Josephine: Author Patricia Hruby Powell's 2014 BGHB NF Honor Speech

JosephineThank you to the Boston Globe-Horn Book committee for loving Josephine and putting me in this fine company.

Thanks to my critique group who saw this as a picture book, middle grade, and young adult manuscript.

Thanks to the group of unfocused preteen girls who frequented the Urbana Free Library, where I work as a substitute librarian. In the summer of 2005 they inspired me to find them a role model. I knew Josephine. I was a dancer, a serious dancer. I saw Josephine as a showgirl, until I saw the early footage of her dancing. She’s charismatic, charming, a personality. And I fell in love.

Thanks to Josephine Baker, who did everything she set her mind to — she was a dancer, singer, star, civil rights worker, pilot, spy, hero, adoptive mother — for writing five autobiographies, giving me ample material.

Thanks to Anna Olswanger, my agent, who asked me to put more white space on the page. When Melissa at Chronicle asked me to cut the 7500 word manuscript in half so she could bring it to acquisitions, and I started taking out basically every other word, Anna said, No, no — Melissa loves your writing. Keep the writing as is. Cut out scenes, chapters. You’re making this a picture book.

Thanks to Melissa Manlove, my brilliant editor at Chronicle, who said she’d never received a manuscript so ready, in need of so little editing. Then we proceeded to edit it for months.

Thanks to Christian, brilliant Christian Robinson, who is tearing up the children’s literature scene. He has two starred reviews in each journal each month — actually it was The Horn Book Magazine that I saw. You are a miracle. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And Jennifer Tolo Pierce at Chronicle who designed Josephine. Every stunning page of it — even the weight and feel of the paper. And Lara Starr, our publicist, who sent Josephine to you and to everyone. And to my publisher Ginee Seo who suggested the next book, Loving vs. Virginia.

But back to Melissa, who accepted this way too long picture book, and convinced everyone at Chronicle that this was a good thing — who let me help lay out the words on the page. Jen got the last word, but Chronicle is so inspired that they give the author a say in choosing the illustrator. Thank you, Chronicle, for standing behind Josephine.

Thank you, Roger, for your tireless service to children’s literature. Roger was my teacher for young adult literature in library school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When I came through a summer rainfall and into the air-conditioned dungeon of a classroom, I was shivering. Roger gallantly, chivalrously offered me his suit jacket. I’ll always be grateful.

Hoorah for Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, and the kids to whom I’ve read it and shown it. To see children of color light up, be mesmerized, be transfixed to see themselves in the illustrations, in the story, is so uplifting. We need diverse books. I want the world to know this remarkable woman, Josephine Baker, this role model who shows us we can rise from humble beginnings.

And to my husband Morgan Powell, who plays the jazz trombone, maybe even better than Josephine did, and who cheers me through the high times and lifts me through the low times.

A book is made by many.

For more on the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB14.

Patricia Hruby Powell

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