So here’s the story…..
The trip started out with a few minor glitches.
But we People of the Tundra are made tough – neither snow nor bacteria kept us down. We made it to the Big Apple, got a decent night’s sleep, and leapt into the fun.
The first event was held in the Langston Hughes Auditorium of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The was meaningful for a couple of different reasons: a Langston Hughes poem was a huge influence on me when I was a kid and Christopher Moore, the research coordinator and curator of the Center, who kicked off the event, was one of the experts who read the early draft of CHAINS for historical accuracy.
We had a terrific audience of New York teens who had read the books of the finalists in the Young People’s Literature category. We each read from our book, then took questions, under the skillful guidance of Jon Scieszka, the Ambassador of Children’s Literature. School Library Journal has a nice article about the event.
Daughter #1, aka Stephanie, aka Bookavore, joined us, as did my friend and fellow author Phil Bildner.
Tuesday night was the medal presentation. Yes, I cried. Writing is a lonely task. I’m usually fighting the demons of self-doubt and negativity when I’m writing, and am often convinced that my writing stinks. When the medal was placed around my neck, those demons were silenced. At least for a little while.
Wednesday was a blur. After breakfast we walked down to the Simon & Schuster offices where I posed in front of the display of CHAINS and THE UNDERNEATH, written by my S&S sister and fellow NBA-finalist Kathi Appelt.
Everyone from S&S came in to say hello. This gave Kathi and I and our editors a chance to say thank you to all the people who helped make our books so special. And, of course, there were coffee and bagels. And medals.
After a long lunch, it was time to do the Cinderella transformation. I was something of a wreck because my natural habitat is a house in country and I’m usually dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
But for the National Book Awards, jeans and sweatshirt are not enough. And honestly? BH and I really had fun dressing up and pretending we were sophisticated for a couple of hours. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am really glad I bought the dress. Kevin and BH were right and I’m glad they didn’t let me wear my sneakers.
The event was held at Cipriani’s, a gorgeous banquet space that used to be a bank, located on Wall Street. Maybe the subtext was that literature and the humanities will prevail even as the false gods of hedge fund management crumble into dust.
The special honoree of the night was Maxine Hong Kingston, who is now my new role model for the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up.
We had a very fancy and yummy dinner and then the Event started. The chair of the Young People’s Literature committee was Daniel Handler, who gave the best speech of the entire evening. I sure hope it turns up on YouTube or BookTV because everyone who cares about children’s literature, and everyone who thinks that children’s literature is less worthy of attention than adult literature should listen to it.
When the Big Moment came, it was Judy Blundell’s book, WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED that got the nod, not CHAINS. Yes, I was disappointed… for about five minutes. What snapped me out of it was the thought that I needed to find the judges and thank them for this incredible honor before they disappeared into the night. Trust me, I am more than blessed to have CHAINS identified as a National Book Award Finalist. I have no complaints, no regrets. My only problem is a sore jaw from grinning like a fool 24/7 for the last four days.
Some of the judges left before I could track them down, but I was able to catch up with a couple of them.
Here you see (from the left) Theo Black (husband of judge Holly), Angela Johnson, Kevin, Holly Black, me, Carolyn Mackler, and fellow finalist E. Lockhart, author of THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS.
So it was crazy/wonderful/bewildering/glorious and more fun than I can begin to describe.
Oh – and right now? I’m in San Antonio for the NCTE/ALAN conference. Huzzah!