It’s not that I don’t own a couple dresses. I do. It’s just that since the birth of the small Bird certain . . . ah . . . portions of the anatomy have, shall we say, decided to wow the world with their largess. So until that situation reverses itself I needed a new dress. And with all the world’s fashion designers at my fingertips here in NYC I tend to go with what’s familiar. So a week and a half ago I grabbed a Banana Republic dress off the rack, found some nylons without any runs, and voila! It was time to celebrate A Wrinkle in Time in style. To the Symphony Space!
As reported so well in both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly there was a recent celebration of A Wrinkle In Time‘s 50th anniversary. Both articles will give you a very nice look at the program that occurred but if you want the inside scoop then let me offer you the 411 from the moderator’s point of view.
I began the day at work (I work pretty much every Saturday) but in a pretty dress with make-up and stuff on my face. So not a typical workday then. In the afternoon I high-tailed it over to Symphony Space where the event would be held. Word on the street was that the show had sold out, and with an auditorium whose capacity is somewhere around 500 that was pretty impressive in and of itself. Sure as shooting there were folks milling about more than an hour and a half before the festivities (I think PW reported that there were even scalpers).
After getting in the door and meeting up with the wonderful Jennifer Brennan I was taken to the green room to run a brush through my now thoroughly frizzed locks. I was the first one in which meant I needed only wait for the special guests to arrive. And folks, let me tell you, there are few enough moments in a person’s life when they are waiting for the likes of Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Rebecca Stead, R.L. Stine, and Jane Curtin. I busied myself with signing release forms, which proved to be a relaxing activity. Ah, forms.
Ms. Lowry and a friend were the first to arrive. We had met before. I have a signed copy on my bookshelf of The Giver which implies as much anyway. She claimed to be utterly unprepared but when the DVD of this event is made available for purchase you will see for yourself that the woman could not have been any more relaxed, often coming in with just the right story at just the right moment. For further proof I encourage you to look at the pictures in the PW and SLJ articles. There you will see me sitting ramrod straight, as if someone had stapled my spine to a poker, in a dress that is in NO WAY the same color as the speakers. Beside me sits Ms. Lowry, her legs casually crossed and every word out of her mouth dead on the money. Beforehand she was no different.
Ms. Paterson arrived with her husband next. I’d met her once or maybe twice before at those SCBWI mid-year conference cocktail parties where you weave between crowds of vaguely familiar looking folks and then someone screams in your ear, “Hey! I want you to meet Katherine Paterson!” So we reintroduced ourselves and hopefully I was mildly more memorable this time than the last.
By the way, at this moment I was rereading my notes for the upcoming program and stumbled across a part that said something along the lines of “Betsy will introduce the speakers . . .” I had not thought to look up their bios beforehand, so I started scribbling hell-for-leather anything that came to mind. It was only afterwards that I realized that everyone’s bio was in the program being handed out that day. Could have saved myself some wear and tear, I think.
Rebecca Stead came next and we’re old pals. She was followed by Bob Stein who I met briefly once before in my library. Rebecca asked if my questions for the eventual panel could be told beforehand, so I pitched them some ideas. For Bob I’d thought of asking him to speak a bit about the horror elements in L’Engle’s book, but he pointed out that there had recently been an article in The Atlantic that had asked him if there could have been a Katniss Everdeen (from Hunger Games) without a Meg Murray. And since half my job was going to be directing the conversation in ways that would wake up the kids in the audience, I figured the magic words “Hunger Games” would do the trick. Hat tip to you, Mr. S!
We did a quickie mic check and I learned that I need to figure out something to recite for those things. I’d do the Preamble of the Constitution except that School House Rock had made it so that I feel obligated to sing it each time and I’m not comfortable singing in front of stranger unless I have very loud background music and a karaoke machine somewhere nearby.
While we were checking out our little hand mics and determining how one goes about turning them on and off, Jane Curtin stepped onto the stage to do her own check. I was admittedly a little starstruck. For a little while I’ve been playing with an idea of bringing together a book full of stories and comics and poems and what have you from funny women to girls. Girls need good funny role models and here, in the flesh, was one of mine. Briefly I pondered how on earth I was going to get through the day without repeating that infamous Dan Ackroyd line we all know so well (oh . . . YOU know the one I mean) but I am happy to report that it never crossed my lips. Not once. Nope.
