The most important people at Kindling Words are you–the attendees. The power of our retreat comes from the ideas we bring to the conversation, and the ideas we generate together.  We are the tinder; we are the logs.  We choose speakers to be matches, to ignite fires in our minds and hearts . . . but it is up to us to carry the glow.

Kindling Words East speakers (two authors, two illustrators and one editor) each approach the theme from their own experience and perspective, delivering inspiring ideas that make a lasting impact on our work.

The theme for 2023 is based on the poem ADVICE TO MYSELF, by Louise Erdrich (link to the text and reading of the poem here)

2023 Kindling Words East Speakers

Monique Gray Smith

Author Strand

Monique Gray Smith is a proud mom of teenage twins, an award-winning, best-selling author and sought after consultant. Monique’s most recent novel, Tilly and the Crazy Eights was long listed for Canada Reads 2021.

Monique has 7 books ranging for readers across the life span. These include Speaking our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation; My Heart Fills with Happiness, You Hold Me Up, Lucy and Lola, Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience and recently released, When We Are Kind.

Coming in Fall 2022 is the Young Adult adaptation of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, with illustrations by Nicole Neidhardt. As well, a new picture book I Hope, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard.

Monique’s books are used to share wisdom, knowledge, hope and the important teaching that love is medicine.

Monique is Cree, Lakota and Scottish and has been sober and involved in her healing journey for over 30 years. She is well known for her storytelling, spirit of generosity and focus on resilience.

Learn more at her website

Connie Hsu

Editor Strand

Connie Hsu is the Editorial Director at Roaring Brook Press. She was born in Taiwan and grew up in Alabama, though Connie admits to being “one of THOSE editors” who didn’t dream of working in publishing when she was younger. Thankfully, she discovered the Sweet Valley Twins series in the school library, and really identified with the character Elizabeth, who wanted to be a writer. From that point on, Connie knew she wanted to be in media.

Connie took a detour in college as a psychology major at the University of Illinois, but after a year, she switched to advertising, followed by a Master’s degree in journalism. It took two internships—one with a Chicago magazine and one with an Atlanta magazine—for her to realize her true calling was in publishing.

Learn more about Connie through this great interview at

Pat Cummings

Illustrator Strand

Pat Cummings was born in Chicago but grew up traveling with her military family all over the world. She has been writing and illustrating children’s books since she graduated from Pratt Institute and is the author and/or illustrator of more than forty books. In addition to her art for the Coretta Scott King Award winner My Mama Needs Me by Mildred Pitts Walter, Pat’s luminous work includes Angel Baby; Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!; and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner Talking With Artists. She teaches children’s book illustration and writing at Parsons School of Design, the New School, and Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her online at

K.A. Holt

Author Strand

Kari Anne Holt has dedicated her writing career to making sure kids (and adults) understand that anyone can be the main character of a book, and everyone deserves to see themselves reflected on the page. From her award-winning middle grade novels-in-verse, BEN BEE AND THE TEACHER GRIEFER, REDWOOD & PONYTAIL,  KNOCKOUT, HOUSR ARREST and RHYME SCHEMER, to her prose novels FROM YOU TO ME and GNOME-A-GEDDON, to her picture book, I WONDER, illustrated by Kenard Pak, KA Holt’s readers will discover main characters that struggle, celebrate, wonder and discover in ways both new and familiar.

Learn more on her website

Nicole Neidhardt

Illustrator Strand

Yá’át’ééh. Hello.

My name is Nicole Roessel Neidhardt.  I am Diné (Navajo) of Kiiyaa’áanii clan on my mother’s side and a blend of European ancestry on my father’s side. My Diné family is from Round Rock, Arizona and I grew up in Santa Fe, NM on Tewa territory.  I have my Master of Fine Arts from OCAD University in Toronto, ON and my Bachelor of Fine Arts and Business minor from the University of Victoria.   My Diné identity is the heart of my artistic practice which encompasses Indigenous Futurisms, Diné Storytelling, and children’s book illustration. I work in a variety of media and contexts such as: mylar stencilling, installation, mural painting and design, illustration, beadwork, hand-poke tattooing, facilitating community-engaged art, and book layout and design.

I am the co-founder of the Innovative Young Indigenous Leaders Symposium, alongside Gina Mowatt. More info on that can be found here:

I am also a co-founder of Groundswell Climate Collective, a group that is fighting the climate crisis through resiliency and artwork. More info can be found here:

Learn more about Nicole’s work on her website 

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If you are an author or illustrator you must have at least one book published or under contract that meets ALL of these criteria. If you are an editor you must currently work for a publishing house that meets ALL of these criteria, or if you are currently an editor whose prior work history matches these criteria, you are also eligible (and please check all five boxes below).
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