The morning of Monday, January 28th, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia was filled with excitement. Right on the heels of the ALA Youth Media Awards came YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Program & Presentation, and the whole room was abuzz to celebrate this year’s finalists and winners of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults.
Emceed by YALSA President Shannon Peterson, the program began with the Morris Award winner and finalists, introduced by Dorcas Wong, 2014 Morris Award Committee Chair.
Carrie Mesrobian, author of Morris finalist Sex and Violence, gave a heartfelt speech recounting the significance of libraries in her formative years. She was an avid library user during her youth, but never interacted with librarians as a teen. Despite this, she said, “No matter that I never spoke to a single librarian, the librarians kept the shelves stocked… Librarians regularly and reliably provided me with the books I needed.” And for that, she said, she is “forever grateful.”
Evan Roskos, author of Morris finalist Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, had everyone in stitches by observing that being honored for the Morris is a truly a once in a lifetime opportunity because, well… he can only debut once. He then told a story about how his book empowered a teen reader to get help for their mental health concerns. Of course, the inspiring nature of this anecdote turned to hilarity as he observed that “Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets actually caused someone to seek therapy.” He concluded by sharing his four-year-old son’s reaction to seeing his book cover. “Daddy, YOU wrote Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus?” This author is just as hilarious and thoughtful as his book.
Elizabeth Ross, author of Morris finalist Belle Ã‰poque opened by sharing what she called “a terrible little secret” and admitted that she was not an avid reader as a child. She went on to explain that she came to reading and writing later in the life. Before her beginning her career as a writer, she was a filmmaker– and she noted that because filmmaking is a collaborative art, the individual voice can be lost. In need of a solo creative outlet, she turned to writing. Relating her early experiences as a non-reader, she said, “Children that have some shame in regard to reading need librarians.” Librarians have the power to take away that shame.
Cat Winters, author of Morris finalist In the Shadow of Blackbirds, shared a fact that delighted me as a resident of Orange County, California– she frequented Orange County’s beachside Dana Point Library in her youth. Winters went on to discuss her love of words, and her gratitude to librarians for helping her book gain success that it did, and closed with a brief reading from her novel.
Stephanie Kuehn, author of Morris Award winner Charm & Strange started out by saying, “Being here is one of the most humbling and thrilling experiences of my life.” She talked about attending the ALA Annual Conference last summer and feeling too shy to talk about her book that had just come out– and how being quiet gave her the opportunity to observe the passionate and hard work done by librarians. Observing that it takes many people to make a book, she drew a powerful parallel between one of the prominent themes in her book- togetherness, love, and support- to the process of getting her book published and into the hands of readers.
The Morris authors were followed by Excellence in Nonfiction Award authors, introduced by Jamison Head, chair of the 2014 Nonfiction Award committee.
Chip Kidd, author of Nonfiction finalist Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, opened with story of how an editor at Workman approached him with the idea of Go because nobody had ever done a book to teach graphic design to kids. Kidd quipped that he reacted to this suggestion with shock because he doesn’t know kids, have kids, relate to kids, or even like kids– but he said… sure! He went on to say, in all seriousness, that kids are creating graphic design already, even without a guide; once they can read and write, they’re making design. So he wanted to make kids aware of design, observing, “It’s about analyzing who you are, and how you want to represent that to the rest of the world.”
Martin Sandler, author of Nonfiction finalist Imprisoned, couldn’t be at the program in person, but Emily Easton from Walker Books for Young Readers accepted on his behalf. Noting that he’s still producing amazing works of nonfiction at 80 years of age, she talked about his passion for the very important topic of his book, the injustice of the Japanese-American incarceration during WWII, and said that it “means the world to him” that this committee recognized him for this work.
Tanya Lee Stone, author of Nonfiction finalist Courage Has No Color, described her young self as “that kid with the pile of books coming out of the library every Saturday.” She spoke fondly of Walter Morris with whom she worked closely to tell the story of the Triple Nickles in this book, and who passed away recently. She discussed her research process for this work, which sometimes felt daunting because the story was mostly unarchived. It is her feeling that the Triple Nickles should be as well known as Tuskeegee Airmen, and hopes her book plays a part in raising awareness.
James L. Swanson, author of Nonfiction finalist The President Has Been Shot, talked about where he was when John F. Kennedy was shot. He was four years old and has no memory of it- but he did remember the neighbor girls coming over to watch funeral on television a few days later. Swanson described being mesmerized later by his mom’s “morgue” of newspaper clippings about the assassination she kept, and how this collection informed his writing of this book. He takes the position that children don’t want a sanitized version of history. They want the truth– so he wrote this book for a younger version of himself.
Neal Bascomb, author of Nonfiction Award winner The Nazi Hunters, recounted memories of gathering information for the book, and revealed that the most emotional part of the story for the Mossad agents he interviewed was the act of getting former Nazi Eichmann onto a plane to transport him from his hiding place in Argentina to Israel, where he would be brought to justice. Bascomb had the crowd riveted with this suspenseful part of the narrative. He said he admired the bravery of those who were a part of the effort to bring Eichmann to justice, and said that’s why he was compelled to tell their story– especially to young people.
The Morris/Nonfiction Program and Presentation was a highlight of my ALA Midwinter experience. If you have the opportunity to attend this program in the future, I wholeheartedly recommend it!
-Allison Tran, currently reading A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
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