Handling the Truth Wins Books for a Better Life/Motivational Category Award—and I meet Meredith Vieira and Lee Woodruff
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I had been invited to the 18th Annual Books for a Better Life Awards Program, sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society New York City—Southern New York Chapter. I was seeing friends—Darcy Jacobs, nominee Patty Chang Anker, Katie Freeman, Julia Johnson, my Gotham editor, Lauren Marino. My husband had joined me for the evening, our sensational son had left work to see us an hour before, Jenny Powers, VP of Special Events for the Society, had put on an amazing show of truly exceptional everythings at The TimesCenter. I had a new pink dress, those famous new shoes, and Maggie Scarf, the bestselling author, was telling my husband and me a story that held us both in captive disbelief. Soon I would go down that long flight of stairs and find the fabulous Lee Woodruff in the bathroom. We would speak of pink dresses, pink scarves, the sometimes good luck of fashion.
Earlier in the day, the phenomenal team at Chronicle Books had posted the stunning new trailer for Going Over, my soon-to-be-launched Berlin novel. School Library Journal had named Going Over the Pick of the Day. Laura Fraser of Shebooks had sent sweet news. The weather was kind. Only most of my hair was a mess.
And so I settled back into my chair at The TimesCenter simply to watch the show. To be grateful for it all. To be unencumbered, for that moment, by doubt. The first category of ten to be announced was the Motivational category. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, a book about the students I love and the things they have taught me, sat (remarkably) alongside The Novel Cure (Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin), Saturday Night Widows (Becky Aikman), Survival Lessons (Alice Hoffman), and On These Courts (Wayne B. Drash). Meredith Vieira—gorgeous Meredith Vieira—was looking stunning up there on the stage, post Sochi, post Oscars. She was reading off the nominees, then opening an envelope, and then—and then—she called my name.
I have never been so unprepared for anything in my life. I had not, for a single second, rehearsed the possibility of the moment; winning was out of the question. I had a wide stage to cross, and by the time I reached the microphone and Meredith's outstretched arms, I had been rendered incapable of speech. I have absolutely no idea what words I finally said. I know only that I told Meredith how beautiful she really is (inside and out). I know that I struggled to find words for the beauty of my students. I know I said "son" and "husband" and "Gotham" and "dreams."
(How grateful am I to Lauren Marino, Lisa Johnson, Beth Parker, and the entire Gotham team for saying yes to this book in a seaside nano-second. And a million thanks to my agent, Amy Rennert, who has supported this book from the second it arrived in her to-be-read bin.)
Afterward, when all the winners gathered on stage for a Publishers Weekly photograph, I had an opportunity to speak with Meredith, to learn more about her upcoming new program, The Meredith Vieira Show. It is going to be wonderful because she is through-and-through wonderful. A real show, real conversations, a set that recreates her own family room, her own interests, pursued. Look for it come Labor Day.
I end this as I must end this—with prayers for those who are living with and seeking to combat multiple sclerosis, a haunting condition about which important words were spoken last night. Without organizations like the New York City—Southern New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society—organizations that work throughout the year to raise awareness and research dollars, bring together authors and publishers, put leading lights like Meredith Vieira, Lee Woodruff, Arianna Huffington, Pamela Paul, Mark Bittman, and Richard Pine on one stage, and gather friends—hope would not loom so large.
I have never been so proud to bring an honor home.
I head to South Carolina in a few hours to serve as the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Distinguished Writer at Converse College. This is the week of a lifetime.