For the last five days, I just keep crying. I’m not one to discuss my feelings and I’m not a big crier. Rather… I don’t like to be seen crying or talk about having cried. But I keep crying. And, apparently, I keep talking about crying.
On Sunday, hours before the Newbery Caldecott Wilder banquet was to begin, I was with my family at this big New Orleans shopping mall by the river. And I started getting emotional. I started to think about how many years have gone by with art and creativity and work and collaboration and family and companionship and happiness and birth and love and loss. And I was about to be in a room with a thousand people and I was going to reflect on all of that. I was blessed with an amazing opportunity to thank my fellow artists and collaborators and thank my friends and family. I was given an opportunity to acknowledge the fact that my Dad was gone too soon to see it happen.
So, I didn't want to be seen crying, so I left my family at the mall, and I walked back toward the hotel alone. I walked along the riverfront under the scorching, humid, New Orleans sky, and I looked out at the ships cruising past and people laughing and taking selfies and I looked at the beauty of the place that I was in, where all of this was happening and about to be happening. I was in a city that’s been beaten down time and time again. I was in a city that was born to persevere and was stronger than any other city I’ve visited before or after. I was in a city that is a living miracle of different races and cultures and art. And it made me cry.
For the next couple of hours, I cried and got nervous and went online to figure out how to tie my tie. My family eventually made it back to the hotel, and we all got dressed in our finest. Julie looked beautiful and my daughter looked beautiful. My son felt like it was a good time to throw a tantrum. But it didn’t last.
Before the before-the-festivities festivities, there was a cocktail reception. As soon as we arrived, all of the nervousness melted away, shockingly, never to return. There was family there and publishing friends and committee friends, and Jason Chin and Elisha Cooper friends, and all the nervousness melted away. I drank half of a beer. Probably, that helped.
We moved into the big, beige Green Room, where I finally met Thi Bui and Gordon C. James. I met Derrick Barnes and Erin Entrada Kelly. Impulsively, I hugged them all. Whether they liked it or not, I could not not hug these people. Photos were taken with the biggest, most all-natural smiles. Erin and I were escorted out to the dais with our Caldecott and Newbery committee Chairs.
The next hour or so was a mix of getting in and out of seats, listening to a bit of welcome speech, eating but not eating. Seeing family and friends and hugging family and friends. And being up on a platform that was physically higher than family and friends and looking out from time to time at a thousand people and knowing and liking and loving them all.
The lights flickered, the room eventually silenced. Tish Wilson, Caldecott committee chair, beautiful person inside and out, introduced 4 Caldecott Honor books and 4 Caldecott Honor artists. Each of them took the stage for photos and I felt so blessed to be doing this with these 4. I wanted to hug them all. I managed to grab Elisha's hand as he walked past. Tish introduced my book and its creator and suddenly I was crying again. Or trying not to cry. It was time. And I wasn’t nervous. Just happy. Just trying not to cry.
I was fine until I got to the part where I said… thanks. Thank you to my tribe. To my book tribe and my friend tribe and my family tribe. By god, it was hard to keep it together. But I looked into each of the faces of my tribe and I tried to kept it together. Until I turned to the last page of my speech, and I knew what was on the last page of my speech, where I knew it was time to remember that my Dad wasn’t there. And I tried not to cry, but I cried. And I cried and cried and cried. But I said what I needed to say up and out and down into the universe, and I said… thanks.
And I hugged Tish and sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder. Thank you, Tish. Sorry, Tish.
And my two children somehow escaped their table and ran up to the dais and hugged their wreck of a dad. And I cried some more.
The presence and speeches of Erin Entrada Kelly and Jacqueline Woodson carried me off into laughter and emotional euphoria. I had a glass of red wine. Probably, that helped. The night was a waking dream. It was beyond hype. Beyond expectation. Beyond reality. It was every everything.
And I’m crying again.
---- this silly, bickering world. There needs to be times where we say ---- this silly, bickering world and we hug each other and reflect and say… thanks. And we cry.
Anyways. Back to work. Deadlines and all.