Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference Day Three - Gary Paulsen

Wearing a ball cap, suspenders, jeans and a long-sleeved navy blue shirt three time Newbery-honor winning author Gary Paulsen told us about a A Writer's Upside-Down Life. A life of poverty. A life growing up on the streets of Manila, Philippines. A life with two drunken parents who didn't give a rat's darn about a seven-year-old boy. A life trapping rabbits and beavers in the woods of Minnesota to survive. A life touched by a librarian who made a difference and died never knowing it. His life.

I sat in the Los Angeles ballroom hanging on every word Gary Paulsen said including his colorful adjectives which injected raw humor in places of graphic tragedy. A man who's lived more in a lifetime than I could possibly live or see in two lifetimes. A story of a boy who came into a library one day to seek shelter and warmth, and left with a book in hand and a library card. A card with his name on it. Spelled correctly. I was somebody he said.

A boy who could barely read but forced himself to read pages over and over again until he'd read the entire book. A boy who'd return to the library month after month to take a new book out until slowly he was there on a weekly basis and soon a daily basis. A boy who grew into a man and taught himself to read. Then write. A boy who, against all odds, should've died at the hands of his parents but instead survived and thrived because a librarian cared and put a book in his hand.

I don't have any notes to share with you from this session because I didn't write a single sentence except the name Gary Paulsen. I couldn't. I was hypnotized. I can't share all his stories with you because I could never do them justice like the storyteller that stood on that stage on Sunday. His honesty exposed. His laughter real. I'll never be the same after hearing his story. It's had a rippling effect. He's the most passionate man I've ever met. Passionate about writing. Passionate about honesty. About truth. Passionate about writing for young people. Writing for adults is just ---- he said. Give kids your best.

You never know who or what is going to make a difference in your life. A librarian. Or a writer who's completed the Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska. Not once. But twice.

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