Friday, March 04, 2011

More Q&A with LBH: Awards

My last Question-and-Answer session with Children’s Poetry Maestro Lee Bennett Hopkins drew such a good response, I decided more was needed and Lee was kind enough to say yes. This man knows everything there is to know about the field of poetry for young people and I always enjoy getting his behind-the-scenes perspective. This time, I sent him a set of questions about poetry awards and his responses are below. 

If you have questions you’d like Lee to answer, please offer them in the COMMENTS area and I’ll gather them and get his input later this spring. Thanks, readers, and thanks, Lee!

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.
Have more questions for Lee? Post them in the COMMENTS area below.

Image credit: Photo by Charles Egita; HarperCollins; NCTE; financewithafp

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.


Charles Waters said...

My question for Lee deals with anthologies specifically putting them together. How many books and poems does he have to go through to weave theme together. Also after getting the permissions of poets and/or their estates how long does it take to finish it? Thank you so much for your blog Sylvia!

laurasalas said...

No questions, just a heartfelt thank you to Lee for all he does for children's poetry.

And, Sylvia, a lovely thank you to you, too, for the work you do as an educator to try to expand poetry's role at school!

Diana Murray said...

Thanks for this wonderful interview and a big thank you to Lee for his efforts in getting children's poetry the recognition it deserves.

Also, nice to know I'm not the only one who likes to wear jeans everywhere.

My question is, what are some of the most important criteria for an LBH award-winning book? Voice? Originality?