My Other Richard

Roger, Richard

When Richard Peck's memorial service--at Lincoln Center, no less--opened last Friday morning with the Pearl Fishers duet, I thought I was going to be a goner, but I managed to hold on, in no small way helped by the care with which Richard himself had planned the program--not from Beyond but via the explicit instructions he left behind for his friends to follow. Carl Pritzkat and Tony Travostino, thank you for executing his wishes so graciously. Cindy Kane and Lauri Hornik, thank you for your (sometimes blessedly hilarious) anecdotes of editing Richard; and Cheryl Peck, thank you for the memories of your big brother. Sonya Sones put together a wonderful slideshow of RP through the years--my, his life was long and rich. (True to form, RP gave her a choice of just three pieces of music with which to score the show; she picked Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat Major.)

Here is what I had to say about my old friend:
I was introduced to Richard in 1985 by Patty Campbell and George Nicholson at an ALA cocktail party for Richard’s forthcoming YA novel Remembering the Good Times. We recognized kindred spirits on the spot and began a personal and professional friendship that went on for more than thirty years. I last saw him last Christmas, when my husband Richard—each of them was to me “Other Richard,” depending—and I took him via Uber to an impromptu party at Sophie Blackall’s studio in Gowanus. He adored you, Sophie. If not Gowanus.

When I was traveling down here yesterday from Boston on the Limoliner, I got to talking with the attendant, Zoe, abut books. “ I LIVE to read” she said and we talked about the various merits of Gillian Flynn, her favorite writer. “What matters to me most in a book is voice,” said Zoe, and I'm sure many of my colleagues here today would agree that without voice you have nothing. I'm sure our Richard would have agreed. But he would have been talking about the voice of his narrators and characters, and today I want to talk about the voice of Richard Peck himself, so clear and distinct, and uniquely his own whether channeled by a young girl who can see ghosts in a small town at the turn of the last century, a teen boy facing the tragic end of a friendship in contemporary exurbia, or another boy best-manning his beloved uncle at one of the first same-sex marriages in Illinois.

We always knew it was you, Richard, your strong Midwest American voice, with its echoes of Mark Twain and Edith Wharton (I said that to him once, and he mock-protested “not Henry James?” I don't think he was kidding, though), carrying readers through tales simultaneously comic and heart-rending of ghosts, young love, teen cruelty and, almost always, the search for strong adult role models. (Or even mice, during that strange year we saw three Newbery Medalists known for their realism publishing novels about talking rodents.)

It was a voice that could be as acerbic as Mary McCarthy or as tender as Carson McCullers. I will be hearing it in my head for the rest of my life.

After the service I rode back to Boston with Elizabeth Law, Sophie Blackall, and Sophie's beau Ed Schmidt. The memories and stories continued, and Sophie gave me a handkerchief of Richard's she had filched from his apartment. Nobody wore a pocket square so well.


Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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Stephanie Spinner

Lovely, Roger, thanks.

Posted : Jul 04, 2018 04:52



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