I Love You, a Bushel and a Peck: Remembering Richard
As you may have heard, yesterday the great Newbery Award winning author Richard Peck died. Many of us were shocked and saddened by the news. When one hears of the death of a great writer, you begin to cast your mind back. What was the first Richard Peck book you ever read? When did you really begin to know his name? Did you meet him? When? After that?
All great artists live in danger of pulling an Orson Welles when they die. Which is to say, of their last material being less than worthy of their talents (unless, of course, you think the animated Transformers movie was really good, and then all power to you). The remarkable thing about Richard is that he ended his literary career on such a high note. The Best Man could well be remembered as Richard’s bravest and most personal work. The last thing I ever read from Mr. Peck was an article in Publishers Weekly from April 27th of this year entitled Hey, Hide That Book! In it, he discusses censorship from fifty years ago when he was a teacher, and compares it to the recent incident where the head of a school decided to hide The Best Man from a book fair after one parent objected to its content (two men getting married). I think quite a few of us were hoping that perhaps Mr. Peck would receive the next Wilder Award (under whatever name it will soon receive), and it’s still not out of the question. It just would have been nice not to have been posthumous.
I first saw Mr. Peck in November of 2006 at the Anne Carroll Moore Lecture at NYPL (back when they did such things). And I can pinpoint this because this was the year I started blogging for the first time. So in an ancient and creaky post called Toga! Toga! Toga! I wrote, “I spotted the tall bald man on the far left myself and was even able to say, “That’s Richard Peck!” to a co-worker with relative grace (i.e. not spilling my drink). I did not, of course, approach the great man. Didn’t really have a conversation “in” you see. What, after all, does one say to Richard Peck? “My, but you’re tall!”, was the first thing to pop into MY head. Thank God for shyness.”
Since then I have blogged about him many times. I dipped back into my files just now to see what I could find about him, and rediscovered quite a lot of interesting information. Here then, are some things you might not have known about Richard Peck:
– First off, test your friends and see how up-to-date they are on their Richard Peck knowledge. Here’s a question for you: Which Richard Peck novel was adapted into a movie starring Fairuza Balk (a.k.a. The Craft a.k.a. Dorothy from the film Return to Oz)? If you said the film Gas Food Lodging, based on his novel Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt, you were right!
– He was, at one time, a member of the New York Society Library.
– The actress Lena Dunham has a tattoo of his book Fair Weather on her body. When his publishing company heard this they immediately sent her a signed copy of the book, from Richard.
– He once was the winner of the Jeremiah Ludington Award, presented by The Educational Paperback Association (EPA). The Ludington Award is presented annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the paperback book business. You can see the full roster of winners here.
– When people were discussing whether or not The Graveyard Book was eligible to win a Newbery, it was partly a question of Neil Gaiman’s citizenship, but there was also an issue with the fact that a chapter in the book (“The Witch’s Headstone”) had previous appeared in Gaiman’s book M is for Magic. It was Jonathan Hunt, who knew of a precedent to this, said, “I can think of two previous Newbery Honors in a similar situation. The first story in A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO by Richard Peck was previously published in a YA short story anthology about guns.” Extra points to anyone who can name the anthology.
– And finally, in 2010 Penguin Young Readers Group published this YA novel:
And they sent it with this note:
I think he got a real kick out of that marketing campaign, considering he referenced it in his signings:
One of the last things Richard said to me was at Book Expo back in June of 2016 here in Chicago. I was with him in a green room, prepping for a moderation for SLJ’s Day of Dialog. I’d met Richard years ago but the man meets thousands of librarians a year. That he would remember me was, to say the least, surprising. Yet there he was, clasping my hand warmly, saying with evident glee, “You reviewed my pocket square!”
I wish I’d reviewed more, Richard. Godspeed.
Filed under: Obits
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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