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Egg & Spoon: Author Gregory Maguire’s 2015 BGHB Fiction Honor Speech

maguire_eggandspoonFor my presence here this evening, I’m so grateful to the committee, and to the institutions of the Boston Globe, the Horn Book Magazine, and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, as host. I’m grateful to Liz Bicknell, my editor at Candlewick, and all the publicity and design people, especially Matt Roeser, who invented the glorious egg on the great dark night of the cover. Colleagues over the years, friends of a lifetime, and family — thank you all for sharing half your egg with me. I have tried to give a little of it to others.

I’m especially happy to have my husband Andy Newman and our three kids here. The Khmer word for father is Ba, and that is what our kids call me. Only today have I realized that not only is the main element of insanity in Egg & Spoon, Baba Yaga, the character I identify with most, as a powerfully deranged loose cannon, but her first name is my name twice — Baba. When the kids want me to unlock the cookie cupboard, they wheedle by calling me “Baba.” So it is true: Baba Yaga, c’est moi.

The job of helping to raise my children brought me the central lesson of the book. Baba Yaga, that nutcake, that fruit-bowl, that madcap escapee from Bedlam Gardens, who might be played by the ghost of Phyllis Diller — on crystal meth — it is she who delivers the main lesson. And I came up with the book’s central point while trying to teach our kids how to live together in the same house without killing one another.

In the chapter called “Sharing,” Baba Yaga the witch tells the wealthy young Ekaterina, in late tsarist Russia just a few years before the Revolution, that there are four ways of sharing. We can share in portions, says Baba Yaga, though Solomon’s offer to slice the baby in half shows how that can be a mistake. (Depends on the baby.) We can share in time, she says, but the first person to get the prize might squander it or ruin it for the next. We can all own it together, all at once, she says, alluding both to the hopes of Marxism and the notion of a Commonwealth. Or we can do without, and share the want, the hunger, the disaster.

It was my kids who, in playing like normal kids, made me think through what sharing meant. This was before the notion of a “sharing economy” made Uber and Airbnb household words, of course. I had to try to explain to my kids that even sharing has to have rules, and has consequences. Don’t open a chocolate bar at the table and take a bite unless you’re willing to offer it around. Don’t step on the plastic water gun when your turn is over to ruin it for your sister, even if she intends to use it against you. If you can’t share the favorite stuffed monkey, that monkey is liable to make a quick trip out the car window onto the median strip.

We inherit a world of great beauty and fullness, and great need and sorrow. If we can teach ourselves to share, we have some hope of having something to leave our children. Andy’s and my three children are named Luke, Alex, and Helen. The three poor kids in this story are named Luka, Alexei, and Elena. I suppose, then, that if I am Baba Yaga, Andy must be the Tsar of All the Russias. Because these beloved people have shared their lives with me, I have found something to share with you. And for your noticing, Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, I give you my profound thanks — one giant kiss. You must share it out amongst yourselves. For the last lesson is that there are some things that aren’t diminished in being shared, but increased.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB15.

Gregory Maguire About Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the author, most recently, of Egg & Spoon (Candlewick), a 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Honor Book, and a forthcoming novel for adults, After Alice. For twenty-five years he co-directed Children’s Literature New England, which he also helped found.

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