Those are Philip Pullman’s shoes resting comfortably on the floor of my apartment this past Wednesday. Nice touch, those laces, don’t you think?
As I wrote in my previous post, child_lit has been a very important part of my life. Other subscribers also value it a great deal, among them Philip who joined, quite spectacularly, in 1998. He had recently written an essay for the Guardian, “The Dark Side of Narnia”, in which he had expressed forcefully his opinion of C. S. Lewis’s children’s classic. The debate was heady and heated on the list when we received the following message, “How do I subscribe to this group? And what happens when I do?” from the man of the hour — Philip Pullman himself. Since some of the posters had been pretty hostile to Philip’s ideas and most of us didn’t know him at all, this was quite something. “Wow,” I thought. “Now sparks will really fly!” Well, actually they didn’t because Philip then and now is gracious, considerate, and thoughtful. He’s been an active member of child_lit ever since.
And so this past Wednesday, there he was in my apartment along with his delightful wife Jude (a long-time child_lit lurker), Michael Joseph, Uli Knoepflmacher, fairrosa, and a handful of the more vociferous local child_lit subscribers. We toasted him, ate excellent New York pizza (V & T’s next time you are in the vicinity of Columbia University), enjoyed the most adorable cookies, and had a Halloween we will never forget.
Here are several golden monkeys, Lyra, a couple of Ioreks, Hester, Pan, and a few other daemons.
Michael and Philip
On Halloween night I had a very special experience (detailed in this post) and realized that it would not have happened if I had not met, many years ago, U. C. Knoepflmacher and Michael Joseph.
In 1990 I saw a flyer in my school’s faculty room for that year’s NEH Summer Seminars for School Teachers, something I’d never heard of before. Taking a closer look I saw that one was on Classical American and British Children’s Literature at Princeton University. At that time I was not a writer. More seriously, I was terrified about my writing; years earlier my 12th grade English teacher had told me that I needed to work on my writing without saying why and did absolutely nothing to help me. That seemingly small comment did the opposite from what he probably intended. My writing got even worse; when I attempted any sort of revision I couldn’t even look at the page much less figure out how to make any of it better. My solution was to hand in first drafts (this was pre-computers and I can’t spell so…I leave my papers to your imagination). Throughout undergrad and graduate school I avoided English departments entirely convinced that if I took an English course they’d find me out and throw me out. (Although I read voraciously on my own — many of the classics — so I’m fairly well-read given the circumstances.) And so when I became a teacher I was determined not let this happen to my own students, becoming a pretty decent writing teacher for someone still terrified about writing herself.
Back to 1990. I wanted desperately to be accepted into that NEH Summer Seminar. And so I worked and worked to write the required essay. Finally I was able to look at drafts! Writer friends helped me. And I succeeded. Hurray! The seminar director, Uli Knoepflmacher, chose me and fourteen others out of over 100 applicants. (He also loved some illustrations I sent with my application.) I went to Princeton and had a glorious time. What I did there — the scholarly study of children’s literature — changed my teaching forever. And Uli also gave me back confidence as a writer. If he liked my essay enough to give me the fellowship out of so many — maybe, I thought — that high school English teacher was wrong. Thus did Uli Knoepflmacher change my life.
Fast forward a few years to 1994. In the Horn Book, I came across a mention of the child_lit list serve, then in its infancy. I joined and fell into a glorious world of scholars, writers, editors, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, collectors and more all debating and arguing and and thinking hard about children’s literature. Through child_lit I’ve made dear friends, met scads of wonderful people, received all sorts of opportunities, and continue to be intellectually stimulated to this day. The creator and still-owner of the list is Michael Joseph. I appreciate every day the labor of love he is doing to keep that list going.