Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rewarding a Life of Good Reactions

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!)

His crime?

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.

The response?

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.


Gabrielle said...

Wow,that's an amazing story! Who would of thought he'd be an author! But like you said its about how you deal with those things that happen in your live. I've kinda been wanting to read the running dream. But I went to Barnes and Noble and they didn't have it,or any of the Sammy Keyes books. I mean they did have them online. But,I wanted to buy it not wait for it to ship and all that! So I bought it as an ebook. (And by the way I'm talking about JJ.)

Mark said...

+ One Million on this post!

And for those that might have missed it, here's a little write-up from SLJ that gives just a few highlights from Jack's hilarious speech:

Yusa said...

THat is truly inspiring. People change so you can never judge them by what they have done. they are new everyday.

Kylie said...

Wow. I mean just wow. It is amazing that a man could turn his life from crime to becoming a famous author. I really want to read his books now. He sounds like he is an amazing person. It really shows you that you could turn your life into anything you want to.


Anonymous said...

"Yes there are 2 paths you can go by. But in the long run there's still time to change the one you're on"-Led Zeppelin
I waited a day or 2 to comment so I dont say anything I regret.
So I listen to Led Zeppelin every night before bed, its like my version of milk or sleeping pills or whatever people use before bed. And Stairway to Heaven is always one of Led's songs I listen to because of that quote.
I loved this post because it reminds me of those lyrics that I rarely use out loud because to me they are my own personal therapy. I had this one point in my life approx. 3 years ago when I did stupid things and hated myself and hated my life and the world, etc. Basically I was majorly depressed, which by the way, majorly sucks to suck, its not really something I can describe. Anyway I was pretty much ready to just give up, I guess, but I came across this song and those lyrics and it hit me like a truck full of bricks, like BAM, whoa, what's my problem!? That's when I put my "Positive" policy on myself and stopped being morbid and depressed and well, a giver-upper. And yeah, it took me months and months, sort of over a year to get over it but I did.
Your post just reminded me of how easy it is to believe it's all over when it's really not, and how easy it is for someone to make mistakes and judge themselves on it but you, Jack, and Led Zep are all here reminding people every day that Point Z is a lot farther away from Point A than it may seem. I used to think if I make a mistake (which I've made many HORRIBLE decisions) it was all over and done. I breathe to Led Zeppelin's words every night just to remind me that I always, ALWAYS have a choice on where I want to go. Point Z? I'm barely even past Point B yet...So thanks for this post, it made my week, and should totally have gotten more comments. I love Sammy Keyes with all my heart but these reminders are 10x more important to me than some Sammy Keyes news because they literally breathe life into me every morning and night before I go to bed. I was ready to end a life I never even dreamed I d ever achieve, and I'm only thankful every morning that I realized how much I control my own life before it was too late. Still trying to get to that blissful Point Z, but for now I'm taking a breath and letting the rest come easy.
Thanks for this gorgeous post!! :)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Steph: I love that you pulled that single line out of that song. And I love that after all the years Stairway to Heaven has been around and how overplayed it was and seemingly cliched it became that its root power is still there to be appreciated by those who can get past detractors. I also love that positive thought turned your outlook around. I really think that reprogramming your thoughts results in rerouting your actions and outcomes. It's not easy to do--what's easy is to fall back into old thought patterns--but time and persistence rule! (To paraphrase from Justice Jack, the boat you've been adrift on has a steering wheel--use it!) Thanks to you (and the others) for appreciating the post.

Jessica said...

I think this theme permeates all your works, Wendelin (and most good writing -- except for depressing works like Hardy's and Joyce's). I read for those moments of redemption (that's a large part of why the final battle scene of Deathly Hallows was so hollow for me in the movie vs. the book).

Last night I was listening to the radio and they were discussing runaways. The last caller was a real life Holly, except she never succeeded in running away. She was sent to foster care at the age of 13 after years of abuse, and she ended up in 30 different homes (that's a new one every 2 months). She ran away from each one out of fear (some were abusive, some weren't), and so they sent her to worse and worse homes (not many are willing to take teenagers, so her last few were group homes).

She was labeled a problem child for skipping school, even though she skipped inside the school bathroom to hide from adults and bullies. She said that maybe she would have stayed if someone, anyone (social worker, foster parent, teacher) had just listened to her and believed her, seen her for who she was instead of just dismissing her. Fortunately, she did eventually find people to listen as an adult, and after a lot of therapy and good friends, she's now a well-adjusted wife and mom to 3 kids of her own.

The talk show host concluded with: Some kids run "to" something (perceived freedom, excitement), while others are running *away* from something, but the key to get through to both is to listen and respect who they are as individuals.

Anyway, the whole show made me think of this post, and how we have so many crossroads in life, and it's never too late to choose a different one; even if we can't backtrack the way we came, there's always another side path. We just need to keep our eyes open for it.

Yusa said...

Jessica, that's so true.
This story reminds me of the song Innocent by Taylor Swift...

Gabrielle said...

Oh my gosh Yusa,I thought the same thing.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jessica, I loved your observations. Thank you for sharing. Some gems in what you've written.