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 (for this year, we’ll have one author, one illustrator 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 2024 is based on this quote from Julia Alvarez:

“For me, the writing* life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.” 

(*for KWE purposes, we think of “writing” in this quote to mean all creative pursuits – including illustrating, editing, etc). 

2024 Kindling Words East Speakers

Anika Denise

Author Strand

Anika Aldamuy Denise writes books that plant seeds of inspiration in readers of all ages, many of which celebrate her Puerto Rican heritage. Her debut picture book biography, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, received a 2020 Pura Belpré Award Author Honor, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Children’s Nonfiction, and the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for Early Readers. Planting Stories was also named a Best Children’s Book of 2019 by Smithsonian Magazine, School Library Journal, New York Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Bank Street College of Education, and the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature.

Anika’s follow-up title, A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer!, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was an American Library Association 2022 RISE Feminist Book Project selection. Her latest picture book biography, Phenomenal AOCThe Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received a starred review from Booklist and was awarded a 2023 Pura Belpré Honor for illustration.

In addition to writing, Anika frequently speaks at schools and in professional organizations, where she leads workshops in creative writing and representation in kids’ literature. She also mentors writers for Las Musas and We Need Diverse Books.

Raised in Queens, New York, Anika now lives in Rhode Island with her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, and their three (grown-ish) daughters. To learn more, visit

Nancy Mercado

Editor Strand

Nancy Mercado began her career in the Scholastic Book Clubs in 1998 and since then has held editorial positions at Penguin, Macmillan and Scholastic. She is currently VP and Associate Publisher at Penguin Young Readers, managing a team of brilliant editors at Dial Books for Young Readers and Putnam Books for Young Readers and editing a very select list of picture books, novels, and graphic novels. Over the years, Nancy has had the good fortune of collaborating with Paul Acampora, Lexie Bean, Cassie Beasley, Cecil Castellucci, Veronica Chambers, Tommy Greenwald, Diana Lopez, Jasminne Mendez, Isabel Quintero, Peter Raymundo, Gabby Rivera, Aida Salazar, Natalia Sylvester, Lauren Tarshis, Sonya Renee Taylor, Kelly Yang, Elisabet Velasquez and others. Nancy helped to establish the CBC Diversity Initiative in 2012, she has served on the Brooklyn Book Festival planning committee, and she’s currently on the board of Latinx in Publishing, a network of book professionals committed to supporting and increasing the number of Latine in the publishing industry, as well as promoting literature by, for, and about Latine people. Visit her on twitter where she makes occasional,
reluctant appearances.

Raúl Colón

Illustrator Strand

RAÚL COLÓN produced the illustration for created the illustration for August’s “Support Local Back-to-School Drives”. Born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico, Mr. Colón studied commercial art in high school, where he received his first formal art training, including photography and advertising art. While working as an artist for a Florida
instructional television center, doing everything from making animated short films to working with puppets, he came to realize that illustration was his true passion. He then returned to New York to work as a freelance illustrator. His clients include The New York Times Book Review, Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and New York
Magazine. He received the Broadcast Designers Award Medal for his poster for the “Shaka Zulu” mini-series and Silver and Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators, including a Gold Award for “Always My Dad.” “Mama Had a Dancing Heart,” which Mr. Colón illustrated, was named on The New York Times’ list of Best Illustrated Children’s Books. An award-winning illustrator of over 30 books for children, Mr. Colón illustrated Dr. Jill Biden’s “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops” and Frank McCourt’s bestselling “Angela and the Baby Jesus.” He wrote and illustrated “Draw!,” which The New York Times chose as one of the Ten Best Illustrated Books for 2015. The industry has recognized him with a Golden Kite
Award, a Pura Belpré Award. He won both a Gold and Silver Medal from The Society of Illustrators in The Original Art exhibit. He has twice been honored with the Thomas Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award.

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