LCVA hosts honored authors

Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Guests gathered last week to hear three nationally acclaimed book winners share their insights. The Longwood Center for the Visual Arts (LCVA) hosted the panel Thursday as part of the three-day Virginia Children’s Book Festival (VCBF).

Neal Shusterman, Matt De La Peña and Rita Williams-Garcia spoke about their experiences as 2016 winners of the National Book Award, John Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award, respectively. The crowd filled the LCVA downstairs, as the three discussed topics moderated by Longwood University Director of Communications and Media Relations Matt McWilliams.

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The event was meant to be a conversation, rather than a Q&A, McWilliams said.

The panel discussed everything from their reaction to winning the award, to how they feel about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.

Peña confessed he did not believe his book, “The Last Stop on Market Street,” really was a Newbery finalist when he first received the call. He had to keep it a secret for day, so he simply sent smiley faces to his editors.

Similarly, when Williams-Garcia’s book, “Gone Crazy in Summer,” was chosen, she hadn’t checked her phone all day and believed she had not been chosen.

“Finally, I found out and I, of course, screamed,” she said.

The three discussed the feeling of not having to worry about money after winning the award.

Williams-Garcia said she was excited because she was able to buy her first brand new refrigerator.

“You know that your books are meaningful because you meet readers. You start thinking about possibilities after the medals are on books,” she said.

Shusterman said you don’t think about the money at first, until the royalty checks come.

“I’m making a living making stuff up. How cool is that?” he said.

Shusterman’s book, “Challenger Deep,” was the 2016 National Book Award winner.

Winning the award brings with it the feeling of being forgiven, said Peña.

“You feel a sense of validation. It’s a really good feeling,” Shusterman agreed.

Peña added, “When somebody awards you something, they are forgiving you for your shortcomings,” because writers see all the flaws in their books.

Family is a theme running through all three stories written by the panelists. The writers talked about what role family has played in both their lives and their stories.

Shusterman’s book, about a young man overcoming schizophrenia, deals with family in a very real way because it’s based on his son’s journey. Schusterman said his son was a part of the book’s conception from the beginning and “he was giving me feedback and he was excited about it.”

Williams-Garcia discussed the importance of children’s books because they allow children to ask questions about their own family they may not otherwise ask.

In response to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, Peña said, “The country’s changing and people want to keep it the same. You’re fighting a losing battle.”

The audience asked questions about prewriting, daily tasks and penmanship.

These authors all write freehand before starting at the computer, it turns out. Penmanship is not something they worry about.

Later in the discussion, the authors discussed diversity in literature. They unanimously agreed that children’s literature is lacking diversity, both in the genre’s writers and its characters.

“It’s good to see yourself in a book, but it’s next level to see yourself in a book that’s a bestseller,” said Peña.

Williams-Garcia said, “Kids are ready, adults are not,” when it comes to making children’s literature more diverse.