National Book Award finalists meet with young readers
November 16, 1999
CNN Interactive Senior Writer
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Some of this year's top authors of young people's literature met face-to-face with their audience at a New York high school on Monday. The book signing and Q&A with children ages 9-12 was part of the National Book Foundation's week celebrating the National Book Awards, to be held Wednesday night.
In attendance at Hunter College High School Campus in Manhattan were the 1999 young people's literature finalists for the foundation's annual awards: Laurie Halse Anderson ("Speak"), Walter Dean Myers ("Monster"), Kimberly Willis Holt ("When Zachary Beaver Came to Town") and Polly Horvath ("The Trolls"). The fifth finalist, Louise Erdich ("The Birchbark House"), was unable to attend.
The event started with a small gathering in the school's library, where the authors signed books for students and talked writing and literature, while snacking on orange soda, cookies and cake. The authors then went to the school's auditorium, where they answered questions from the young audience.
"This is wonderful," Anderson said of the festivities. Her novel, "Speak," tells the story of disenfranchised teen-ager who learns the value of speaking up for herself.
"This is why I write for kids. Children are so honest and when you look them in the eye and you listen to them about how the story has affected them, you know you're getting the truth in them.
"I benefited from reading great books when I was a kid," Anderson said. "So to be able to do the same for them is really cool."
Myers, whose book "Monster" uses screenplay and journal-entry narratives to tell the story of a 16-year-old boy accused in a shooting, says there's validation in doing good work. "You sort of park yourself as a writer, and they validate your parking ticket," he said of the young readers. "How many jobs can you possibly have where someone will walk to you and say, 'I love what you did.'"
If Myers or any of the other authors win on Wednesday night, they'll have plenty more people patting them on the back. The National Book Awards will enjoy perhaps its most high-profile event in its 50-year history. Steve Martin, the actor-comic-writer, will host the ceremony at the Marriott Marquis. Talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey will be awarded a special medal honoring her efforts to get more people to read through "Oprah's Book Club."
The event will also be attended by former National Book Award winners in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature. Several events are planned during the week prior to the awards, including another book-signing with all of the finalists in the foundation's four categories this year.
But on Monday, it was the authors of young people's literature in the spotlight. They were more than happy to pass along their knowledge to interested students. During the Q&A, one student asked why each author started writing.
"I think I was inspired to write because I've always had people living in my head," said Anderson, to light chuckles from the audience. "Hopefully, it never gets too out of hand. But I've always been an imaginative kind of kid. I had a lot of support from my parents who knew that reading a writing were real important, and my grandmother, who whenever I wrote letters to her, she would share the letters with everyone in the trailer park."
Myers, who has already won two Newbery Honor Book Awards and five Coretta Scott King Awards, estimates he's been writing for 20 years, and with this week's National Book Foundation festivities, he'll be able to write for at least a few more. "It's exciting," he said. "What it really means is that it's going to be an opportunity to continue what I'm doing."
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