“There will be times in your life when people say, ‘I do not believe in you,’” graphic novelist Jerry Craft, the 2023 Dempsey Writer in Residence, told Middle School students during his visit to SCH earlier this week. “You’ll have to say, ‘I believe in myself.’”
Despite rejections by big publishers early on in his career, Craft eventually wrote the first graphic novel to be awarded the prestigious Newbery Award and, more recently, had two books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time. “I didn’t know I could dream that big,” he told students.
Craft has just published his latest book, School Trip, following the same middle school protagonist as his previous graphic novels which deal with themes of bullying, prejudice, and friendship. As a middle schooler, Craft said, he was intimidated by long books, but he loved to draw and had big ideas. Early on in his career, he decided to self-publish, becoming somewhat of an expert in the process. He subsequently helped other authors publish their books, roughly 30 books in 20 years, and became a small, independent publisher. “The more I did it, the more confident I got,” he said.
He not only gained confidence in the publishing world but also in writing. “I never knew I could read a 250-page book, let alone write one,” he said. He outlined the process of writing New Kid and Class Act, which involved long hours and “taking the opportunity to learn” from others, including his own teenage boys.
Now, the award-winning author and illustrator is traveling the country for signings and, as was the case in the Middle School this week, talks about his path to success, including a quick how-to for drawing for graphic novels.
“[The steps] are complicated by themselves,” he said, “but it’s a matter of saying, ‘Let me try it.’”
Craft was invited to be this year's Dempsey Writer in Residence by English chair Rebecca McWilliams. The Dempsey Fund was established in 2000 in honor of Deborah Dempsey HA, an English teacher at Springside for 29 years. The fund supports the residency of a professional writer, journalist, filmmaker, or playwright and celebrates Mrs. Dempsey’s teaching legacy, ensuring that her passion for personal expression continues.