Saturday, we gathered to celebrate Terry Pratchett and his lasting contribution to young adult literature at the Margaret A. Edwards Award Luncheon. Unfortunately, Pratchett, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, was unable to join us. Prachett’s U.S. children’s’ editor, Ann Hoppe, and long time fan and fellow author, Gail Carriger, (Soulless, first book in Parasol Protectorate series, and ALEX award winner), presented on his behalf.
Pratchett’s books have touched the lives of many readers young and old. And Saturday afternoon we talked, over lunch, about how his books have impacted us and the readers we work with. As Carriger pointed out, Pratchett’s books appeal to a wide audience, young and old, male and female, but no matter how famous he became he was always a gracious man. â€œIt is no surprise that he became Sir Terry Pratchett, for he was noble,â€ she said after recounting a story about meeting him for the first time, and his grace in the face of her obvious adoration and enthusiasm (and the fact that she happened to be dressed in a corset and velvet dress at the time).
Pratchett’s U.S. children’s editor, Ann Hoppe, spoke about working with him and his surprise and honor to have received the award. In the UK, she commented, many of his books are written off as merely â€œpopularâ€ and they do not always recognize his literary prowess. But in the U.S. his books are appreciated both for their popularity and their story but also for the quality of their writing. â€œThe Edwards means more to him than he’ll admit in public because he’s British that way.â€
Upon realizing that his health would not allow him to travel to awards ceremony in New Orleans, Pratchett recorded a video acceptance. Unfortunately, technical difficulties interfered and attendees were addressed through a letter from Pratchett, read by Hoppe. Knowing that this letter was already third best, Pratchett apologized for not being at the luncheon and expressed his desire to be there with us that day.
Pratchett confessed that it was only by a small twist of fate, that he did not become a children’s librarian himself. In fact, he volunteered as a child at his town’s public library, in exchange for the ability to check out more books (children were allowed to check out only two books at a time, which was insufficient for such a voracious reader). It was the book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame which showed him that you could change the world with words, and inspired him to begin writing. He wrote and sold his first short story at 14, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In closing his letter, Pratchett spoke of the numerous letters he has received from parents and grandparents telling him about their children who had never finished a book until they found his work, who are now English literature professors at prestigious universities. And better yet, the letters from the adults those children grew up to become, announcing their first published book. Pratchett finds hope in these letters, knowing that, â€œwhen the torch is dropped, someone else will be there to pick it up.â€
After the plates were cleared away, and before we said goodbye, we each wrote a special message on cards at our table, to be shared with Pratchett, speaking about our love for his books, our appreciation for his contribution to literature, and his courage. We also received a gift courtesy of the Edwards committee – special Discworld stamps that commemorate different settings and characters from his Discworld books.
-coverage for this event provided by Sharon Rawlins and Kate Pickett.