Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hurray for Hopkins

I’ve been sitting on a secret for over six months and this weekend all was revealed at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention. Of course I’ve noted repeatedly that Lee Bennett Hopkins was the recipient of the 2009 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. He was officially presented that award at the Books for Children Luncheon at the conference on Saturday—to a standing ovation.

But I had not shared details about the session on Friday where Lee spoke and was “toasted and roasted” by a panel of poets including Jane Yolen, Janet Wong, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, J. Patrick Lewis, Georgia Heard, and Walter Dean Myers.


My indomitable collaborator, poet and author Janet Wong, lives an hour away, and volunteered to bring a veritable truckload of supplies to our session to create a bona fide party atmosphere! (Bless you, Janet!) So, we had two banquet tables decorated in purple (Lee’s signature color) filled to brimming with our poetry “props”-- cookies, muffins, and chocolates and champagne glasses and bubbly cider to toast and cheer Lee as he entered the room. We had printed purple napkins and helium-filled purple balloons. We had a boombox playing a custom-created riff on Cole Porter’s classic, “Brush up your Shakespeare” (redone for Hopkins) by the lovely poet Kristine O’Connell George, coming all the way from California for this event! And that was just for openers!

Each of the panel poets shared poems and stories about Lee, his impact, his process, his personality. We listened, we laughed, we celebrated. And there were another 10 poets in the audience who joined in, offering their poems and stories, including Carole Boston Weatherford, Eileen Spinelli, Heidi Mordhorst, Elaine Magliaro, Michele Krueger, Bobbi Katz, Sara Holbrook, John Grandits, Kristine O’Connell George, and Ralph Fletcher. (Am I forgetting anyone? I hope not!) (Thank you also to our publishers for their support of this session: Simon & Schuster, Little/Brown, Scholastic, Candlewick, and Boyds Mills Press.)

We also had the best party favor ever, if I do say so myself! Everyone there received a brand new book of poetry published just for this event (in a limited run). This “festschrift” book featured original poems and anecdotes written by 61 poets, many friends and collaborators of Lee. Contributors included (appearing in reverse alphabetical order, just for fun):

Jane Yolen
Joyce Lee Wong
Janet Wong
Allan Wolf
Karen Winnick
Carole Boston Weatherford
April Halprin Wayland
Ann Wagner
Eileen Spinelli
Sonya Sones
Marilyn Singer
Joyce Sidman
Alice Schertle
Laura Purdie Salas
Joanne Ryder
Susan Pearson
Ann Whitford Paul
Linda Sue Park
Naomi Shihab Nye
Walter Dean Myers
Heidi Mordhorst
Pat Mora
Donna Marie Merritt
Jude Mandell
Elaine Drabik Magliaro
J. Patrick Lewis
JonArno Lawson
Julie Larios
Michele Krueger
X.J. Kennedy
Bobbi Katz
Alan Katz
Paul Janeczko
Sara Holbrook
Mary Ann Hoberman
Georgia Heard
Juanita Havill
David Harrison
Avis Harley
Lorie Ann Grover
Nikki Grimes
John Grandits
Joan Bransfield Graham
Charles Ghigna
Carole Gerber
Kristine O’Connell George
Helen Frost
Betsy Franco
Douglas Florian
Ralph Fletcher
Bob Falls
Emma D. Dryden
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Graham Denton
Jill Corcoran
Leslie Bulion
Calef Brown
Brod Bagert
Kathi Appelt
Jaime Adoff
Arnold Adoff
(Thank you all so much, dear poets. Your copies will be coming in the mail soon, now that the project is no longer secret!)

When we first conceived this project, we hoped to gather a few of Lee’s poet friends to honor him with a small booklet of original poems. I thought it might be a small, stapled booklet that I’d Xerox at the office. Ha! This idea had a life of its own! Janet Wong and I gathered poet names and email addresses and approached NCTE for funding. We asked the amazing Stephen Alcorn, one of Lee’s frequent book illustrators, for art to accompany the project. (Thank you so much, Stephen. Everyone commented on your gorgeous cover!) Everywhere we turned, people said, “Yes!” Yes to poems, yes to anecdotes, yes to art, yes to funding! (Thank you, Debbie Zagorski and Jo Anna Wisniewski, for going to bat for us. Thank you, Ralph Fletcher and the NCTE Poetry Award Committee for all your support!)

