Where I’ve Been: The National Book Awards!

I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving.  I know I have plenty to be grateful for this year. Spending time with friends and family was a good reminder of the bounty in my life.

One of the things I’m grateful for is my time as a judge in the National Book Awards.  A couple of weeks ago, I flew to New York to meet my fellow judges in the Young People’s Literature category face to face.

We had a fantastic lunch at Gramercy Tavern, and a lively discussion about all of the books we read. By the end of the meal, we had our winner in hand.  We adjourned to dress for the awards ceremony and the big announcement!

Me, David Shallenberger, Sharon Draper, Starr LaTronica and Rebecca Stead.
I think I’m the only pop of color in all of Manhattan.

I have to say, it was incredibly exciting.  I felt like I was getting ready for the Ultimate Prom in the Land of Books!  Everyone at the ceremony was a lit lover, like myself.  I felt the same sense of camaraderie I get at Comic Con, albeit better dressed and colder.  It was 32 degrees when I stepped out in my sleeveless silver dress.  Funny thing is, I wasn’t cold at all.  (And not just because of my coat.  Excitement does amazing things– it keeps you warm, and enables you to walk in high heels on hard pavement.)

Note the wrist corsage.  Judges get flowers– just like a prom!

Ursula Le Guin blew minds with her fiery speech (As evidenced around 3:57, I love that woman! ). Neil Gaiman hugged me– twice!  (I’m a big nerdy fan, so that’s more awesome than I can say.)  And then our gracious chairperson, Sharon Draper, mounted the stage and spoke eloquently of our experience, our process, and our final decision.

The divine Ms. Sharon Draper with finalist Eliot Schrefer,
author of the fabulous short-listed Threatened.

As you likely know by now, the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature went to Jacqueline Woodson for her moving, deeply felt memoir in verse Brown Girl Dreaming.  You can see her acceptance speech here.

I heartily recommend you pick up a copy.  Regardless of your background, you will find yourself somewhere in those pages.  It’s just that good.

Me and Jacqueline Woodson.  Shining with joy!

You may have also heard about some controversial comments made at the event.  Jacqueline has addressed them eloquently in an Op Ed in the New York Times.  I won’t try to add to what she has to say.  What I will do is tell you we had a wonderful evening, my fellow judges, my wonderful editor (the perfect date!) and I.  The finalists seemed to have a good time, too.  And rumor has it Jacqueline danced the night away knowing she had earned her place of honor with hard work, honesty of voice, and achingly beautiful prose.

Thank you to the National Book Foundation for an amazing experience.  It was a honor, a struggle (there were a lot of books), a pleasure and the start of some new friendship.  In the Land of Books, that means great things are coming, for writer and reader alike.