Whenever someone passes away, people always say they are shocked and saddened to hear the news. In the case of the passing of children’s poet/anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, “shocked” and “saddened” are only the beginning for me. I would not be where I am, were it not for Lee’s kindness, encouragement, and guidance.
Lee was not just a writer or poetry anthologist (although he did end up in the Guinness Book for the number of children’s poetry anthologies he created); he was a friend, a mentor, and a supporter. When I attended my first SCBWI conference back in 2010, SCBWI founder Lin Oliver told me I should get in touch with Lee, since she knew I wrote poetry.
One thing led to another, and we eventually connected online. He loved my writing and offered to assist me in my quest to develop a career in children’s literature, specifically, poetry. He published my first paid children’s poem, “First Tooth,” from Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams, 2015), and requested poems for five other anthologies, three of which have not even been released yet. Sad, that he won’t get to see the fruits of his labors – or the praise his next anthology is already receiving.
He also introduced me to my Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017) editor, Rebecca Davis, who initially passed on two poetry manuscripts I sent but immediately snatched up Flashlight. As soon as my author copies arrived, I signed one to Lee and mailed it to him; he was touched and said he was proud to own a copy, which made my month!
But the really special, wonderful thing about Lee was…my story isn’t really all that unusual! Over the decades, he helped dozens and dozens of folks in much the same way. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charles Waters, and a host of others – authors and editors alike – can all share similar stories about Lee’s grace, encouragement, and his desire for perfection in one’s writing.
I’ll always remember a poem I was trying to write for an upcoming poetry anthology that had a math focus. Lee asked me to write a poem about fractions, which I did…but he didn’t like it. So I rewrote it and he still disliked it. I tried a third, same reaction. So I wrote a fourth poem, and this time he didn’t dislike it – he hated it! (sigh…)
Finally, after several weeks, I sent him a fifth poem – very different from the others – and he loved it. I ended up speaking to him on the phone a few months later about the project and joked that the next time he decides to create a math-based anthology, I’ll have to write a poem about the poetry anthologist who only liked one-fifth of my poems! He howled, and got a kick out of that.
I’ll always be grateful to Lee for his constant support and guidance. I was fortunate to publish one of his last interviews here at my blog just a month and a half ago, in celebration of the release of his new anthology, I Am Someone Else (Charlesbridge, 2019).
I do regret that he will not see the anthology I was working on myself, which he was helping me with, and which we had just discussed a couple of months prior to his death. It’s my sincere hope that this anthology will eventually see the light of day, because he loved the concept and subject matter. Fingers crossed I can do Lee justice.
Since it IS Poetry Friday, a number of Lee’s friends and fellow writers wanted to remember him in the most appropriate way we could: by writing poems inspired by Lee or including a line from one of his poems.
In my case, I spent some time looking through several of his anthologies and came across one line in particular from his poem “Titanic,” from his Travelling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea (Seagrass Press, 2018) anthology. The phrase, “You will forever remember me” kept speaking to me, as if it was Lee writing about himself rather than the fated ocean liner.
So with that line as a starting point, I crafted a short reverso poem (a poetic form our mutual friend, poet Marilyn Singer, has perfected) in Lee’s voice:
We will, indeed, forever remember you, my friend.
For those who don’t know, Lee’s friends always referred to him as “the Dear One,” because that was how he would address us in correspondence…and anyone who knew him knew he was, without question, a dear one. We’ll always miss you, Lee.
If you’d like to see what others in the kidlitosphere are doing to remember Lee, please head over to The Poem Farm, where Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup. And if you’d care to learn more about the man and the legacy he leaves behind, I encourage you to read this beautiful obituary from Publisher’s Weekly.
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Amazon “Best Books of the Month,” Sept. 2017
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness
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