All summer long, poems flowed in—poems of all kinds, of admiration, of appreciation, of celebration. And many more poets sent their best wishes, including Jack Prelutsky, Marilyn Nelson, Linda Ashman, Carol Diggory Shields, Jan Greenberg, Charles R. Smith, Jr., Kenn Nesbitt, Stephanie Hemphill, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. And we’re sure there are others who have worked with Lee whom we missed who would add their words of thanks and praise to this tribute. It’s been gratifying to see such a thriving community of children’s poets and humbling to observe the legacy of our much beloved Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Our Friday morning session was glorious, full of energy and poetry and admiration for Lee. I think all who were there felt that they had been part of something special. I heard lovely comments from people all weekend long and was so gratified that Lee—and poetry itself—had engendered such a “high” for conference-goers. Thank you all for sharing your words and your work. Thank you, Lee, for making it all possible!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit: SV, Stephen Alcorn


Jane Singleton Paul said...

Thank you for organizing this poetry party which was, for me, a real highlight of the convention. I wrote a brief blogpost on it and invite you to read it!

It was a pleasure meeting you briefly. I enjoy your blog immensely, and follow it regularly.

Thanks again for a great party, and making me become more aware of a poet whom everyone should shout about.

laurasalas said...

Woohoo! Oh, if only I hadn't had a family wedding. Sylvia, it sounds like you and Janet did an enormous amount of work and that everything turned out beautifully. Congratulations to you both, and of course to Lee!

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Brava, for this wonderful celebration! I'm so pleased everyone had a wonderful time!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I want to send my heartfelt thanks to both you and Janet for all the work you did to make Lee's celebration such a grand affair. I'm so glad I went to Philly to attend the Poetry Party and to see Lee get his award at the luncheon...and to have the opportunity to meet and chat with our "man of the hour."

I feel so honored that a poem I wrote was included in the tribute book.

P.S. It was great to finally meet you in person.

Thanks for everything!!!

janet wong said...

The room was indeed transformed from "conference session" to "PARTY"--and credit for this must go to Sylvia's shiny purple/silver garlands and deep purple napkins, custom-printed in silver with Lee's name (the crowning touch). Also a thousand thanks to the poets (Rebecca Dotlich, Elaine Magliaro, Kris George, Georgia Heard, Pat Lewis) who allowed me to use their hotel rooms as our storage rooms, hauled heavy bags of party supplies, and got there early to set everything up. Kris had planned to have us all sing, karaoke-style, the lyrics to her Hopkinized song--if only there had been more time! We could have read poems and told Lee-legends and partied hours more...

April Halprin Wayland said...

We sent you lots of happy Hopkins vibes to you from the California School Library Association Conference and thought of you at our workshop!

With thanks for pulling off the biggest poetic party of the decade,

Julie said...

Oh, it sounds like such fun - wish I could have been there, to celebrate Lee, and to meet those of you I know only through blogs. Still, I'm honored to have been included in the book of celebratory poems, and I join many others thanking those of you who helped organize both book and party - well done!

emma d dryden said...

I wish I had been able to be there in person to fete Lee with you! Bravo, Lee! And here's to the forever of poetry!

Linda said...

What a wonderful tribute to someone who has truly made a difference in the world. I wish I could've been there. said...

It was a grand party--thanks to everyone!

But you left out the best part, Sylvie. Lee was left speechless when the book was presented. I have known Lee a long time, and this was the first I have ever seen him speechless.


Marinela said...

I wish I had been able to be there :(
Well done!

Donna Marie Merritt said...

Nice job, Sylvia and Janet! (And congrats to Mr. Hopkins also!)

Donna Marie Merritt said...

p.s. Love the cover art!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you all for your lovely, generous comments. It's so wonderful to be part of this fantastic poetry community.

Leslie Bulion said...

So happy happy to know the party and BIG SURPRISE went so wonderfully well! Bravo!
~Leslie B.