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ALA 2013: Margaret A. Edwards Award Luncheon

Edwards12013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author who has made a “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature” and is awarded annually by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal. This year’s winner, Tamora Pierce, was honored specifically for her Song of the Lioness series and Protector of the Small quartet, both of which show that girls can kick butt just as well as boys. As I have been a fan of Tamora Pierce for many years, there was no way that I was going to miss out on the chance to see her presented with this prestigious, and well-deserved, award at the Margaret A. Edwards Award luncheon in Chicago this last weekend.

Upon arriving at the room where the luncheon was held, which was kind of hard to find because the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago is massive, I found that there was already a line of exited people waiting to get in. Though I have met her in the past, I must admit to feeling a little giddy when Tamora Pierce was escorted inside ahead of us. The room was already set for lunch, and dessert was taunting us from the moment we sat down. Everyone in attendance also received a paperback copy of Alanna: The First Adventure with its brand new cover. The room was filled with lots of conversation, and I had a good time talking with my newly made friends at our table until it was time for the Edwards Award presentation.

edwards2As I mentioned before, I’ve met Tamora Pierce in the past. She’s been a guest of the library district that I work for a couple of times over the past few years. The woman who got up to the podium certainly looked like her, but her demeanor and speaking style were really kind of off. She coughed a lot, was very quiet and even monotone, and the people around me all started to look a little worried that this was going to be a very long, dreary speech … until she started to grin and said, “I’ve been doing that bit for twelve years…” As then YALSA President and now immediate Past President Jack Martin put it at the end of the luncheon, we’d all just been punked by Tamora Pierce!

alanna song of the lionessAfter having a little laugh at our expense she got down to business. She shared with us that she started writing because her father encouraged her, that she writes what she does because there weren’t realistic books about girl heroes when she was younger, and that she ended up writing young adult fiction because when she worked in a girls’ home and they wanted to hear her novel, she had to amend it so that it was slightly more appropriate for young women. She told us that for a time she stopped writing because her mother’s harsh criticisms took the wind out of her sails, which visibly upset the crowd. She shared that she bases her characters on real people that she knows and the cultures on real cultures that interest her. Her characters follow in the paths of women in our armed forces, who work extra hard to show those that think they don’t belong in the military that they do belong. By the end of her speech, which was motivational in so many ways, I was ready to go and start writing again myself.

Protector of the SmallOne of the things that I have always loved about the characters Alanna from Song of the Lioness and Kel from Protector of the Small is that they don’t shirk work. In fact, they often have to work harder than their peers in order to produce the same results. Life in the imaginary world of Tortall feels real, even though magic is used by many and there are griffins and dragons coexisting with cows and chickens. The world that Tamora Pierce has created in these novels is researched and filled with real life-experiences, carefully crafted so that it is as relatable as possible, which is part of the reason why so many fans love it — they can see themselves in it and in her characters. I was very pleased that she was honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and I am thankful that I got to hear to her acceptance speech.

More information is available at YALSA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award page.

— Carla Land, currently reading Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Ceremony pictures taken by Colleen Seisser

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