A few weeks ago I had the honor of hearing Laura Amy Schlitz speak about her Newbery win for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (out in paperback on December 23). WOW! If you have the opportunity to meet Ms. Schlitz or hear her speak, you must must must do it!
Ms. Schlitz began her presentation by walking onto the “stage”, removing her shoes, and performing Giles’, the beggar’s, monologue from her Newbery-winning book. Man, can that woman act! She had the room full of librarians and teachers rolling in the aisles. Her students are so lucky to have her.
She then spent the rest of her presentation talking about her writing career and the pinnacle- her Newbery win. I was shocked to find that she had written a novel under a pseudonym in 1990. She then assumed she could get anything published, and proceeded to write her dream novel, a huge tome of historical fiction; The Nightingale’s Cage, 700 pages. Sadly, it never found a publisher. During this time, she wrote the monologues for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village in 1996 while waiting to hear back from publishers about her dream novel. The monologues were written for her students and never intended for a wider audience, When her dream novel was rejected over and over, she gave up on the publishing industry. She especially knew that no one was interested in a childern’s book about medieval times told in dramatic verse.
Inevitably, she was told year after year that the childrens’ performances were wonderful and that she should really try to get the monologues published. When she finally decided to send out the manuscript, it was only to prove everyone wrong. That way she would be able to say, “See, no one wants it”. So, she sent out 11 copies to various publisher (which she named) and was stunned to receive an acceptance email from Candlewick. She then imitated her reaction, which included bounding down the school hallways due to excitement! Of course, it took years for the book to come out, and in the meantime she published other novels. But when the book was published, and Newbery buzz started building, she honestly did want to win the award and woke up at 4am the morning of, hoping for a phone call!
Laura Amy Schlitz was a phenomenal speaker and I can not recommend her enough. Her honest description of winning Newbery was refreshing and thrilling to experience vicariously through her. Her performance of Giles’ monologue was flawless and full of laughs. And she was extremely sweet when she held the book signing at lunch later that day.