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Goodbye Stranger: Author Rebecca Stead’s 2016 BGHB Fiction Honor Speech

stead_goodbye strangerMy childhood took place in the 1970s, and because my parents were lefties who moved to New York to lead liberated lives, they wanted me to have a certain number of touchy-feely activities. One of these was a class where we hit defenseless floor pillows with Bataka encounter bats in order to vent our naturally occurring aggression. Another activity was a modern dance class where we were supposed to express our feelings with movement. Eventually there was a recital, and we took the stage (or it may have been one corner of a synagogue basement) covered completely by bedsheets that we had draped over our heads. The music began, and under our sheets we started to move.

As we danced, we were to shed our sheets when the moment felt right. My mother sat on the floor and watched as each kid joyfully threw off her sheet and danced freely. I’m sure you can tell where this is going. I made my exit with that thing wrapped securely around me. I’d probably be wearing a bedsheet right now if I thought I could get away with it. Maybe some of you would be, too.

In some ways, the sheet has never come off. Writing is nice because you can do it under the sheet and then sort of shove your work out toward the world with your big toe.

But publishing is different from writing. You can’t do it alone. I’m grateful to my editor and my agent and the many people at Random House who do so much to share my work with other people. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that I owe just as much to the writers in this room. Without gorgeous, intelligent, hair-raising, and utterly transporting books like yours, I wouldn’t write at all. There is no question in my mind about that.

It’s a privilege to be standing here. It’s an even bigger privilege to be a daily part of the community of people who care about literature for children. Deep-thinking, hungry, critical, and open-hearted readers are protectors of something essential. By “something essential” I don’t mean my books, or even the beautiful books of my fellow honorees — I mean the books that are coming next, books that will be written by people we have never met, people whose lives we know nothing about. People who are reading.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB16.

Rebecca Stead About Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead is the winner of a 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Honor Award for Goodbye Stranger (Lamb/Random House).

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