancing to Bollywood songs, or sketching animals at the Lincoln Park Zo

Audrey Moy

2018 Scholarship winner

Audrey became inspired to write when her junior high language arts teacher assigned a non-traditional essay to her class. Today, she has rediscovered her passion for writing after a storied career in hospitality management. Audrey holds a B.S. in Psychology, a certificate in Hospitality Management, and a certificate in Grant Writing. She resides in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her family.

Candice Yamnitz

2018 Scholarship winner

Candice Yamnitz is an elementary bilingual teacher by trade, but left the profession to stay home with her children. When she’s not doing errands or chores around the house, she’s reading and writing. She enjoys reading all genres. But, her mind is always off in distant kingdoms. Candice lives in the Chicago area with her husband and children.

Justin Barret

2018 Scholarship winner

Justin graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with an emphasis in Corporate Communication. He choose to serve with Turning the Page because of his passion for community development and a desire to contribute to a better, more sustainable educational system. Justin is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as the Communications Specialist with TTP. He develops new relationships with community partners through social media platforms, blogs and newsletters. He also assists with fundraising events. Through his work, Justin hopes to attract more families, partners and funders to TTP programs.

Michelle Sharpe Silverthorn

2018 Scholarship winner

Michelle Sharpe is a young adult fantasy writer and SCBWI member. She spent her childhood in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago before moving to the United States at age eighteen. Her experiences as an immigrant, and as an outsider looking in on American culture, deeply influence her writing. She has lived and worked all over the world, including Kazakhstan, Botswana, Switzerland, and Peru, and has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, North and South America, and sub-Saharan Africa. With the help of the Chicago-based StoryStudio non-profit and their 2018 Novel in a Year writing class, she is completing her first novel about black fairies who live behind Wrigley Field and harvest magic from humans. M.A. Sharpe lives on the North Side of Chicago with her husband and two daughters. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School. You can always find her on Twitter at @sharpewrites.

Rita D. Russell

2018 Scholarship winner

Rita D. Russell is a voracious reader and a passionate writer of children’s books. She loves crafting humorous and heartfelt stories that grab young readers’ attention and stay with them long after the final page turn. Before discovering the magic of kidlit, Rita worked as a broadcast journalist, television screenwriter, and writing instructor for adults. These days, she enjoys letting her imagination run wild, supposing far more stories than she has time to write. Her favorite question is, “What if . . .?” Her favorite answer is, “All of the above!”

Anna Khan

2017 Scholarship winner

My name is Anna Khan, and I am an American of Pakistani descent. Growing up, my culture had a huge influence on me in regards to everything I do. I have always had a passion for literature and film, and one of my biggest concerns that most of my favorite works shared was a lack of diversity. When I realized that I love writing, I made a conscious decision to only write stories that involved characters from diverse backgrounds. I believe this is only responsible to portray a realistic world, because that is what the world looks like. Attending a children’s book conference would be a fantastic experience for me, because I don’t get exposed to other writers often. Creative writing isn’t exactly a common interest among Pakistani-Americans, but I attribute this only to lack of exposure to most of us kids. If I hadn’t discovered books myself, creative writing may have never even come to mind as something I could do at all. It would be a dream to meet other writers who have a passion for literature like me, and it would be even more exciting to meet writers from diverse backgrounds like mine.

Erica Thomas

2017 Scholarship winner

I’m a 41 year old African-American mother of 4 and a Special Education teacher in the Valley View School District. I was born in the projects of Toledo, Ohio to a teenage mother and an absent father. Unlike most of the children in my neighborhood, I grew up listening to my grandmother quote The Raven and listening to the romantic ballets of Tchaikovsky. And although (as some of the statistics often show) I fell into some of the pitfalls that children born into poverty often do, I prevailed. I refused to let anything stand in the way of my dreams that would prevent me from reaching them. My passion for writing stems from my purpose in life; to use the testimony of things I have learned along the way as a form of inspiration to everyone who reads my stories. Attending the SCBWI Prairie Writer’s and illustrator’s Day conference would lead me one step closer to fulfill my purpose. The writer’s conference will help me acquire some of the skills necessary to become a better writer as well as an opportunity to collaborate with other authors. I look forward to embarking on my exciting journey.

