By Kim Knode
“My mom always called me a closet poet!” says popular, prominent award-winning author, April Wayland. She chuckles. Clearly, the lady preoccupied with climbing the corporate ladder yesterday is out of the closet today. Wayland piles a potpourri of her poetry and picture books (published by prestigious houses such as Knopf and Scholastic) on her kitchen table.
She plops comfortably on to squeaky snow-white plastic cushions arranged against a wall painted Tweety Bird yellow. With a sigh and then a smile, the renowned celebrity of the children’s literature world recalls her former career. As a Fortune 500 (company) marketing manager Wayland remembers attending meetings about million dollar budgets. (Although promotions in pay and position came quickly, Wayland was best known for the marching duck doodles attached to the meeting memorandums.)
She confesses, “Going into the corporate world was kind of like rebellion in my family. My dad was a farmer. My mother (a concert pianist) was horrified!”
Wayland laughs. “For a while it was exciting to wear a suit and carry a briefcase. It was like dressing up in a costume! But I was a square peg in a round hole,” she says. But she was determined to beat the odd kid on the block feeling. In 1984, Wayland sought out scintillating role models in the corporate system. One stellar senior suggested, “Keep work in perspective. And keep a colorful life outside.”
To enliven her after work life, Wayland turned to a UCLA Extension catalogue. On a whim, she enrolled in a children’s writing course. The class became the highlight and happiness of her week. “I couldn’t wait for Monday nights,” she exclaims. “I found myself.”
Albeit her appetite for big business was waning, Wayland persevered. She stoically continued to wade and march through mires of documents on her desk. She recalls, “My husband and I were calling each other on speaker phones from our offices on Sundays!”
Without a trace of pride, Wayland says, “I got the work done. I do well on deadlines.” She adds, “I was also eating three bowls of cereal for breakfast so I didn’t have to go out the door.”
In 1985, Wayland awakened to an epiphany. “I was sacrificing my body and spirit. I was thirsty for something they (the corporate world) couldn’t address.” Wayland asserts that she was willing to risk living “without fancy, frilly benefits.” Shaking off “the golden handcuffs” took top priority on her to-do list.
Wayland’s sunny demeanor slides away for a few seconds. “Tax season is the worst time to do it. But I told my husband (an accountant) that I was willing to give up our Brentwood home and live in a tent on beach if that’s what it took to be happy.”
His reaction? “He was in shock. But he didn’t say no,” says Wayland looking down to right an askew place mat. Four months after Wayland’s departure from the steel jungle of downtown LA, To Rabbittown, her first picture book, was accepted for publication. “And I’ve had a book published every three years – since 1988,” states Wayland.
Her word savvy certainly has won over the hearts of publishers and readers of children’s literature. Publishers Weekly says, “Wayland succeeds in making reading and writing poetry more accessible to teens.” Newbery award-winning writer Sid Fleischman simply declares her works, “Dazzling!”The beloved poetess/author says, “When I carve out writing work time today, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s a pleasure!” The tan author cups her cheeks in her palms. A shadow of concern crosses her face. “But I don’t want to mislead people,” she says. “I put an awful lot on my husband Gary. It’s his expertise in his field that carried us.”
Wayland asserts, “I can’t make a living on my own.” But she does contribute. “The way a picture book author makes money these days is to speak and teach. So, two weeks in the spring when it’s tax season, I go to Europe!” She chortles. “I go abroad to teach at military schools and American schools. I take my son (born in 1989.) It’s so much fun!”
In the autumn, Wayland offers Writing the Children’s Picture Book through UCLA Extension. Like the grape blossom which matures into a bold Bordeaux, Wayland is now a Wayshower for aspiring writers. A fitting role, perhaps, for a former UCLA Extension pupil whose poetry homework turned into The Night Horse. (“The book went out of print faster than you could sneeze!” says Wayland.)
“At first, I was sooo afraid to teach,” she whispers. Thankfully, a fellow author/professor pal prodded the fledgling instructor into remembering that each individual stamps his or her own work – writing and teaching – with his or her own style. Wayland scribbled a mantra for herself. “I am a snowflake. People are coming to me for my snowflakeness.” Apparently, Wayland’s “snowflakeness” is appreciated. One UCLA student, after a class, announced, “I feel invigorated. I not only learned about writing. I learned about life!”
Gems, garnets garnered by Wayland pupils include the art of the one-minute journal. The purpose? The writer discovered that the time restriction of sixty seconds to describe a day produces a “distillation and selectivity” of words. Poetry results from the exercise. Penning poetry is Wayland’s forte. Girl Coming in for a Landing is her latest work and is a collection of verses for adolescents. Accolades and accelerating sales are trailing the “novel in poems for teens.” The American Library Association (ALA) nominated Girl Coming in for a Landing as one of the Best Books for Young Adults. The poetry novel also landed on ALA’s 2003 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers List. In addition, Wayland is the winner of the Myra Cohen Livingston Award for Poetry. The poetess is also the titleholder of the Lee Bennet Hopkins Honor Award for Children’s Poetry.
Looks like the closet poet (in a sleeveless t-shirt covered with clouds) has piloted herself into a heavenly life. “You bet!” says Wayland. “I have my health and love. So everything else is whipped cream!”
Due out for promotion next is Wayland’s Braces, Bras, Belly Rings – Body Poems. What future projects are you planning? If you need more information about coming out of the closet with your poetry, visit www.aprilwayland.com.
Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.