Renée Watson, a highly acclaimed writer, educator, performer and social justice activist, was announced as the new Artist-in-Residence for the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library.

Watson’s works include the award-winning young adult novel “Piecing Me Together” and her latest middle grade novel, “Betty Before X,” written with Ilyasah Shabazz. She will spend a week in Fresno from March 19 through 23.

To welcome Watson to Fresno State, a free catered reception will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, March 19, at the University Dining Hall. Watson will present a talk about her work, and her books will be available for sale and signing.

A second free catered reception and presentation will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, in the Madden Library (Room 2206). Both events are co-sponsored by Fresno State’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center, African American Programs and Services and the Black Faculty and Staff Association.

During her stay, Watson will appear in various English, education and women’s studies classes at Fresno State, working with students and faculty to provide a more personal level of learning engagement and to promote the relevancy of children’s literature. She also will connect with the wider community by giving a public presentation at the West Fresno Branch of the Fresno County Public Library at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21.

Watson is the author of a number of books for young people. She received the 2018 Coretta Scott King and Newbery Honor Book awards for “Piecing Me Together.” Her picture books include “Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills,” which received an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature, and “A Place Where Hurricanes Happen,” based on poetry workshops she offered to the children of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Written with Shabazz, Watson’s new middle-grade novel, “Betty Before X,” recounts four challenging childhood years in the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz, the future wife of Malcolm X. Published in January, it earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly.

Watson has worked as a writer-in-residence for more than 20 years, teaching creative writing and theatre in public schools and community centers. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts.

As a fellowship recipient, Watson will receive a $10,000 stipend plus expenses. The Arne Nixon Center Artist-in-Residence Fellowship was made possible by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The award committee consists of Fresno State professors from the departments of English; Literacy, Early, Bilingual and Special Education; and Chicano and Latin American Studies, as well as the Women’s Studies program and the Arne Nixon Center’s curator, Jennifer Crow.

Parking for Monday’s event is recommended in Lot P27. For free parking, use parking code 218835 in the permit dispensers located on campus. On Tuesday evening, parking is recommended in lots P30 or P31 with code 218801.

For more information, including disability accommodations or physical access, please call 559.278.8116 or send an email to Jami Helwig at


Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature

Cross Cultural and Gender Center

African American Programs and Services

Black Faculty and Staff Association

Fresno County Public Library