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See You in Chicago by CSK Author Award co-winner Andrew Aydin

Editor’s note: The 2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speeches for March: Book Three by coauthors John Lewis and Andrew Aydin that we would normally publish in this issue were not available at press time. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin are scheduled to deliver their acceptances at the CSK Breakfast in Chicago on June 25, 2017. In place of those speeches, we are pleased to print this personal reflection by Mr. Aydin.

If you ask anyone who knows John Lewis to tell you their favorite story about him, it will almost undoubtedly be the story of young John Lewis preaching to the chickens. It is an iconic story, and it is probably his favorite one to tell, too. On the surface, the story is

humble and sometimes funny, projecting into listeners’ minds the indelible image of a very serious barefoot five-year-old caring for his flock of bantams, Rhode Island Reds, and Dominiques (including his favorite chicken, Li’l Pullet) by preaching the gospel to them. It shows his fundamental belief that by understanding our highest ideals, even the lowest among us can be saved — even those destined for the dinner table.

But the chicken story also projects a genuine sense of how John Lewis works. It is not about how he preached to his chickens that one time. It’s about how he cared for his flock and preached to them over and over. It’s about how he learned to preach through doing; through the persistent delivery of messages of love, to those he loved. Today, when young people ask how they can get involved, John Lewis will usually tell them, “Just go for it.” He is saying to these young people, in effect, that no one can tell you how to do what you need to do — it’s your job to figure that out — but you have to be persistent and consistent in doing it. Work hard, follow your heart, and preach love. The rest will sort itself out.

John Lewis is still preaching to his chickens, though we are the chickens now, and there are a lot more of us. And even today, more often than not, when he gets up to preach, he will shun notes or prepared remarks, preferring to speak from the heart, directly to the people who have come to hear him. For Nate Powell and me (as illustrator and coauthor, respectively, of the March trilogy), learning how to follow John Lewis on stage was not something we expected to need to do when we set out to make a comic book. But, then again, making March and bringing it into the world has meant doing a great many things we never expected we would need to do.

The first time Congressman Lewis called on me to speak was at BookExpo America in 2013. March, in its current state, did not exist. Back then it was a thirteen-page mini-comic we were giving away for free. Congressman Lewis was being interviewed on stage at one of the “buzz” panels that our publicist, and later editor, Leigh Walton had worked so hard to wrangle. The interview came to the inevitable question, “Why did you choose to make a comic book?” Congressman Lewis graciously embraced my favorite medium with fond remembrances of reading the comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (published in 1957 by the Fellowship for Reconciliation) as a young man in Nashville before pointing out into the crowd and saying, “…and that young man there, Andrew, he convinced me.” I blushed relentlessly.

But then he said to me, “Why don’t you tell us the story?” Up to that point, the most public speaking or on-the-record talking I had been asked to do about March consisted of a smattering of phone interviews with comic-book news sites and one nerve-wracking interview with Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. My lifelong friend Vaughn Shinall was sitting next to me. He had come to BEA to be supportive. Vaughn, who was then working as a literary agent, had known me throughout my formative comic-reading youth and had been instrumental in helping us publish March.

So I looked over at Vaughn, who motioned upward with his hands, the friendly push I needed to stand and begin speaking. I remember that part quite clearly, but, honestly, the next parts are still a little hazy. Four years later, I have almost no recollection of what I actually said. Something about the role Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story played in teaching nonviolent civil disobedience to the sit-in generation and how it inspired me to have the audacity to ask the icon John Lewis to write a comic book — a story I’ve told many times, and probably much more proficiently, since. But by calling on me that day, John Lewis was giving me the opportunity to go for it. And I did.

Now we put on a bit of a show when we speak. Sometimes we’re serious; sometimes we try to make people laugh. A lot of the time Nate joins us and we really make a merry band — or a band of brothers, as the Congressman refers to us. I suppose if we had a band name it would be #goodtrouble. Once, the Congressman told us that these speeches and events — the long, perpetual book tour that March brought about — reminds him of his days on the road for the Voter Education Project, teaming up with Julian Bond and crisscrossing the South trying to get people registered to vote. That really shook me. It put a fine point on the place in history our work occupies. We’re not just talking about a comic book; we’re trying to inspire another generation. March is our vehicle, but we must be the messengers. We must preach to our flock, we must be persistent and consistent, and we must preach the gospel — the gospel of love.

As we look forward to accepting the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the other unbelievable honors we have been afforded, we have had several conversations about what to say in our remarks. Each time, though, the Congressman will say, “We’ll just have to see how the spirit moves us.” So that’s what we intend to do. See you in Chicago.

The March team: Nate Powell, John Lewis, and Andrew Aydin at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015. Photo: Leigh Walton

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ALA 2017.

Andrew Aydin About Andrew Aydin

Andrew Aydin is creator and coauthor of the March trilogy and digital director and policy advisor to Congressman John Lewis. He and John Lewis are the winners of the 2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award for March: Book Three, illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions).

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