#ALAAC18 Recap: Printz Award Reception

On Friday, June 22, the Printz and Printz honor winners, announced in February at Midwinter, formally accepted their prizes.

As a fan of YA literature, one of the most exciting things about the Printz reception is how many authors (not just the year’s honorees!) are in attendance. Sitting in the audience and recognizing folks from their book jacket photos like Rebecca Stead, Tahereh Mafi, and Ransom Riggs truly made me feel like I was at the book world’s [much cozier] version of the Emmys and transformed a regular hotel conference room into something much greater.

After opening remarks from YALSA president Sandra Hughes-Hassell and 2018 Printz Committee Chair Angela Carstensen, each honoree spoke about their work and writing careers. Below is a brief recap of each speech from this special night. For more information about the Printz award and past winners, see the YALSA website and the Teen Book Finder App.

Deborah Heiligman
Vincent and Theo—Printz Honor Book

Inspired by the more than 700 letters the van Gogh brothers wrote to each other, Heiligman uncovers fresh insights into Vincent’s development as an artist and his relationship with the brother who supported him emotionally and financially throughout his life.

Past Printz honorees often fondly reminisce about receiving the call from the committee letting them know their book has been selected. Deborah Heiligman has no recollection of receiving her call and, clickbaity as it may sound, you’ll never guess why. Deborah knows a few things about the call. It probably happened on Saturday, February 10 while she was packing to fly to Denver for Midwinter. “Apparently I screamed,” she said, based on what her husband told her. “A lot.” But Deborah never made it to midwinter, and, in fact, spent her evening in the ER. Because suddenly Deborah couldn’t remember basic information about the world around her. Her ecstasy led her, according to her doctor, to develop a case of transient global amnesia, a condition that temporarily prevents one from remembering more than ninety seconds at a time. In reflecting on what she had been told about the evening, Deborah thanked her family for their support of her writing and caring for her health.

Laini Taylor
Strange the Dreamer—Printz Honor Book

In a world of gods, monsters, and nightmares, orphan librarian Lazlo and goddess Sarai find each other in their dreams. Against the backdrop of a city reeling after a brutal war, this lushly built, extravagantly written tale explores vengeance, love, and mercy.

“I like to think I’m really mature about awards,” Laini Taylor said as she started her speech. She went on to talk about her efforts to, every year she has an eligible book, not get her hopes up during award season. But that’s easier said than done. “Hope’s all ‘you’re not the boss of me,’” she joked. Later she spoke about hope as the driving force in everything she writes. Finding hope in the face of hopelessness. Finding hope in the current political climate, where families are being ripped apart. Laini also talked about how meaningful the Printz honor nod is for her as a fantasy writer, since fantasy is frequently not seen as having literary merit.



Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give—Printz Honor Book

Traumatized after witnessing the violent death of a friend, Starr searches for her voice as she moves between her black neighborhood and predominately white private school. This emotional novel, inspired by volatile race relations in America today, explores the importance of family, friendship, identity, and the courage to seek justice.

Angie Thomas’s speech almost ended as soon as it began when the note on her phone with talking points disappeared. Shoutout to Booklist’s Maggie Reagan for solving that problem. (“I owe you my firstborn,” Angie joked.) Angie talked about how powerless being a writer can feel. As a writer, she can delete troubling or sad incidents from her stories but she can’t do the same for the real world. She could have revived Khalil with words but her words could never revive Antwon Rose. But then she talked about why she still writes. Angie writes for the young people who stand up for the evils in the world, even though they shouldn’t have to. Children’s lit shows us that “anyone can be a hero,” she said. “Even you.”


Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down—Printz Honor Book

William Holloman is on the most haunting elevator ride of his life. He’s been urged to break “the rules”he’s grown up with. (No crying. No snitching. Get revenge.) Reynolds’ first novel in verse is a provocative, compelling, and essential love letter to young people in detention centers.

Jason Reynolds began by apologizing to the 2018 Printz committee re: the call. “I’m not a very excitable person,” he said, recalling his nonchalant reaction which betrayed his internal excitement. He then went on to deliver a powerful speech recalling a dark night in 2003. In the early hours of the morning he received a call that a close friend had been murdered. He recalled the gutted feeling in his stomach and the emptiness in his friend’s mother’s eyes. At 19 he carried his friend’s casket and, for the first time, realized he or anyone he knew had the capacity to kill. These feelings pushed him to write Long Way Down, which was largely a passion project for him.



Nina LaCour
We Are Okay—2018 Printz Winner

California native Marin, devastated by grief and questioning her reality, plans to spend her winter break in an empty dorm in upstate New York. But now her best friend, Mabel, is on her way to visit, and Marin must confront the loneliness that is threatening to take over her heart.

After a night of powerful, emotional speeches, Nina LaCour’s deeply personal recollection of what inspired her to write We Are Okay left me and much of the rest of the audience in tears. Even Nina herself apologized in advance for the emotions she was sure she was about to have while speaking. She began her speech by pointing out that her book is the first time an #ownvoices story about queer girls had won the Printz. She recalled a several-year period in her life when her beloved grandfather passed away and when her daughter was born. Her daughter was born on the one year anniversary of her grandfather’s passing and, leading up to that, Nina was in the hospital for preeclampsia so intense she could barely see. During that time, she had visions of her grandfather pushing her in a swing as a child. Once her daughter was born, she was struck by the juxtaposition of her lingering feelings of grief over the loss of a parental figure and her own responsibility towards caring for her daughter. It was Nina’s wife who suggested she write a book about a girl who had been raised by her grandfather, which Nina speculated was because her wife knew she still had some grieving to do. This was the book that would become the 2018 Printz Award winner, We Are Okay.

—Stephen Ashley, Hub member manager