How great is Susan Campbell Bartoletti?

Friday, August 19, 2011

I first met Susan in Orlando, FL, last November, on this very (photographed) day.  We were scheduled to speak on an ALAN panel—Susan about her wildly brilliant They Called Themselves the K.K.K, me about the Centennial era that had inspired Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA).  My PDF presentation had not, I discovered minutes before I was to take the stage, been imported to the proper conference techno places, and, in the crazy Oh no buzz that followed that fine finding, Susan stepped in.  She fixed the problem.  The crisis was no more.

Susan spoke before I did to the gathered YA crowd.  She was so smart, so funny, so wise that if I had not just been saved by her in the excruciating moments leading up to the panel, I might have been jealous.  No, that's not true.  I'm never jealous when a real talent is in my midst.  I'm just proud, as a human being, that she exists.

Ever since Orlando, Susan and I have been trying to see each other again.  This past Wednesday, as some of you know, I put the corporate pressures aside, threw caution to the wind, and trained down to the University of Pennsylvania.  Susan and I would spend the next several hours walking the campus, sitting in one of my former classrooms, taking charge of an unhappy soda machine, exclaiming over Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and munching through a tossed salad (but not the peaches we had jointly hoped for).  We talked about the things we love.  Truly great writing—"crunchy" she calls sentences she celebrates.  Landscape as story.  Honest and earned research—the kind that digs beneath whatever a Google search can deliver.  Reconstruction America.  The history of Pennsylvania.  Smart, kind editors.  Course design.  Teaching.  Students.  Our children.  Judging book contests (we both chaired a Young People's Literature Jury for the National Book Awards, we discovered.)  We were walking to Susan's car when she mentioned that she had recently been talking with Markus Zusak as part of a PEN American Center PENpal program.  

The Markus Zusak? I asked.  Mr. The Book Thief?

But of course that was the one, for Susan, too, has written of that Nazi Germany in her widely praised (go to her website and find out more for yourself) Hitler Youth

I have so many things I want to ask Susan.  So much I can learn from her.  But for now I am and always will be grateful for our day together.  For locating, in this turbulent, unstable world of ours, such a fully engaged, deeply seeking mind.


Jeannine Atkins said...

Thanks so much for a peek into that wonderful day!

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