Children’s book author and poet April Halprin Wayland has been teaching at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for more than 16 years. This spring, she’ll continue her amazing work in her course Writing Picture Books for Children.
April’s teaching excellence and her remarkable contribution to the Writers’ Program has not gone unnoticed, and recently she was presented with the 2015 Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing.
April’s award was highlighted in a recent feature article, but here we take a deeper dive into who April is and what makes her tick.
Writers’ Program: What was your initial reaction upon receiving word that you had won the UCLA Extension Outstanding Arts Instructor Award in Creative Writing?
April Halprin Wayland: I gasped. I may have said, OH MY GOD! I laughed. Then I called my career counselor (my husband) to celebrate.
WP: I hear that you started in a very different professional field before you became a writer. Could you tell us about this journey and your road to publication?
AHW: For four and a half years I worked in the marketing department of Pacific Bell, which became AT&T. I knew that world was not for me. To keep my sanity, I took a class at UCLA Extension called Writing for Children, taught by Terry Dunnahoo. Terry’s class changed my life. It was as if I had fallen madly, deeply in love. When I walked to lunch with my corporate buddies, the men at construction sites whistled at me. They hadn’t whistled at me before I was in Terry’s class. Something huge had shifted in me; I was electric. I knew I had to take the leap. In one of my last meetings at AT&T, I pretended to take notes, but was actually writing a poem about a child who runs away to live with rabbits and slowly turns into one. I don’t know if I was writing about me, turning into a corporate bunny…or if I was writing about my desperate need to run away from the corporate life. That free verse poem became To Rabbittown, my first picture book. Accepted for publication in 1985 by Scholastic, it was finally published (with stunning illustrations by Robin Spowart) in 1989. I was nine months pregnant at that book launch! I kept taking classes in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. I studied for twelve years with Myra Cohn Livingston, who taught Writing Poetry for Children. Myra showed us how to use the tools of poetry. In fact, the very first thing I had published was a poem for an anthology that Myra edited. I was so excited that my friend had to keep me from sending out “birth” announcements to tell people about my poem. I’m not joking.
WP: Wow! What an amazing journey. I also hear that you are a woman of many interests! What other things keep you busy besides writing?
AHW: Well, Mom was a classic concert pianist (she was pianist of the Cleveland Orchestra, soloed in the Hollywood Bowl, etc.), so it was never a question of IF I was going to play an instrument, but rather which instrument I was going to play. I chose the cello…but she was practical, asking me how I was going to take a cello back and forth to school. So…I took violin lessons until I went to college, where I discovered the incredibly warm, welcoming community of folk music. I founded the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club in 1978 and the Beach Cities Folk Club in 2006—basically, we sit around in circles, playing and singing. Heaven. I hike one day a month with a tribe of six friends. I meditate.
WP: Tell us three other random or unique facts about yourself.
AHW: I’m in absolute love with my knuckleheaded Doberman-German Shepherd pup, Eli. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone; a pack of dog park friends go out to dinner monthly (without our dogs). In 2004, author and poet Bruce Balan and I founded Authors and Illustrators for Children, a political action committee. We’re currently working on the 2016 Presidential campaign. I’ve been writing a poem a day since 2010. I send it to Bruce Balan, who sails around the world on a trimaran with his wife (they’re near Jakarta now). Bruce writes a poem a day, too. It’s a magical habit that was hard for both of us to begin but now feels like a natural part of our days.
WP: You are the author of seven picture books, including It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma! (Knopf) and New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story (Dial). What do you love about writing children’s books?
AHW: I love that I can wrap my arms around the whole story. My verse novel, Girl Coming in for a Landing, was harder for me to wrap my arms and my brain around, as is the verse novel I’ve been writing since the Pleistocene era. I also love the duet of images and words, I love that I cannot completely control the final product. Kinda like life, right? And I love my peeps: the community of colleagues in this field: amazingly supportive, generous, and smart. That includes you, Nutschell.
WP: Awww, thanks, April! The kid lit community is pretty amazing. So what is the best writing tip you’ve received and how has it helped you as a writer?
AHW: My adult poetry teacher, Anthony Lee, shows us in gestures what’s really important in any kind of writing. He says that describing something, as a journalist does, is the reporting voice. That voice comes from the lips, the mouth, and the throat, he says, touching his own lips, mouth, and throat. Writing about feelings comes from a lower, truer, sometimes scarier place, he says. This is the deep voice. This voice attracts readers. It connects them to your story. Be brave, he says. Find the feelings. Go there.
WP: What advice would you give to anyone interested in writing children’s books?
AHW: Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and take classes in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. No question about it: SCBWI and UCLA Extension Writers’ Program classes helped me find my community and form my career.
Great advice. Thanks for sharing your time and wisdom with us, April—and congratulations again on your well-deserved award!
Nutschell Windsor is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (online) and Events. Contact her at (310) 794-1846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.