Founder, Executive Director
Renée Watson is a New York Times Bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children's picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. The New York Times calls Renée’s writing, “charming and evocative.” Her poetry and fiction often centers around the lived experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.
Her books include young adult novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home, which were both nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists.
One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Renée has worked as a writer in residence for over twenty years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College.
Renée has also worked as a consultant within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, providing professional development workshops and leadership trainings to artists, staff, executives, and board of directors. Some of her clients include Carnegie Hall, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, RAW Art Works, and Writers in the Schools-Portland.
In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers.
Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in Harlem.
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. Kendolyn worked at EBC High School for Public Service in Bushwick, Brooklyn for 3 years teaching 9th grade English and supporting the deans. She then served the Brooklyn community for six years as an administrator for the children's department (BT KIDS!) at The Brooklyn Tabernacle.
In addition to this work, Kendolyn is the music editor for Wit + Grace Magazine and host of "City Love on the Radio", as well as producer for "City Love NYC".
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 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 (since 2004), volunteers with I, Too Arts Collective and loves a good farm.
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.
Katie Freeman is a longtime book publicist and is getting her MA in Arts Administration from Baruch College. She has served on committees for PEN America, Narrative 4, Words Without Borders, Brooklyn Book Festival and Libraries Without Borders. She currently serves on committees for Community-Word Project and the National Book Foundation. Originally from Iowa, she lives in Brooklyn and can be found online @foxyhedgehog.
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