Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shiny!



In January, I learned that my novel The Necessary Beggar had won an Alex Award from the American Library Association. Ten of these are awarded every year to adult books with exceptional appeal to teen readers.

In June, I went to the ALA Conference in New Orleans, where there was a panel to discuss this year's awards. Five of us were there: me, Jeannette Walls, A. Lee Martinez, Gregory Gallaway, and Neil Gaiman. The panel was a lot of fun, and meeting this year's Alex-Award committee members was both a privilege and a pleasure.

Librarians rock. I'm now convinced that librarians are the Secret Rulers of the Universe. (I knew this when I was a dreamy bookworm of a kid, but I'd forgotten it as an adult.) Also, they know how to laugh at themselves. The official ALA gift shop was selling Librarian Action Figures, which raise a finger to their lips and say "Shhhhh!" when you press a button. When the Alex panel was about to start, a lot of people in the audience were still chatting, and other people started saying, "Shhhhhh!" I said, "We must be in a room of librarians," and everyone laughed.

So, anyway, today's mail brought my actual, physical Alex Award, the bronze medal you saw at the beginning of this post. It comes with a nice little wooden stand. It's a lovely object, and it will look great in my office at work.

I know I've been posting a lot of ego items the last few days, but really, this stuff doesn't happen to writers very often -- or not to most writers, anyway -- and we need to enjoy it when it does.

And to answer the inevitable question about New Orleans: the convention was in the French Quarter, the least damaged part of the city. The ALA was the first major meeting to come there since Katrina, and shopkeepers were falling all over us in gratitude. Everybody had a Katrina story. And no, I didn't venture outside the Quarter to look at hideous storm damage. Until just a few months ago, my father lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi -- just east of Biloxi and right on the water -- and when I visited him after Christmas, I saw enough storm damage to last me a lifetime. When I was at the ALA, just looking at the books about Katrina in my hotel's gift shop made me start to cry; I didn't need more sensory input.

And yes, we were in that Convention Center. You never would have known from looking at the place that anything unpleasant had happened there.

Here's my favorite Katrina story, from my father's friend Darlene, who was an art teacher at a Biloxi high school. (I believe she's retired now.) The Friday before the storm hit, she'd been in her classroom getting it ready for the school year. She always decorated her room with her students' art, to give them pride in their work. (As I recall, this school served mostly lower-income students.) That Friday, she left a to-do list on the corner of her desk.

Then the storm came. She couldn't get into her school for three weeks, and in the meantime, the National Guard were billeted there. Darlene was afraid the place would be a mess. But when she got back into her classroom, it was spotless. The to-do list she'd left on her desk the Friday before the storm was still there, apparently untouched. And the National Guardsmen had written notes on the blackboard to Darlene's students, telling them how beautiful their artwork was.

Very few Gulf-Coast residents I've met have anything good to say about FEMA, but I haven't heard a negative word about the National Guard.

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