I think Virginia had a great (short) weekend in California. I enjoyed meeting her very much, and because we had a long drive from San Jose to Monterey and back, we were able to talk and talk about whatever-- books, family, weather, animals. She is a wonderful and fascinating lady, but what else would you expect from a woman who has published 67 picture books in the last fifteen years?
At the conference, I spent most of the big day in the exhibitor's hall at our table, but after we packed up, I hurried over to the main hall to see Virginia speak. I was able to catch the last twenty minutes or so of her keynote speech.
You know what she was talking about when I walked in? Nothing less than being a writer who writes outside of her ethnicity. I guess I am just incredibly idealistic at my core, because I was surprised when she recounted stories of how publishers and other authors treated her when they found out that she was a white woman. One publisher who was interested in a manuscript of hers, did in fact ask if she was black. "Does it matter?" was her only reply. And before she knew it, the publisher had mailed back four of her manuscripts with no letter of explanation or even rejection.
Another of her anecdotes that shocked me, frankly, was of her meeting with an African-American author that she admired very much (she did not name names). When Virginia enthusiastically exclaimed how honored she was to meet this author, the author's only reply was, "Who do you think you are, trying to make money off of my people?"
Now, this was perhaps about ten years ago. Virginia says that the racial-political climate is much changed these days. She never gets asked anymore what her ethnicity is, and most publishers were always very open about it to begin with. But she said that though the rebuffs hurt at the time, she is in retrospect glad that she experienced racial prejudice firsthand.
Prejudice is certainly far from gone in this country, but for some reason, I am always, always surprised when I see it. I just can't imagine why the color of one's skin should change anything, but then it does, and I am caught afresh with confusion.