On my morning commute listening to the pop station 101.3 KDWB today, I heard the Dave Ryan Show pay tribute to International Women’s Day, playing excerpts from Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille Award from the 2018 Golden Globes. The part that stood out to me was a list of careers in which women are excelling, including academia, engineering, medicine, science, technology, politics, business, Olympic athletics, and the military.
What the speech left out (but perhaps implied) was the industry of literature, the career in which I consider myself blessed. Therefore, I will give my own version of an acceptance speech, beginning with how I met the multiple-time John Newberry winner, Kate DiCamillo, and ending with a thank-you to all the female professors of my alma mater, the University of Northwestern – St. Paul.
In the summer of 2016, when my dad showed me a Pioneer Press advertisement of DiCamillo’s free book signing in St. Paul, I wasted no time to grab my copy of Winn-Dixie and drive to Common Good Books on Snelling Avenue. My mother came with me as an added joy; it was she who introduced me to Winn-Dixie in my childhood and who would never miss an opportunity to share this experience with me. At the brick-laid book shop, we waited in a long line snaking outside to meet this wonderful woman. Girls and mothers of all ages were lined up. I felt like a girl myself, even in my mid-twenties.
The closer I got to her, the bigger my smile got. When I finally met her, it was brief and efficient. I handed her my copy of Winn-Dixie, told her I loved her books, took a selfie, and got a picture with my mom. When my mom and I exited the book shop, my smile couldn’t have been brighter. I had her gleaming signature on my Winn-Dixie.
The experience I had can be summed up like this: It was about a five-minute encounter with a woman whose books have been lasting for more than ten years. Her presence, which will remain in the form of her signature on my bookshelf, will remind me that writing and publishing novels is a tangible goal.
When I was about nine years old, I had the first idea for my novel when sitting on my Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheets in the small town of Inver Grove Heights. On that fateful day, I knew I would write a novel. Before then, I had written and illustrated my own amateur version of an Angelina Ballerina short story. But when I started sketching first drafts of a novel based on my stuffed animals’ adventures, I knew I was making something I would treasure.
If I can take a moment to make my own Cecil B. de Mille Award acceptance speech, I want to thank my female professors from Northwestern. It was they who helped fashion my writing, from understanding the breaths in a sentence to crafting the emotional impact of vowels and consonants. From Northwestern I saw a plethora of published writers emerge and have their books published in companies such as HarperCollins and Crown Publishing Group. This was the arena from which I stepped into the world in the fresh year of 2015. This was the place with the women from which I can say, “I’m ready to take on the world.” In part, I owe my success to them.