April 11, 2023

The Literary Legacy Part of the Writing Life

Last week I was honored with the Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award, an award presented by the Programs for Writers Advisory Council and the Board of Directors of Literary Arts to a person or organization in recognition of significant contributions that have enriched Oregon's young readers. Literary Arts is a community-based nonprofit with a mission to "engage readers, support writers, and inspire the next generation with great literature." 

Photo Credit: Andie Petkus Photography

To say I was in utter shock and disbelief when I received word of receiving this award is quite the understatement. Walt Morey is a big name, and his legacy runs deep. It’s been hard for me to comprehend how I’ve been selected for an award in his honor. 

This is not me being humble. 

Last year my publishing income shrunk to the point that my accountant said I was at risk for the IRS considering me a hobbyist because, and I quote, "They frown on people who are bad at their business." I’ve been rejected by many an agent and editor, but now by my accountant and the IRS?  That was hard to hear. 

And so I hollered out to the Universe: “Hey, I need another book contract with a nice advance. Soon.” 

And the Universe replied, “How about a highly esteemed literary legacy award, instead?”  

“Say, what?”

I am not a hobbyist. I am, in fact, quite serious about my work. And, like the main character in my picture book, Lucy’s Blooms, I’m as persistent as all get out. But you can’t fault me for wondering how my name got flagged for this meaningful acknowledgement. What one big thing had I possibly done to take someone’s notice in a field of literary giants, many of whom would be sitting in the room when I received my award?

These questions prompted me to reflect on the work that I've done. The work that I hold most dear: teaching early literacy workshops, writing books for young readers, advocating for strong school libraries, mentoring aspiring writers, amplifying the voices of other authors via my blog, writing to my lawmakers to let them know where I stand on key issues, knocking on doors to remind my friends and neighbors to vote, caring for and advocating for my family members and the community, the world, that we live in.  

I am the poster child for small steps, and in my experience, little action items add up to bigger action items.  This is what I thought about as I wrote my acceptance speech, which I've shared below: 


Thank you Literary Arts and to the kind people who nominated me for this award. I am honored and humbled. Thank you to my family for all the love and laughter, and to my parents for filling my childhood home with books.
I'd also like to give a shout-out to my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Snook, for his annual reading contest. The student who read the most books each year won the coveted Pleasure Reading Award; a trophy I proudly brought home in 1978.
That cheesy award trophy, now glued together in places, continues to motivate young readers when I share it at author visits. I also like to share tattered copies of some of the titles I breezed through to boost my book count, books like The Digging-est Dog, A Fly Went By. Back then I thought I was gaming the system by including quick, easy reads on my list, but as Mr. Snook likely knew, all of the reading counted. The lyrical sounds, rhythm, and rhyme in these stories contributed to my love of language, and similar patterns found their way into my own writing. Writing that eventually became books for a new generation of young readers.  
Such lovely things were just said about me. What wasn’t said is that I currently have a myriad of manuscripts sitting in slush piles. I’ve yet to find an agent. The publisher I worked with on my last four books was recently sold to another company, and my next book with another publisher just got delayed to 2025. Not quite the resume one imagines bringing home big awards. 
Over the past weeks, I’ve heard from friends and colleagues who wanted to share their reflections about Walt Morey. Although his books certainly made a lasting impression, what people most wanted to talk about was meeting him at school author visits, decades ago. One person summed it up best saying, “Walt Morey engaged with us as if we mattered.” 
And that’s when it hit me that our body of work, our literary legacy, extends well beyond the books that we write and manage to get published. 
Each of us in this room has the power to influence the literary landscape in our communities, in our schools and libraries, and within our families.
Someone in this room read a book by a local author to a child today. Someone else made a purchase at an indie bookstore. I’ll bet someone volunteered at their local library, someone gifted a book to a classroom teacher, and someone wrote a kind letter that will be read and re-read again and again.
Mr. Snook held a reading contest in 1978 that played a part in this year’s Walt Morey award. 
What if tonight’s gathering inspired each of us to take one more seemingly small action to benefit a young reader, or a children’s book author, or a professional who gets books into the hands of young readers. Imagine the legacy that together we’ll leave.    Thank you. 


Home Video of Armin Tolentino's introduction of Dawn and Dawn's Acceptance Speech.


I will treasure Armin's words, and this award, for a long, long time.

Here I am celebrating with family and friends:

Photo Credit: Andie Petkus Photography

Photo Credit: Andie Petkus Photography

More photos of the event by Andie Petkus  Photography   can be found here.  

Last, but certainly not least, here I am with fellow author, Stephanie Shaw. She's the person who spearheaded the award nomination, and she is an amazing author and literacy advocate in her own right. Her latest book, All By Myself, JUST hit bookstores. NOW would be a great time to support HER work and your favorite local indie bookstore.

Image Credit: Family of Stephanie Shaw

Need some additional ideas on how to make a difference in your literary landscape? Get in touch. It doesn’t have to be something big to make a difference. I promise. 


Media mentions about the award announcement: 

Oregon Public Broadcasting: https://www.opb.org/article/2023/04/04/portland-oregon-book-awards-writers-authors-local-pacific-northwest/

Portland Mercury: https://www.portlandmercury.com/books/2023/04/04/46439433/new-literary-names-sindya-bhanoo-and-casey-parks-win-big-at-the-2023-oregon-book-awards

Portland Tribune: https://www.portlandtribune.com/lifestyle/heres-who-won-oregon-book-awards-for-2023/article_5b3d87a0-d32c-11ed-9ec6-57321260fecf.html

Oregon Artswatch: https://www.orartswatch.org/sindya-bhanoos-seeking-fortune-elsewhere-wins-oregon-book-award-for-fiction/