Executive Director Deborah Pope reports:
Ezra’s 100th birthday attracted a stellar turnout at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at USM—celebrating with us were Jacqueline Woodson, Lois Lowry, Rita Williams-Garcia, Melissa Sweet and George O’Connor. Jacqueline (pictured at left, with USM President Rodney Bennett) received the USM Silver Medallion and spoke passionately about her desire to be part of the movement that will make this a better world for her children, and all children. In fact, each of the outstanding artists spoke to that point in an inimitable fashion.
But the lineup of established authors and illustrators did not eclipse the amazing group of EJK Book Award winners and honorees. Every acceptance speech was a standout.
Don Tate described the moment he got the news that he had won the EJK Book Award for new writer, thinking the committee had made a mistake because he had already won an EJK Book Award Honor and trying to figure out how to acknowledge it without giving up the award.
Phoebe Wahl spoke of the support she received from her parents who educated her at home to protect her freewheeling, creative spirit and the need for children to have that kind of support.
Rowboat Watkins drew a breathtaking analogy between the life of a children’s book maker and that of a fan dancer. Trust me, his was an incredible presentation.
Megan Dowd Lambert, Ryan Higgins and Julia Sarcone-Roach each made important points about art, freedom of self-expression and our responsibility to foster a more accepting and equal world.
Without exception, they emphasized that winning recognition from the EJK Book Award Committee confirmed their determination to continue to make books for a diverse audience. They also expressed their joy in being associated with Ezra Jack Keats.
The Mayor of Hattiesburg issued a Proclamation marking April 7, 2016, as Ezra Jack Keats Day, and I made the first and only Keats Centennial Lecture. It was a pleasure to take such an appreciative audience on a journey through the many ways Ezra broke barriers in the books he wrote after The Snowy Day.
It was a blockbuster experience, but based on experience, I have not doubt that next year will be even better.
“When I was here to accept an award for my first book, a tornado warning went off, the room emptied, and everyone went out and stood in the stairwell. Last year a fire alarm went off….Today, I’m crossing my fingers that no alarm will go off to steal my moment.”
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“It doesn’t seem like very long ago… that I was a wild haired chubby kid with muddy bare feet complaining to my parents that I wanted to leave school, because there just wasn’t enough time to draw….Like Ramona Quimby before me, I was a kindergarten dropout.”
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