The annual Frances Clarke Sayers lecture, sponsored by UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, manages always to not just meet but exceed expectations. With past speakers including Lois Lowry, Virginia Hamilton, Linda Sue Park, and Brian Selznick (to name just a few of the 18 Sayers luminaries), that's not surprising - and so yesterday's afternoon with Jules Feiffer was the latest in a long line of satisfying Sayers events that stretches back to 1994.
I've made a Spring Resolution to lighten my written word count - my email messages, blog posts, and Powerpoint slides tend to look like I've spread the words on with a trowel, so thick and dense are my paragraphs. Even my bullet points can look like tracts. Here, then, are the personal highlights of the 2010 Sayers lecture, presented in concise (or at least not interminable) bullet points:
- Two winners of the California Center for the Book's Letters About Literature contest read the letters they wrote to authors. 5th-grader Lara Bagdasarian's letter to Francisco Jimenez explained that The Circuit made her understand a bit better the demands her immigrant dad makes on her. 12-grader Michael Egan bared his fantasy-addled soul to Neil Gaiman, telling him that his poem "The Instructions" (recently made into a picture book of the same name and illustrated by Charles Vess) is a "genetic match to (his) childhood daydreams" of magical adventures. I wonder if young Michael has read Lev Grossman's The Magicians?
- Susan Erickson gave a fond and funny tribute to Sid Fleischman, a past speaker at and frequent attendee of the Sayers lecture. He has another biography coming out posthumously this June! It's called Sir Charlie, about Charlie Chaplin - should be a winner, judging by his other biographies.
- Despite technical difficulties - or maybe because of them - Jules Feiffer's presentation was fresh, engaging, and inspiring. He's a witty, warm speaker who manages to make a good connection with his audience.
- He has always loved libraries for the "freedom of thought" they offer, which children can't always find at home
- Feiffer took some illustrations of children's Bronx street chants to Ursula Nordstrom, who didn't publish them but did introduce him to Maurice Sendak. Feiffer also got to know Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson - but didn't publish a "real" picture book for kids until Meanwhile in 1997.
- He did of course illustrate The Phantom Tollbooth - but, not knowing exactly what the heck he was doing, drew the illustrations on tracing paper! Needless to say, few original drawings remain.
- When an audience member asked him if he knew early on that he had artistic talent, he told of a relative who often warned him not to place all his eggs in one basket. Well, Feiffer said, "I only have one basket - and I only have one egg!" I respectfully beg to differ.
- A young girl in the audience showed Feiffer a drawing she made of a scene in The Phantom Tollbooth and asked if it was any good ("I like drawing but my friend is always better at it"). Feiffer said it was too bad she wasn't around back in 1961 - she could have illustrated the book herself. He asked if he could keep it - she said yes.
- Feiffer draws (or paints) all his final drawings freehand, after doing many practice sketches in pencil or pen, trying to capture that "freedom of line" he enjoyed at age twelve.
- Feiffer emphasized that his life has been full of doing stuff he hasn't done before and that he's not entirely sure he knows how to do - and it is obvious that as a result, he still finds his life engaging and joyful. This is someone who loves what he does, and knows how to share that feeling with others. The message I took away is that leaving your comfort zone on a fairly regular basis is essential to leading a fulfilling life.
- There was some high-quality noshing afterward at the champagne reception, with artful little confections and dainty tea sandwiches, AND plenty of tables and chairs at which to eat them.