1. Let’s talk about the history of the NCTE Poetry Award. I know that you were there at the beginning and collaborated with Bee Cullinan to get this established. Can you tell us a bit more about how that happened and why it came to be housed at NCTE?
At the time the Award was being discussed I served on the NCTE Board of Directors.
Both Bee Cullinan and I were very active in all aspects of NCTE. It was Bee who proposed the award to honor her son, Jonathan Paul (1969-1975), who at six years old was tragically killed, run over by a neighbor's car in a driveway. Bee founded the Award in his honor.
When Karla Kuskin designed the emblem for the Award, she included the engraving of young Jonathan sitting upon a tree branch, reading poetry, of course.
The Award, first given in 1977, became the first of its kind in the United States to honor poetry. Consider the Newbery Award started in l922 ; the Caldecott, 1938; four decades later we finally get recognition for the genre.
I chaired the Award in 1978, the second year, when Aileen Fisher received the honor and again in l991 when Valerie Worth won. Oddly enough neither could attend the affairs. Aileen refused to go anywhere if she couldn't wear jeans, and sadly, Valerie was dying of cancer. Aileen finally made an appearance-- in jeans -- at the l985, luncheon when Lilian Moore received the Award. So much changed in just 7 years - a time when Ms. was the accepted term for all women - no matter what they wore!
Needless to say, over three decades since I was involved in its inception, I was overwhelmed to become the 15th recipient of such an honor.
2. Speaking of awards, once the NCTE award was established, what made you decide to set up your own LBH awards? Can you tell us how both the book and the new poet awards came to be? How did you the International Reading Association become involved?
Being an advocate of poetry my entire life, I felt there was a need for more recognition. I was very active with the now defunct Children's Literature Council of Pennsylvania. I was fortunate in that Steve Herb was President of the Council and accepted the idea of my founding The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award in 1993. The NCTE Award had been given to a poet for his/her aggregate body of work, thus only well established poets could even be considered for such an honor.
The LBH Award is given annually to a book of poetry either an original collection or an anthology. The first award was presented to Ashley Bryan for SING TO THE SUN (HarperCollins) in 1993. The award comes with a $1000.00 fee plus a medallion featuring artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith, a Pennsylvanian-born illustrator. I was also born in Pennsylania - Scranton - thus I felt the whole idea was to give back to my birthplace. The Award is now sponsored by Penn State University. How lucky I am that Steve Herb is still affiliated with the University. We came full circle.
Since no other awards seem to have popped up I founded the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association (IRA) Promising Poet Award in 1995 which is given every three years to a poet who has published no more than two books of poetry. The Award includes a cash prize plus a medallion.
A third award for poetry was established in 1998 - The Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, sponsored by Bank Street College of Education in New York City.
Claudia, a poet herself, who published several books with HarperCollins with Charlotte Zolotow as editor, was one of the most scholarly people in the field of children's literature I had ever known.
I had the rare opportunity of studying with Claudia when I did my Master's Degree at Bank Street. (In the l960's Bank Street WAS on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. I later went to work at Bank Street in a Harlem Resource Center. We became good friends and communicated with one another until her death. She was very supportive of the NCTE Award and both Awards I had established. She was a gentle soul, a beautiful voice who taught a multitude of students the importance of bringing children and books together.
3. One more awards question—we both agree that it would also be nice to have the American Library Association recognize poetry in their awards categories, too. What do you think they should do that isn’t already considered by the other awards?
I have harped over ALA not having an award for poetry for so long I've even become annoyed at myself for so much harping. I shall leave that thrust to others.
Thanks again, Lee, for sharing your insights and experiences with us.
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Image credit: Photo by Charles Egita; HarperCollins; NCTE; financewithafp
Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.