Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Printz Award Honor Speech: John Green

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Printz Award Honor Speech: John Green

Article excerpt

What you say is "Good morning, Hank. It's Wednesday." On three. One. Two. Three.

I'd like to begin by thanking Tobin [M. T. Anderson] for his speech, and I would also like to thank him for my speech, since many of the ideas in it are stolen from him. So anyway, if I'm not good, it is Tobin's fault.

I am very grateful to be here tonight, and when people get extremely grateful, they can sometimes become gratuitously thank-you-ey. I figure the best way to do this is to dispense with them right away and to cover everything in less than one minute: I would like to thank the Printz committee for honoring Katherines and for all their hard work this past year. I'd also like to thank my wife, Sarah, who inspires everything I write; my fairy godmother, Ilene Cooper; writing partners Maureen Johnson and Emily Jenkins and Scott Westerfeld; and everyone at Booklist. Stephanie Lurie, Lara Phan, Allison Smith, and everyone at Dutton and Penguin believed from the beginning that this book had an audience despite its abundance of nonlinear equations. And speaking of those, I must also thank my friend Daniel Biss, who wrote the formulas in the book and also wrote the appendix, which I think is by far the best twelve pages in the entire novel and is probably the reason I am standing here today. Nothing I write would be possible without Julie Strauss-Gabel, who is the best editor and the best friend an author could ever ask for. Julie's commitment to good literature for teenagers should be an inspiration to us all.

An Abundance of Katherines began with my friend Hassan al-Rawas. Hassan now lives in Dubai, but he grew up in Kuwait near the Iraqi border, and for several years lived with me and two other friends in a small house on the north side of Chicago. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Hassan and I watched TV pretty much constantly. Actually, we watched TV pretty much constantly regardless, but in those weeks, we watched a lot of war. I liked to watch CNN, because it features--you know--news, but Hassan always insisted on watching Fox, because his primary source of entertainment in those dark days was screaming at the television, and Fox makes for far better television-screaming material. I have never known anyone who screamed at the television with such charming vitriol, and it was a pleasure just to sit next to him and listen as, day in and day out, he eviscerated Shepherd Smith, whom Hassan referred to only as "Shithead McGee."

So two days after Baghdad fell, Shithead McGee was on the air talking about the anger on the Arab Street. Hassan was screaming that the Arab Street, whatever the hell that was, did not speak with a unified voice. And then new footage came in from Baghdad, and they played it while Mr. McGee, who was also watching it for the first time, spoke about it from New York. The camera panned across an Iraqi home that had plywood nailed to a damaged wall. On the plywood, there was menacing-looking graffiti in black Arabic script. Mr. McGee talked about the inborn rage of the Iraqi people, the hatred in their heart, and so on. And then Hassan started laughing.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"The graffiti," he said.

"What about it?" I asked.

"It says 'Happy Birthday, Sir, despite the circumstances.'"

And that is where An Abundance of Katherines started for me, with Shithead McGee's radical misapprehension of some Arabic graffiti. It was then that I started thinking about writing a Muslim character who, like my friend and the other American Muslims I know, is religious without being defined by his religiosity. It is possible in this nation to be Jewish and punk, or Christian and fond of modernist architecture, but it sometimes seems impossible to be Muslim and anything, because we think we know all what being a Muslim involves. And so Katherines started not with its main character, a washed-up child prodigy named Colin, but with Hassan. I decided then that I wanted to write a book wherein a guy's Muslimness was not his defining character trait. …

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