If you hadn’t already heard — I’ve been screaming from the mountaintops — my book, It’ Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, was named an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Book! The awards were presented on April 11, at the University of Southern Mississippi during the Kay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival.
I arrived in Hattiesburg a day early, where I attended a lecture given by acclaimed and legendary illustrator Wendell Minor. By ‘legendary’ think: Lee Harper, Mary Higgins Clark, David McCullough. These are just a few of the authors whose books are covered with Wendell’s art. Wendell’s session was inspiring, emotional, funny and engaging. It set the stage for what promised to be a magical few days ahead.
On Thursday morning, Jon Scieszka was presented with The University of Southern Mississippi De Grummond 2013 Award Medal. A book signing by all featured authors and illustrators followed his lecture.
The Ezra Jack Keats Awards luncheon was my highlight of the day. Ellen Ruffin, curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, served as a delightful master of ceremony. It was a grand event and we were treated like royalty. But the ceremony was upstaged by no other than a tornado! Yes! During honor book winner, Jennifer Lanthier’s acceptance speech (I was up next), tornado warnings beeped from every smart phone in the ball room. We were then herded into a stairwell—all 300 of us! — authors, illustrators, librarians, university staff. It was quite memorable and even entertaining. The weather cleared in about 30 minutes and the festivities continued. Following a few tornado jokes — “Your speech almost bought the house down.” — Jennifer resumed her speech.
When I was called on stage, I gave a very brief acceptance speech, thanking the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, the University of Southern Mississippi, my wife and my God. And then I was presented with a cool commemorative plaque featuring the one and only Ezra Jack Keats.
Later that evening, we were treated to a private dinner and reception. I’m talking hors d’oeuvres to die for with a string quartet (or some other type of fancy music — these folks were classy!). Honorees who sat at the head table were Julie Fogliano, author winner (And Then It’s Spring); Hyewon Yum, illustration winner (Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten); Jennifer Lanthier, author honor winner (The Stamp Collector); Don Tate (It Jes’ Happened), author honor winner. Honorees not present were Mara Rockliff, K.G. Campbell, Sanjay Patel.
Other highlights: Getting to meet the wonderful K.T. Horning in person (I was too nervous to ask for a picture). Receiving a handshake from Eric Rohmann following the awards presentations. Always a warm reception from Candice Fleming. I had the best escorts looking out for me: Kay, Harvey, Loleeta.
The Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and Illustrator Awards were established to recognize and encourage authors and illustrators starting out in the field of children’s books. As the illustrator of numerous picture books for children, I am certainly not a newbie to the field. But It Jes’ Happened was my first authored book. What a way to walk in confidence as a new writer!
Click the below video of my introduction: