July 13, 2009
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On Friday, July 10, at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, I challenged Neil Gaiman’s claim to the Newbery Award. Neil and I competed in a series of mental and physical contests, and though Gaiman was a tough and wily opponent, I won the Newbery from him fair and square. (Anyway, as everyone knows, all of Gaiman’s books are written by his bees.) A video of the stunning upset, and a transcript of my address to the librarians, follows.
Video 1: I announce my intention to strip Gaiman of his Newbery.
Video 2: Neil Gaiman and I fight for the Newbery.
Video 3: Freya and Erin act out a scene from my novel The Order of Odd-Fish.
You have made a mistake inviting me here today. And perhaps I, James Kennedy, have made a critical error accepting your invitation. For we are different beasts, librarians and writers. To bring us together is to invite catastrophe.
You have invited me here to speak about the genre of fantasy. But I am here to tell you that the fantasy genre is finished. From here on out we deal with facts. Until today you have lived in a dream-world of role-play, the Era of Simulation; but the idle daydreams of our youth have now given birth to overwhelming realities.
Doubt me? In the Era of Simulation, Kennebunkport aristocrat George W. Bush pretended to be a good ole boy from Midland, Texas; now, in the Age of Reality, we have a real rural populist, Sarah Palin.
In the Era of Simulation, Toni Morrison dubbed Bill Clinton “the first black President”; now, in the Age of Reality, our country has achieved Barack Obama.
In the same way, in the Era of Simulation, you were stuck with Neil Gaiman, fantasy novelist; but now, in the Age of Reality, you have achieved me, James Kennedy.
I am the Sarah Palin of fantasy; I am the Barack Obama of the otherworldly! And by the end of this speech you will agree that I, James Kennedy, the author of The Order of Odd-Fish, am the rightful winner of the 2009 John Newbery Medal.
And you will joyfully and forcefully strip the Newbery from Gaiman—publicly, humiliatingly, in a ritual of my own design—and present it to me, with apologies and cries for mercy. That is the reality.
Sit down! Sergeant-at-arms, bar the door! For none of you may be permitted to escape the realities I am about to unveil. T.S. Eliot spoke truly when he said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” But I will tell you what T.S. Eliot couldn’t bear: that his name is an anagram for “toilets.”
I know well that I have many enemies among you who wish for me to fail. Lynne Farrell Stover, a book reviewer for VOYA, wrote that The Order of Odd-Fish was an “uneven mixture of ridiculousness and depravity” that was “inconsistent in description and difficult to imagine.”
But what Lynne Farrell Stover never realized—perhaps, found “difficult to imagine”—is that The Order of Odd-Fish is not a fantasy novel. It is a holy text! Every word in The Order of Odd-Fish is either sacred history or terrifying prophecy. Every plot point, every paragraph, every punctuation mark has already chillingly come true—or will soon come to fulfillment—like the blossoming of an apocalyptic flower—both to society at large—and to you, personally—every one of you in this very room.
Of this truth I shall do more than convince you; I shall evangelize you. By the end of this speech you will not be lucid librarians, but wild-eyed, raving fanatics, all eager to die in my name! For today, at this “Genre Galaxy” preconference, a new genre shall be born; a new canon established, with me at its very center!
And I shall prove this to you with a theorem as airtight and ineluctable as anything in Euclid. For the engine of my reasoning will not be timid logic, but the majestic force of my personality. And I assure you that my personality is an exquisite garden, cultivated with excruciating care.
So take my hand—won’t you?—and let us gaily scamper together through the enchanted arboretum of my soul. Learn how you may assist me in your library and school programs—including giving the Newbery to me—thus delivering you all from the darkness of the Era of Simulation, and bringing you blinking into the sunlight of the Age of Reality; I promise, I will convince you of all of this in 30 minutes; I stake my life on it; for to create a new orthodoxy, someone must put their life on the line; and I, like the early martyrs, like Socrates, am willing to die, for The Order of Odd-Fish.
[I go on to talk about ideas for library programs. (Completists can watch the complete video in 3 parts (I, II, III) at Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog.) At one point, the eleven-year-old Freya and Erin acting out the pre-duel ritual scene from Odd-Fish, in costume:]
I assure you, you won’t get that from your precious Neil Gaiman! This isn’t fantasy, it’s reality! Reality! This reality can be in your library! In fact, I’m in your library right now! Infecting it with my reality!
For with The Order of Odd-Fish, fantasy is finished—it both culminates and destroys the genre—indeed, every genre! From here on out, there are no books except for The Order of Odd-Fish—no authors but me! Forever!
And you are the ones who shall make this happen! Rowling, Pullman, Gaiman—they all have movies, they’ve all been paid, they’re all lolling and pawing each other in the hot honey of the world’s love—what about me? What about my awards, what about my fans?! Gaiman doesn’t need your love, but I need your love, love me, love me!
I need you, my million mommies of the ALA! Change my diaper! Give me a sippy cup! Dandle me on your knee! Come to my cradle, pick me up, sing me to sleep, gentle librarians!
For I do not want readers; I want fanatics! And you are already turning into my fanatics. For I am more than a man; I am a virus.
And now that I have delivered you into this new Age of Reality, I will now accept my just due—the 2009 Newbery Award. Stand up, Neil Gaiman. Stand up!
For I am taking this Newbery from you. I need it more than you. For you, this Newbery is merely the capstone of a distinguished career. But for me—! You already have more awards than you know what to do with. I have a complete list here . . . Two Nebulas? Three Hugos? Jesus, 9 “Locus” awards? Do they give you one every time you sneeze? And now you’re taking my Newbery?! Give me my Newbery!
[I grab the Newbery from Gaiman. We fall to the ground, wrestling. I finally get it away from him, and jump away.]
Ha! Ha-ha-ha! I’ve won the Newbery! I’ve actually won it! America beat you, you limey, just like we did in World War II!
LYNNE FARRELL STOVER. Drop that Newbery, Kennedy!
JAMES. Lynne Farrell Stover!!!
LYNNE FARRELL STOVER. Yes, it is I, Lynne Farrell Stover! And schoolboy fighting is not how we solve problems at ALA. We have age-old rituals to contest of the legitimacy of the Newbery. I give you the Cube of Trials!
JAMES. The Cube of Trials!!!
NEIL. Wot! Roight, I know this one.
LYNNE FARRELL STOVER. Yes, the victor of the perilous Trials shall win this Newbery. But the loser must be sacrificed to the gods of the ALA! Do you consent to Trial By Cube?!
JAMES. I consent!
NEIL. I am always prepared for a Trial By Cube!
LYNNE FARRELL STOVER. Then let the Trials commence!
[Neil Gaiman and I engage in a series of mental and physical contests. Gaiman wins them all. The trials are listed below. See the video for the actual contests.]
1. Rock, paper, scissors
2. Thumb wrestling
3. Crane fight
4. Fiercest Face
6. Spelling bee
7. Foot Race
8. Tag Team Wrestling
[After I lose all the trials:]
LYNNE FARRELL STOVER. You are beaten, Kennedy! And now you must be sacrificed to the gods of the ALA! Feel the blade of this primeval knife, forged in the very flames of the burning of the Library of Alexandria! Last words, Kennedy!
JAMES. So all that I have said has come to pass! Indeed I shall die for The Order of Odd-Fish. Boom-Boom—remember the good times, Boom-Boom! And you, Pee-Wee! I guess you taught the rest of us “bigger” guys a lesson in real bravery today . . . I am ready. Take me, ALA.
NEIL. Goodbye, Sarah Palin of fantasy.
[I am sacrificed. NEIL gives my eulogy.]
NEIL. I’ve prepared a few words. My name is Neil Gaiman. Suddenly this Newbery seems so meaningless. Oh, ALA, how many more authors must be slaughtered for your trinkets? How many more geniuses must die in your meaningless contests? Kennedy . . . I saw myself in him, you know . . . Maybe the only way to honor him is to . . . give him this Newbery . . . Please—for the memory of James Kennedy—for me—let us chant: Give Kennedy the Newbery! Give Kennedy the Newbery!
[NEIL GAIMAN leads the hundred librarians in the audience in chanting “Give Kennedy the Newbery.” At last I spring up from death to graciously accept the award.]
And that is how I won the 2009 Newbery.
A million thanks to everyone who helped out. Big thanks to Dark Yellow and Cynthia Castiglione for their performances as Neil Gaiman and Lynne Farrell Stover. Special thanks to Freya and Erin for taking time off of acting camp to play Aznath and the Ichthala. I owe a great debt to Zach and Seth Dodson for the idea and for the fencing equipment. Thanks to Jennifer Norborg, Max Trefonides, and Heather McCammond-Watts for taking time out and helping in a million ways. Also thanks to Violeta for the invaluable last-minute advice, Amy Alessio for inviting me to the preconference, and Betsy Bird for the videos! And thanks in advance to Neil Gaiman for being a good sport.