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The Best Man

I was very sad to get the news that Richard Peck died late last night after a long illness which, goodness, did he battle! He spent his last year doing everything he loved the best, almost all of which involved great feats of travel. Horn Book articles by and about this inimitable writer (I think he had the most distinct voice in the business) are many, and Katie and Elissa will be pulling those together, but for now you can hear him clearly in his 2007 Sutherland lecture. We were friends since the early 1980s, and I was so happy when he (finally, he would add, in a murderous undertone) won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor for The Best Man, his last novel, published in 2016. That book is an excellent primer in the Peck style: dry and aphoristic but completely unembarrased to go for the tear ducts as well as the jugular (and, always, the funny bone). And to preach: Good Lord, could he preach, ostensibly a no-no in our field but done by Peck with such aplomb, certainty, and good humor that you settled in without fidgeting.

I last saw him at Christmas, when my Richard and I took him to visit his adored Sophie Blackall in Brooklyn. If anyone had more friends than Peck I’d be surprised; he found them everywhere and kept them forever. I’m glad to have had a last great evening with him.

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.

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  1. I’m so sad to lose Richard. This news is only a surprise because I have been afraid of hearing it for such a long time without hearing it. What a generous, elegant, eminently distinguished and distinctive man he was! There could not have been anyone whose company I more enjoyed, whose politics I less shared. We were both startled to figure out, at one point, that the man who gave Richard his first professional writing assignment was my uncle, who was editor of the New York Times’ Real Estate section. Would Richard have become a full-fledged author without my uncle’s boost? Yes, but I like to think not. His work was amazing and as hilarious as it was deeply serious, and so was he.

  2. IT is so such sad news. His YA anthologies published in the ’70’s were bold, daring, exciting.
    I knew Richard for over 40 years and loved being with him. His wry sense of humor was contagious.
    Another great gone.

  3. He came to give a talk in a children’s literature course at DePauw (his alma mater) when I was teaching there. He was everything a speaker should be – fiercely opinionated in a provocative way, and at the same time so kind to the students who had questions for him. He knew I was going to be there (although we had never met) and went to the trouble ahead of time to go to my website and learn about me, and include a little anecdote about me in his presentation. For a writer of his stature- this towering figure in our field – to go to this trouble touched me greatly. What a loss for our profession.

  4. Kathleen Odean says:

    Thanks for this lovely tribute. His voice was unmistakable. In some books, it was perfect. I will miss him.

    “It was the last day of our old lives, and we didn’t even know it.”

  5. I have been rereading my notes from Richard over the years so I can hear his voice again. In Fall 2016 I teased him about the “media parade” in his apartment after Roger’s terrific interview with him about The Best Man and the Times article about his apartment. His response was, “Media parade, you might well say. When the NY Times woman burst in, with photographer, she opened with, ‘I’m sorry to say I haven’t read your book,’ and I replied, ‘That’s all right; I don’t read the Times,’ and we took it from there.” How we will miss him, and how lucky we are to have known him.

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