Interview with Joyce Sidman
As a fellow Minnesota author and poet-in-the-schools, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of not only witnessing Joyce Sidman’s remarkable career and her beautiful books, but also her generous work with children. Joyce and I recently had a chance to connect on the great joy of learning her book Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night had received a 2011 Newbery Honor, as well as her thoughts on the power of poetry in children’s lives. To learn more about Joyce visit her website www.joycesidman.com.
First let me say how thrilled I was to see Dark Emperor receive a 2011 Newbery Honor. You’ve done such fine, important work through the years and I’m always elated when a writer I know is recognized for their effort and their vision. Were you at the ALA Midwinter meeting when the award was announced?
Thank you, Sheila! You are kind to say so. One never knows whether one’s work is fine and important while one is doing it—but one hopes, of course. I was not at the ALA Midwinter meeting, but the Newbery committee called me just before the press conference. When I heard the committee chair’s voice on the phone, the floor beneath me turned to jello. I felt a profound, almost spiritual gratitude. And I burst into tears.
What did you do to celebrate? Was your dog delighted?
Well, my dog is always delighted. That is one of his best and worst features. It’s great when he’s up for a spontaneous dance around the house, not so great when he wants to do it sixteen more times.
I had a lunch date that day with my best buddy, who wanted to take me out whether I won anything or not. As it turned out, we had a giddy lunch! My husband took me out to dinner, and my writer’s group met for celebratory drinks that week. I’ve gotten so many wonderful messages, and have celebrated many times since then, merely by replaying in my head the phone call and the jello feeling . . .
Does the Newbery Honor change your working life in any significant way? Will it mean more travel? More speaking engagements?
As far as travel is concerned, I already say no more than I say yes, so the pressure will probably increase. I can’t work while traveling (or teaching), and although it is wonderful to meet teachers, librarians, and especially students, I know my limits—and if I go beyond them, I don’t work well OR present well.
Are you still doing work as a poet-in-the-schools with COMPAS?
Yes, and right now, this is more fulfilling to me than national travel.
What keeps you returning to this work?
I love the in-depth feel of a week of teaching: getting to know the children and their voices. My COMPAS weeks help me stay in tune with kids, and learn what’s in their hearts. Watching them read their poems aloud and feel the power of their own words . . . it sends me home singing.
As an author you’ve been committed to poetry for young people. What gifts do you think poetry offers young readers and writers?
Poetry is a short form with a lot of versatility. It connects with the off-beat, magical side of kids, the side that is always wondering and seeing possibilities. I love watching nontraditional learners or ELL students work with poetry for the first time—they grasp onto it like a lifeline. It has no rules! It’s short! They can do it!
Have you thought about writing longer works? A novel perhaps?
I’ve actually written several novels, but they are languishing in dusty heaps, rejected and alone. I keep telling myself that I should pull them out again. I love reading novels and would love to write a successful one. But so far, no idea has seized me with enough conviction to start down this long road. Novelists are wonder-workers, balancing so much for such an extended period. I’m not sure I can work that kind of wonder.
Could you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
Oh, gosh. Loaded question. Ummmm . . . nothing I can talk about yet. I do have a book in production that will be published this fall, though, called Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature. It’s about the spiral shape, and why it recurs so often in natural objects like shells and butterfly tongues and tornados. It was a collaborative project with illustrator Beth Krommes, who won the 2009 Caldecott Medal for Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night.
Beth and I hope to do other shape books together. We are ever hopeful. Like all artists. Except on the days we are not.
To find out more about COMPAS Writers-and-Artists-in-the-Schools program visit www.compas.org