28 Apr POETRY AWARD HISTORY – PART FOUR
During the late l960’s I studied for my Masters Degree at Bank Street College of Education when Bank Street was indeed at 69 Bank Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York, now an apartment building. One of my teachers was Claudia Lewis, one of the best and most respected teachers in the field of children’s literature. I learned a great deal from her. After receiving my Masters Degree I was offered a job at the college working at a newly found Resource Center on l25th Street in Harlem. It was a tough decision for me to leave my six-year teaching position at Westmoreland School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I knew, however, the change would be a good one.
A great deal of my work was to bring literature into the lives of children in West Side Harlem schools. What a two-year gig this was! Children were brought to the Center to hear Ezra Jack Keats talk about his book creations. Pura Belpre brought her life-sized puppets to perform PEREZ & MARTINA, Claudia would often appear to tell stories, authors and illustrators galore flocked to the Center. It was literature-heaven!
Claudia and I became close friends during these years. Her first book, POEMS OF EARTH AND SPACE (Dutton, 1967) containing 24 poems, was one of the earliest books of verse to highlight space. I had the opportunity to review the book for the NCTE journal, “Elementary English” – now “Language Arts.” Claudia went on to do three more books of verse under the editorial guidance of Charlotte Zolotow at Harper & Row. Many years later, just before her death, I included Claudia’s “Three Skies” from POEMS OF EARTH AND SPACE, in SPECTACULAR SCIENCE (Simon & Schuster).
In l998, Bank Street College initiated the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award given annually to a book of poetry. Further information can be found at www.bankstreet.edu/awards
I was, am, happy to see this fourth, and thus far last award for poetry, named for a wondrous, wise woman who taught me so much — one whom I will always cherish for what she did for children, for children’s literature and for me.