Founder, Executive Director
Renée Watson is an award-winning author of children’s literature. The American Library Association nominated her novel, This Side of Home, for the Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in children’s literature. Her novel, What Momma Left Me, debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction. In 2015, Inner City Foundation of New York honored her with the STEAM Award for her work in arts education.
Renée has worked within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, for over 20 years. She has had many roles, including executive director of Where I’m From Productions in Portland, Oregon, teaching artist, and a leadership coach to artists, staff, executives, and boards, providing tools, and training to support organizations committed to equity and diversity. These organizations include Community Word Project, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, The Field, RAW Art Works, Creative Action, and Writers in the Schools.
Her articles on social justice and arts education have been published in Guild Notes, Rethinking Schools, and Oregon English Journal. She has given readings and lectures at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters and the Library of Congress on the Role of Art in Social Justice. To learn more about her creative work, visit her at www.reneewatson.net.
Kendolyn Walker graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, along with a minor in Pan-African Studies. She taught 6th grade at Hope Academy Charter School in Cleveland, OH and after moving to New York City, she taught 5th grade at Merrick Academy in Queens. Ms. Walker "retired" from teaching after working at EBC High School for Public Service in Bushwick, Brooklyn for 3 years. She then served the Brooklyn community for six years as an administrator for the children's department (BT KIDS!) at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Along with her current work at I, Too, Arts Collective, Kendolyn works as a freelance event planner and booking agent for music artists.
Social Media Director
Jennifer Baker is a publishing professional with 13 years experience, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, panels organizer for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books, and social media director and writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. She is the editor of the forthcoming short story collection Everyday People: The Color of Life with Atria Books. And she has contributed articles and reviews to Forbes.com, The Billfold, and Bustle as well as other online publications.
Ellice M. Lee
Ellice designs books for all ages and is currently Associate Art Director of Philomel, Penguin Random House. She's had the joy of working with tremendous talent such as Renée Watson, Patty McCormick, Christian Robinson, Eoin Colfer, LeUyen Pham, Chris Raschka, and Kadir Nelson. She has served on staff at Hyperion Books for Children, Random House Books for Children and has collaborated with Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Little Brown, to name a few. Her projects have been awarded the Caldecott Honor, several Coretta Scott King awards, a National Book Award finalist and Quill Award and have had appearances on the New York Times bestseller list, USA Today, Time and New York magazines. She mentors high school teens in the South Bronx (13 years), serves as Chair for City Growers (a farm-based educational nonprofit teaching food & environmental literacy to young people) and volunteers with I, Too Arts Collective.
In her work, Ladi'Sasha Jones, engages the intersections of digital storytelling, archival materials and cultural production. Recent curatorial projects includes the Dreaming of Kin, Emmett Till Project, Writing Blackness: Harlem | Paris, for the exhibit, If You Build It and The Way Out Is Through, a literary art-book featuring commissioned works from three women writers. Based in Harlem, Ladi'Sasha is launching a small press and web-platform on contemporary art and culture (IDA). She holds a B.A. in African American Studies from Temple University and a M.A. in Arts Politics from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry Hemisphere, was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen's poems and essays can be found on ESPNW.com, in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crowned was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. Ellen's performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women's Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts. National arts residencies include The Hopscotch House and Louisiana Arts Works. Ellen recently joined the poetry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. She teaches Memoir, Poetry & Nature, and co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer's Retreat at Adelphi University. She is Poetry Chair of the DreamYard Project and a regular guest artist at the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts and Cold Spring Harbor Schools. A proud Kentucky writer, Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.
David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker. His images can be found on the covers of Poets & Writers, MIX Magazine, and PLUCK. His work has been showcased at the Kentucky Center, The Verbal Arts Centre of Northern Ireland, and film festivals across the country. David produced a series of short films with poet Nikky Finney for the National Book Award Winner, Head Off & Split. He is a regular guest artist of the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts and the Alice Hoffman Young Writer's Retreat at Adelphi University. Recent arts residencies include Louisiana Arts Works, Cold Spring Harbor, Bardstown Independent Schools, and Global Writes. David lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughters.
Dana Edell, PhD, is the co-founder and executive director of viBe Theater Experience, a nonprofit performing arts education organization that offers free after-school arts programs to underserved teenage girls in New York City. She has over 15 years of experience as a teacher and leader in arts and advocacy programs with teenage girls. She has also led theater for social change workshops with MFA students at Columbia University. She has a BA with honors in Classics/Ancient Greek from Brown University, an MFA in Theater Directing from Columbia University and a PhD in Educational Theatre from NYU Steinhardt.
Gretchen Young is Vice President, Executive Editor at Grand Central Publishing. She has been an editor for over 20 years, and has edited more than 60 New York Times bestsellers, including the award-winning poet Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir of love and loss, The Light of the World, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She also has had the privilege to edit books by a diverse group of authors including: inspirational activists such as Awista Ayub and Agnes Kamara-Umunna, and John Prendergast and Don Cheadle who wrote Not On Our Watch about Darfur; Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, personalities such as George Carlin, Larry Wilmore, Andy Borowitz and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; award-winning authors such as Alexandra Robbins, Mark Frost, Thomas French, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Oscar Hijuelos; and business leaders such as Google’s Eric Schmidt, and the Director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito. Additionally, she has edited 12 books with Caroline Kennedy.
Before coming to Grand Central, she spent over fifteen years at Hyperion where she also launched the ESPN imprint and developed projects with the ABC Television Group. Young holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in Spanish literature from the University of Chicago. She currently teaches a class at New York University on editing and publishing.
Honorary Board Members
Naomi Shihab Nye