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Haunted home

Homecoming1948With the theme “Homecoming,” Simmons College’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature held its biennial Institute this weekend; the Horn Book staff provides an excellent summary. (And Shoshana Flax has written a poem in its honor, too.)

The funniest moment was when Jack Benny Gantos quipped about Go Set a Watchman, whose publication, he said was like the meeting of Heaven, “Harper Lee,” whom his left hand personified as a shining point in the sky, and Hell, “HarperCollins,” Jack’s voice dropping to a growling bass as his right hand pursued and snapped up his left like a shark.

The most resonant speech for me was Rita Williams-Garcia‘s adeptly enacted dialogue between her thirty-three and fifty-eight-year-old selves. That is the span between Rita’s first book and her most recent; as it happens, that is the span of my editorial career as well. The quarter-century interval has made us both somewhat easier to be around, and I pray for the same for you youngsters.

The segment I was most looking forward to turned out to be another dialogue, this one fashioned as a three (or four?) act two-hander starring Barbara Harrison (the Center’s founder) and Gregory Maguire (its first graduate and subsequent co-director with Barbara). Homecoming, indeed! But if you thought this was just a nice sentimental gesture to the old guard then you have been in a coma for all those years Rita and I were busy getting nicer.

Barbara and Gregory left Simmons abruptly in 1985 when the College decided to change the Center’s freestanding status, placing it under the aegis of the education department. Blood was spilled. Lines were drawn. Lots of people became not on speaking terms. When I came to Boston in 1996, the wounds in people on both sides of the battle were still open. While the retired Horn Book editors Paul and Ethel Heins had placed themselves firmly in the “anti-Simmons” group, my immediate predecessor Anita Silvey had masterfully stayed out of it, which made my initial transition easier; thank you Lady-in-the-Hat.

All of which is why it was so great to see Barbara and Susan Bloom (who succeeded her at Simmons) embrace, and to hear Barbara and Gregory place that fraught era in the context of Barbara’s initial inspired vision for the Center, its success beyond her and Gregory’s departure, and their own subsequent triumph in the founding of Children’s Literature New England (which, they cheekily reminded us–and who could blame them?–had sponsored its own “Homecoming” institute back in 1990).

I wonder what the Simmons students of today, most of whom had not yet been born in 1985, made of it all. Or maybe, for them, there was no “it all” to notice. But perhaps some ghosts had been put to rest, and this fifty-eight was happy to reassure thirty-three that things had worked out fine.


The Horn Book and the Simmons Center are just down the hall from each other but we will next formally get together for the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium on October 3rd, following the presentation of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards the evening before. We are still planning the day’s events but I hope you will join us!



Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Carol Sibley says:

    I am glad to hear that Barbara and Greg came home to Simmons. As a student I was caught up in this “mess” as I was in the middle of the children’s literature degree program. Frankly, I was left homeless. (Check the date. I think it was 1986 or 1987. I attended an institute in summer 1986 and that was before the break up).

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