Carolyn Kanjuro, winner of the first KF Children’s Book Prize, reflects on how the award has impacted her, along with what it’s been like to work with Bala Kids.
KF: What inspired you to write your story for children? What did you hope to accomplish through it?
Carolyn Kanjuro: It’s rhyming meditation instruction. The inspiration was simply wanting to share genuine dharma with Western kids without having it feel culturally foreign or particularly religious—more something they could discover for themselves on the spot. I liked the idea of a participatory book in that sense. It was a fun challenge to take a very classical teaching, like the seven-point posture of Vairocana, and put it into rhyming verse in contemporary language.
KF: How has winning the prize advanced your career?
Carolyn: The best part has been developing a relationship with the team at Shambhala Publications. They have brought me in to help with some other projects (for both kids and adults) and that has been completely enjoyable. Of course, it generally helps to be able to say to people that you have a book coming out. In that way, I think it is giving me the confidence to hone my career to being closer and closer to what I really want to do, both in terms of my own writing endeavors and the work I do with clients. I enjoy helping other people refine and bring their creative projects to fruition, and I’m sure this award has been part of bringing me more interesting work of that kind.
KF: What has the process been like after winning the prize?
Carolyn: Glacially slow. It’s no one’s fault and not meant as any particular complaint. It’s just the reality of the traditional publishing world and, as I’m learning, even more so with children’s books—the time to select and work with an illustrator, the extensive lead time needed for marketing, the number of steps in the whole process. It’s kind of impressive, actually, how many people it takes to bring such a seemingly simple product to fruition. I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of working with the people at Bala Kids. They have a wonderful team and I feel that we’re all learning from each other. Friends have finally stopped asking me when the book is coming out. Maybe this way, once it is out, it will be like a fresh surprise all over again.
KF: What advice do you have for people applying this year?
Carolyn: As with any creative endeavor, thoroughly enjoy doing it. Then, award or not won’t have to make a big difference. I think when you create something that interests you, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time, and you have a better chance of it engaging others. Another piece of that is to remember that children are generally a lot more sophisticated than adults realize and there’s no need to oversimplify or reshape the dharma for kids. Also, I think it’s more effective to reach children (and all the rest of us) when we aren’t telling them how to be or what to think, but letting them discover reality for themselves.
KF: What’s next for you?
Carolyn: I have some other things in the works with Bala Kids, as well as a couple of other projects brewing on my own. But in general, I’m almost pathologically circumspect about discussing projects until they are very near fruition. As far as life overall, I feel less and less linear about it these days—not so much like I’m going forward in a straight line toward something, but more just applying myself to refining this life I have. You know, basic dharma practice, work, relations with others, doing what I can to not add crazy to a crazy world and not waste the treasures I’ve been given. Maybe that doesn’t sound very exciting, but actually not having too much excitement has been kind of great lately.