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History - NCTE POETRY AWARD

Posted by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Lee Bennett Hopkins
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on Saturday, 08 April 2017 in My Journal

In November, Marilyn Nelson will be the l9th recipient of the prestigous National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

In the late l970's when the Award was being discussed, I served on the NCTE Board of Directors.

Both Bernice (Bee) Cullinan and I were very active in all aspects of NCTE. It was Bee who proposed the Award to honor her son, Jonathan Paul (1969-1975), who at six years old was tragically killed, run over by a neighbor's car in a driveway. Bee founded the Award in his honor.

When Karla Kuskin designed the emblem for the Award, she included the engraving of young Jonathan sitting upon a tree, reading poetry, of course.

The Award, first given in 1977, became the fist of its kind in the United States to honor poetry.Consider the Newbery Award started in 1922; the Caldecott, 1938; four decades later poetry is finally recognized.

For the entire list of recipients,criteria for the Award and a host of fascinatig links go my Awards Page and click on the NCTE site.

The first Chair of the Award was Alvina Treut Burrows.The Award was given at a luncheon in New York City.Nancy Larrick, well known for her expertise in the field of poetry presided and introduced David who was then 90 years old. David's deep, gravelly voice recited "Every Time I Climb A Tree," and "The Pickety Fence" as he amused and enthralled the audience about the origin of each poem.

What a beginning.

I chaired the Award in l978, the second year, when Aileen Fisher received the honor and again in 1991 when Valerie Worth was recognized.Oddly enough neither could attend the affairs.Aileen refused to go anywhere is she couldn't wear jeans, and sadly, Valerie was dying of cancer. We did have an audio tape from Aileen whichÃas been lost; I read an acceptance speech which Valerie wrote and sent to me.

Needless to say, over three decades since I was involved in its inception, I was overwhelmed when the Chair, Ralph Fletcher, called to tell me I was the l5th recipient of such an honor.

This November in Chicago, Illinois,Marilyn Nelson will receive the Award at the Books for Children Luncheon.

An excellent introduction to the Award is ANOTHER JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY MORE NCTE AWARD-WINNING POETS, by Bernice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten, Editors (Boyds Mills Press).The volume gathers poems written by all l5 recipients, a wonderful appendix "About the Poets" and a Bibliography.

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