Actually, Ms. Curtin was there with her husband and they were both a hoot. We talked weddings and dogs and Ms. Curtin’s giving-birth-in-New-York story. That was fun.
Before the show began Charlotte Jones Voiklis, one of Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters, appeared with what I can only describe as the greatest gift I’ve ever received as part of a talk. In her hands were a pile of blank notebooks and on the covers of these notebooks were fabric . The fabric, it would seem, had come from the curtains in the “ivory tower” where Madeleine wrote all her books, including the one we were celebrating that day. So it was that we were each given our own piece of history with little matching bookmarks inside. It was enormously generous but a pickle too. What on earth could a person ever write in such a book that would be worthy of it? After much thought and contemplation I decided that there was only one thing to be done with it. Since the 1930s New York Public Library has had these amazing leather notebooks where authors have signed their names. Everyone from H.A. Rey and Maurice Sendak to Dare Wright and Ludwig Bemelmans has signed them. I have kept up the tradition with a new book, but it’s been getting a bit full as of late. Now, at long last, I had found a notebook worthy to keep up the NYPL tradition. Future authors and illustrators visiting NYPL will now be able to sign this very book. As for me, I get to keep the bookmark. Win win.
The show commenced soon thereafter and up came the fluttery little butterflies of the stomach variety. Fortunately the folks at Symphony Space are pros. At no time did we ever encounter a moment when a video wouldn’t work or a mic cut out. I’ve done enough presentations to know how to wing it when that kind of thing happens, but that night there was no need. Everything went off without a hitch.
We began with the 90-Second Newbery version of A Wrinkle in Time by James Kennedy. This is just my excuse to post it here again, really:
Earlier I had heard Rebecca describing to Lois the difficulty James had had with the 90-Second Newbery submissions for her The Giver. It seems that when kids adapt that book the one moment they like to show over and over and over is the same moment that gets that book banned from time to time. Think about it. It’ll come to you.
The next 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in New York City will take place at Symphony Space! So if you’ve kids who have hankered to do a film of their own, now’s the time.
Then came the videos and Charlotte and then my panel. Moderation is easy, I find, when you’re dealing with pros. From Lois saying the line of the evening, “I mean, how do you get rid of a human brain?” (one Twitter answer later: “By ignoring it”), to Bob Stine and Rebecca debating whether a child has ever made them a meal before, to Katherine reading aloud her favorite passage, it all worked.
Mid-conversation I realized I had to introduce Ms. Curtin next and I’d left my notes for her backstage. Fortunately I was a fan and could talk about her from memory. Whew! She came on and did a reading from the book. Later she told me that though she does a fair number of readings for Symphony Space, this had been the hardest one to date. The reason was the voices. There were so many and L’Engle often describes them to you, so the reader has to be faithful.
After that came a school group of kids performing a scene and they ended up being so good that I had folks afterwards asking if they were Broadway actors. Nope. Just high school students who had been very very nervous before going on that stage.
We closed out with Leonard Marcus and a video and that was that! Easy peasy.
After the show I tried to find my husband and friend Lori and folks in the audience were awful nice to me about how it went. I even ran into Fred, a kid who participates in Symphony Space’s Thalia Book Club Camp for children every summer. This is a cool program that brings in the latest biggest authors to speak with the kids, do writing assignments with them, go on field trips with them around the city, etc. So if you know of a New York kid who likes books and would love a summer thrill, look into that thing.
Finally, all this celebration was done in tandem with the newly released anniversary edition of A Wrinkle in Time. If you haven’t seen it I can tell you everything you need to know in just two words: shiny cover. Sure, it’s got notes from Madeleine on writing the book, and her Newbery speech, and manuscript pages, and notes on deleted scenes, and all that. But what I care about is the cover. Soooooo shiny.
And on that note, a big thanks to the folks at Symphony Space who offered me the opportunity to host this event and thanks too to everyone who showed up! Finally, thanks to Alison Verost for the images. If you wish to see the pictures of me looking like a very attentive sack of potatoes, you will have to locate the picture in some other reporter’s notes.