Monday, March 16, 2015

Interview: Will Weaver & Don Gallo on LitWeaver

Don Gallo & Will Weaver
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What is LitWeaver and how did it come to be?

Will Weaver: LitWeaver is young adult literature outreach to schools by the authors themselves. We believe YA lit should be more accessible, more varied, and more affordable—and now it is!

Our cohort of more than sixty top authors came together to make contemporary short stories, essays, poems, and plays available to schools for e-reading or print on demand.

LitWeaver has free reading for middle- and high schools right now, though we’ll eventually add a low cost subscription to help cover our website costs.

English Language Arts teachers and school librarians have given us authors such great support over the years, buying our books and inviting us to their schools, so here was a chance for us to give back.

That’s how LitWeaver came to be.

How did you connect with author Will Weaver and the company?

Don Gallo: Will and I have known each other for nearly twenty years, ever since he wrote a short story called “The Photograph” for one of the YA anthologies I edited. He subsequently wrote other stories for me, and I did an extensive interview of him for the Authors4Teens (now defunct) website. We seem to have connected from the start.

Liking each other and, more importantly, respecting each other’s talents and trusting each other, have been significant factors in our working so well together. I am honored that he asked me to be part of this venture. It’s the most exciting thing I have done in my entire long career.

Will, besides liking him, why did you choose Don to be LitWeaver’s executive editor? What does he bring to the mix that others do not?

Will Weaver: I’ve written some of my best short stories for Don’s various YA anthologies—he’s a great editor--and it’s true, we “clicked” on a personal and literary level. But from a purely business perspective, I needed someone who was well known, and who could bring in an “A-list” of YA authors. Don has done that supremely well.

Don Gallo: Having worked with so many authors over the years—more than 200!– means I know their work, and they know and trust me.”

Will, how does LitWeaver work?

LitWeaver
LitWeaver  is like Netflix or a similar online platform, but with literary readings. Teachers sign up, stock their bookshelf with short stories, essays, or poems and more just right for their grade or their purposes.

Then teachers create “classes” and invite students. Students join the class, where great e-reading is waiting.

We’re working on the tech side right now to make LitWeaver simple and easy to use, but it’s clear that our overall vision of improving access and affordability has struck a chord with teachers.

Don, what about the concept appealed to you?

Don: Surely the whole concept is unique and exciting. Nothing like LitWeaver has ever existed. There are other recently established companies that are offering digital readings to schools, but they are all either literary works for children, or they are entirely book-length works—classical novels and a few YA novels. Nobody except LitWeaver is focusing on teens, and nobody is offering the array of short stories, poems, plays, and essays that we provide.

Will, what kind of response have you seen so far?

Will: Phenomenal. Truly. We launched LitWeaver in beta form on Feb. 15 and had hundreds of teachers, school librarians, and public librarians signed up, from Texas to Iceland. It’s clear they are looking for access, great writing, and affordability.

I might add that we at LitWeaver feel blessed by our demographic of users. Nobody shares information like English teachers and literacy specialists!

Don, what content is of interest?

Don: I am really proud of the content we have been able to acquire in just a few months. We don’t have a lot of novels or book-length nonfiction yet. Those will be coming later. But there is no better quality of short stories, poems, and essays anywhere else.

Joseph Bruchac
Our roster includes several winners of the Newbery Award and Newbery Honor Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the ALAN Award.

We have selections from Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, Chris Crutcher, Jerry Spinelli, Joan Bauer, Jane Yolen, Terry Trueman, Charlie Price, David Lubar, Gordon Korman, Bruce Coville, Lauren Oliver, Neal Shusterman.

We have poets such as Nikki Grimes, Mel Glenn, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kwame Alexander.

Many of our authors are from diverse cultural backgrounds, including René Saldana Jr., Lensey Namioka, Joseph Bruchac, Minfong Ho, Anton Treuer, Shonto Begay, and others already mentioned. We are adding original essays weekly—pieces from Alan Sitomer, Madelyn Rosenberg, Pete Hautman, Marc Aronson, and Sneed Collard.

We also are excited to have new selections from two of the most censored authors in the YA world: Sonya Sones and Ellen Hopkins.

And our selections in terms of interest and sophistication serve a range of grade levels from fifth grade through twelfth.

Don, how should authors get in touch?

Don: I have been sending invitations by e-mail to authors I know. But my lists are limited, of course. So any authors who have good out-of-print works or new literary selections not under contract should contact me by e-mail at GalloDon@aol.com.

Don, are you interested in working with poets? Or authors who are not traditionally trade published?

Don: As I noted earlier, we have acquired a number of poems –I think fourteen so far—along with three stories in verse and one novel in verse. We have been focusing on authors with the greatest reputations we can find.

But, yes, I will be happy to consider poems from other accomplished writers aimed at a teenage audience.

I’m also looking for short nonfiction of interest to teens but also with content that makes them informative and teachable.

Will, what else do you want Cynsations readers to know?

LitWeaver  has a tidy little lesson plan for each reading. They include introductory activities, discussion questions, writing prompts, and suggestions for research projects.

Not saying teachers will need a lesson plan, but it’s nice to have just in case.

And one more thing: LitWeaver is in beta form, meaning we’re still working on the app/website. There’s always time to hear from you, dear readers, to let us know how we can improve, and what features you’d like to see.

But what we truly need is for you to help spread the news. Lots of sign-ups and users will help us get investor funding, and that will allow us to build our dream site where there’s loads of free, contemporary lit for schools.

LitWeaver is a new paradigm, we think, one whose timing is right.

Cynsational Notes

Don Gallo is one of the nation’s leading authorities on books for teenagers, the recipient of the ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature, and the foremost anthologist of short stories for teenagers in the country.

He has edited thirteen highly-acclaimed collections of short stories written by well-known young adult novelists, the most recent of which is Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities (Candlewick, 2010).

His first collection--Sixteen--was identified by the American Library Association as one of the 100 Best of the Best Books for Young Adults published in the last third of the 20th century.

Don is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in professional books about the teaching of literature and writing in middle and high schools, the co-author with Sarah K. Herz of From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics, and was the editor of the Bold Books for Teenagers column in the English Journal for five years.

For 24-years, Dr. Gallo was a professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, retiring in 1997. He now serves as the executive editor of LitWeaver and currently lives near Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, educator/consultant C.J. Bott.

Among author Will Weaver's novels for young adults are Striking Out, Farm Team and Hard Ball. His recent novels for teens include Saturday Night Dirt, Super Stock Rookie, and Checkered Flag Cheater (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

His novel Memory Boy (HarperCollins) was chosen a teen “top ten” book by ALA and is in production by the Minnesota Opera for 2016. One of his adult short stories was adapted into the feature film "Sweet Land."

A judge for the National Book Awards in 2011, Mr. Weaver lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, on the upper Mississippi River, with his wife, Rose.

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