July 4th, 2010

57 academics just punched the air

ALA, the last, best thing

On Monday night, June 28th, following an exhilarating Poetry Blast and a fantastic dinner, I returned to my hotel room with Laura Purdie Salas and Andi (who blogs as cloudscome), where, due to the continuing high from the events of the evening (no drugs or alcohol, even!), we stayed up talking until nearly 1 a.m. Poor, poor Laura - she had to get up at 3 in order to catch at 3:30 a.m. shuttle to the airport. I sure hope she got to sleep on the plane! But I digress.

On Tuesday morning, June 29th, Andi and I got up at what I consider to be the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. so we could get ourselves together in time to catch at cab at about 6:30 to get to the Renaissance Hotel across from the Convention Center, in order to attend the Coretta Scott King Awards. You see, I was an invited guest, invited by my lovely friend Tanita Davis, who won a CSK honor for her wonderful book (a combo of contemporary fiction and historical novel) Mare's War. See it there in the middle of our table? (In fairness, it was only on our table and the other one occupied by the good folks at Random House, who were super-de-dooper nice to allow Liz Garton Scanlon, Andi and I to join them - and Tanita's lovely husband (whom I adore) and her mother (ditto) for breakfast.)

The Coretta Scott King people definitely know how to do a banquet, y'all. They started with a preacher (and I mean preacher) giving an invocation, which was a writerly version of the Serenity Prayer, and there were some welcoming sorts of remarks, and then breakfast. Which was, frankly, not particularly good. The pastry I had was actually wonderful, really, but the eggs were a bit icky. But guess what? I DIDN'T CARE! Because the point of the event wasn't the food, it was the celebration of phenomenal books by African American authors and artists. And at the CSK awards, it's not just the award winners who speak, it's the honor winners as well. So I got to hear speeches from E.B. Lewis (illustrator honor), Kekla Magoon (Steptoe award for new talent), and Tanita (author honor) give speeches, along with winners Charles R. Smith, Jr. (Illustrator Award) and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Author Award). AND I got to hear Walter Dean Myers accept the first-ever Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

All the speeches were great. Seriously. But my friend Tanita? The one pictured here with Rita Williams-Garcia?

Tanita rocked!

I wish I had the transcript of Tanita's speech. Probably so does Tanita, who started to say the speech she'd spent five hours writing, then went offroading, so to speak. (Her husband, D, told me, so I'm positive about this point.) And what Tanita said while she was speaking from the heart - and so very eloquently, and in such an impassioned manner - was marvelous. And borrowed freely from her marvelous article in Hunger Mountain about the need for literature to include and reflect minorities, but in an expanded way that explained the ongoing need for the Coretta Scott King Awards, because they ensure that books that feature African American characters continue to be recognized - and purchased by libraries. I wish I had Tanita's words, which were so magical and so compelling that they inspired a prolonged period of applause . . . midway through her speech.

Tanita, my dear, I am proud to know you and to call you my friend. I am humbled by your brilliance.

            Andi, Tanita, Liz, and me

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