This year I served alongside Katherine Paterson, Laura Ruby, Ellen Oh, and Valerie Lewis as a judge for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. From many hundreds of books published in 2016 we picked a longlist of ten, each one incandescent.
Then we narrowed that list down to five finalists, all of them astonishing.
On Wednesday we chose the third volume of March, a graphic memoir by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, as the winner.
When he was sixteen years old his local library insisted that book-borrowing privileges were for whites only. They refused to issue him a card.
He is in all of our libraries now.
That was Wednesday. On Thursday night my wife and I saw Hamilton.
This show looms very large in our household. I’ve blogged about it before. Both of my kids quote it daily. Here’s the four-year-old singing “Schuyler Sisters.” (She mistook the chorus of “work, work” for “quack, quack.”)
But despite knowing every song, and despite having already devoured the Hamiltome, I really didn’t know what to expect. This was a new cast (the mighty Oak excepted) and my own post-election despair made the subject matter seem completely funereal.
I started my career by writing about the transformative power of theater. I really should have trusted that same power to do its work.
“Theater can be a mirror, theater can be a commentary, theater can be powerful and can start a conversation that needs to happen.”
– Javier Muñoz
Hamilton poured fiery catharsis through my bloodstream and suddenly the world was worth saving again.
If you crave similar medicine and the Richard Rodgers Theatre is out of reach, then go read March immediately. Check it out from your local library to celebrate the fact that you can. History lives and breathes in this book, and history is happening.
“This book is for all of America. It is for all people, but especially young people, to understand the essence of the civil rights movement, to walk through the pages of history to learn about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence, to be inspired to stand up to speak out and to find a way to get in the way when they see something that is not right, not fair, not just.”
– Rep. John Lewis
It’s time to teach my daughter the word that the Schuyler sisters are really singing.
“The work will be harder, but the work is the same.”
– Black Lives Matter
PS – We missed the VP-elect by one night. The cast of Hamilton had brave and important things to say to him.