A Chat by Richard Peck…

I had the opportunity this evening to hear Richard Peck deliver the 2007 Zena Sutherland Lecture. He’s a dynamic speaker, confident without being overly arrogant about his own abilities. He comfortably engaged the large room.

Richard spoke about a number of things–but primarily about the coming of the YA novel, with the advent in the 70s of a world where children ruled instead of adults.

It was a slight slap of reality recognizing the truth in what he said. He spoke of the current generation of children, and my and my parents generations as well, seeking adult role models stronger than the ones they have, and then when they failed to find them, turning to each other for role models instead. As this culture became the status quo, he sees the downfall of the public school system. I got the impression he wasn’t a big fan of the focus on a child’s self-esteem coming before the educational process. He spoke of history repeating itself–with his own life seeing a “Pearl Harbor” at the beginning and end of it–likening the disaster I lived through nearly six years ago to one of his own childhood. As he pointed out, “geography is no defense against history.”

Perhaps most poignant to me was his point that our teenagers today were dealing with “Adolescent angst in elementary vocabulary..is it any wonder they turn to violence.” In my current place of work this seems painfully apparent. If we have not taught them to express themselves–how else but through physical action can they vent their frustrations. I was a frustrated and rather silent writer though high school and even now…the kids I work to serve are not.

It was inspiring to hear him lecture, a gentleman who reminded me a little more of my grandfathers than of my own father. He welcomed us as people of the book and offered us Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and Paul Zindel’s The Pigman as inspiration for his own extensive writings, as well as thoughtfully quoting Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (he noted Twain was a role model of his). A thought he gave that I will perhaps most strongly hold onto though was that “you can only write by the light of the bridges burning behind you.”

An excellent lecture….I’m glad I went.

**Any comments are as close as I could get them whilst scribbling on my program and trying to still listen and enjoy. Anything incorrect should be attributed to my inability to always fully do three things at once.