I'd said in a previous post that I wanted to talk a little about Jack Gantos, this year's winner of the Newbery (given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children"). That's Jack on the left there with his winning book Dead End in Norvelt, starring a lad named...Jack Gantos.
If you've been following recent posts you know that I attended the American Library Association's Newbery banquet a few weeks ago and was in stitches over Jack's acceptance speech. He tied the day he learned of his history-making historical novel's win of the Newbery to events that occurred on that day in history. Events such as the birth of John Hancock in 1737, and the signing of the International Opium Convention in 1912.
Obviously a date rich in significant historical events.
He also shared facts from his own personal history, and this is where I grew in admiration of Jack Gantos the person--I'd already held him in pretty high regard as an author.
See, Jack Gantos was a felon.
Yes, that's him again on the left.
(He's not the only Newbery-winning felon, he was quick to point out. Such layers of intrigue with this prestigious award!)
He was young and stupid and got caught sailing hashish into New York. (His autobiography, Hole in My Life, recounts the whole ordeal if you're interested.) He spent a year and a half in prison and during that time he became a writer. (Again, the autobiography explains how he did this.) At the Newbery banquet he told of exiting the prison on his release date and mentioning to a guard that he was going to be a children's book writer.
Good luck with that.
There's a lot to be learned from the life and times of Jack Gantos, but what I find most compelling is what's at the heart of his story.
Good people can do bad things.
Smart people can do stupid things.
Life is rarely smooth, and can be cruel and unfair.
But what really matters in life is not what you've done wrong, or the stupid mistakes you've made or how unfairly you've been treated...what matters is what you do in reaction to those things.
I chose this concept as one of the core themes of The Running Dream because I believe it's at the heart of a happy life. And I think Jack Gantos is a living embodiment of this. From felon to librarian darling, from the gray-bar hotel to the gold-stickered book, Jack is living a life he's earned through good reactions to bad things...and we all love him for it.