Evan J. Roberts

2017 Scholarship winner

Evan J. Roberts is a children’s picture book author. He also writes fiction and non-fiction for teens. Mr. Roberts’ interest in writing was influenced by his early experiences as a classroom teacher. He has worked with youth for more than a decade emphasizing the importance of self-education, literacy, developing clarity of purpose, and pursuing excellence in their endeavors. In 2013, Mr. Roberts released, How to Become Influential and Highly Successful: The Young Adult Success Manual and in 2016 created Khahari Discovers, a new children’s series inspired by his son. This series is a collection of books designed to positively impact African American boys. It is also Mr. Roberts’ way of encouraging early literacy and contributing to the positive portrayal of African American families in literature. Mr. Roberts is focused on empowering youth. He has worked with dozens of elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and youth-based organizations and has taught and mentored youth throughout the metropolitan Chicagoland area. Mr. Roberts received his Bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University and his Master’s degree from National-Louis University. He currently resides in the greater Chicagoland area with his beautiful wife Leslie and son Gavin. Mr. Roberts provides professional workshops for businesses, schools, churches, and youth organizations. Contact him at evanroberts@ejrbooks.com or visit www.ejrbooks.com for more information.

Jacob Sun Kim

2017 Scholarship winner

Jacob Sun Kim is an American storyteller who delivers folktales to the wide audience. He is currently working as an accountant and finds time to write in a train to work. He enjoys the smell of bookstores and visits the libraries over the weekend. He carries a pen whenever he goes. His favorite birthday gift was a water resistant pencil and papers so he can write in a shower. He wishes the readers to smile and be relieved for a while.

Jiton Davidson

2017 Scholarship winner

Jiton Davidson is currently working on her second Masters degree; MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Jiton won the 2017 SCBWI-IL Diverse New Membership Pathway, and actively participates in SCBWI-IL’s diversity community.

Katie Oatey

2017 Scholarship winner

 Katie Otey is an author and an SCBWI-IL Network Representative. She has penned several books including three picture books, two middle grade novels, and a young adult novel. Katie prides herself on writing stories that emotionally resonate with her readers. She loves humorous stories but tackling tough teen issues is important to her as well. Katie is currently seeking agent representation. She lives in Belleville, IL with her family.

Kevin Yu

2017 Scholarship winner

Kevin is currently a student pursuing a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy at Northwestern University. He previously co-founded a college consulting company called Koi Learning. He helped international Chinese students gain admittance into top-tier universities in the United States. He also ran a tech innovation summer camp that introduced Silicon Valley to international students. After leaving Koi Learning, Kevin worked in sales at Zenefits and Guideline, both startups based in San Francisco, California. While in San Francisco, he began writing children’s picture books with Asian American characters. Kevin’s mission is to help provide resources and promote a strong cultural and racial identity for 2nd generation Asian Americans.

Ramone L. Outlaw

2017 Scholarship winner

 My name is Ramone L. Outlaw. I am self-published children’s author/illustrator of the book series ‘Germaine Cabbagehead’. There are a total of five books. I am applying for this scholarship because I think it will be a great opportunity to attend a professional children’s writing conference. I also believe it would be nice to meet other authors of the same and different genres. I have never attended a writer’s conference so I think the experience will be amazing and life changing. Writing and illustrating is something that I am very passionate about. I want to one day share my stories and illustrations with children’s of all ethnicity around the world. I graduated from East High School and received my diploma in 1993. I then received a certificate and some college credits after completing a two year course at the Institute of Children’s Literature from 1999-2001. I currently work third shift as night technician at Perseus House which is a living facility for troubled youth. I also volunteer to read to children at the Bethany Outreach Center where low income families receive free books. My ultimate goal is to become a successful author and travel around the world to share my stories and inspire children to become anything that they want to be. I believe this is my calling.

Sunila Samuel

2017 Scholarship winner

As a first-generation Indian-American, I’ve had the benefits of a rich experience living in two different cultures at the same time: that of Chicagoland’s diverse peoples, places, and events and of my parents’ South Indian heritage. Over the last 10 years, I’ve documented those experiences in journal entries, short stories, book manuscripts, and poems, always with the support and encouragement of writers’ groups. Additionally, there’s a ridiculous number of multicolored sticky notes around my desk scribbled with my thoughts and story ideas. Growing up, I rarely found diverse children’s books in local libraries, so now I’m elated to see the growing movement toward publishing and promoting more books that cover all colors and customs of America’s spectacular tapestry. I’m currently working on two picture books and a YA novel set in a futuristic America. My professional background includes online education, curriculum design, writing, editing and marketing. If I’m not sitting at my computer or reading a book, I’m likely wandering around in a library or museum or exploring cities, woods, lakes, and everything in between with family and friends. I also spend an inordinate amount of time trying to meet the demands of my cute but temperamental cat, Qwerty.

Tiombe Alma Eiland

2017 Scholarship winner

Tiombe Alma Eiland decided to become a teacher, as a teenager in the late 1960’s. She was inspired by local and national events, to help children explore options for the future. She has continued to do it for 43 years. Children have always been her priority. Recently, she promised herself to make writing an immediate priority. Tiombe Alma Eiland received a BSEd. From Loyola University, an MSEd. From Northern Illinois University and a Certificate of Advanced study from the University of Chicago. She has studied in Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil and India. She has also written several plays and is a mother and grandmother.