Ashley Bryan was standing there. Eighty-eight years old, an artist, musician, poet, intellectual — a lover of life. Mr. Bryan is a white-haired Titan in children’s literature, the author of more than 30 books, and the recipient of countless awards, including the Coretta Scott King.
I lumbered over with my box of flyers and a wooden easel on my shoulder – no real plan in mind.
“It’s you,” I said stupidly, his name instantly flying from my brain.
“Yes, I think so,” he replied.
My mind was back to last summer when he came to the SCBWI conference in LA. He had all of us on our feet — an entire ballroom filled with famous and not-so-famous children’s book authors — reciting Langston Hughes with a passion you’d expect to find at a revival. Hands raised, thundering voices, we sang out as he cued us.
The night is beautiful! So the faces of my people!
“I thought about our poem all the way home from California,” I explained. “I think about it still. Thank you so much.”
He was characteristically gracious, but even as he headed off a few minutes later, I wanted to kick myself for not having really gotten at what I meant:
That those few minutes under his spell last summer were unforgettable because he reminded me that we write to find and affirm joy in our journey – and that this is one of the great burdens and gifts of writing for children.