ALAN v24n2 - From the Editors

Volume 24, Number 2
Winter 1997


Robert Small and Patricia Kelly

At the 1996 ALAN Breakfast in Chicago, Bill Morris, long-time friend and supporter of ALAN received the ALAN Award. In presenting the award, Patty Campbell made the following comments:

This morning I have the great privilege of presenting the ALAN Award to someone very special. The award committee this year has also been pretty special, and I'd like to introduce them now: John Bushman, Ted Fabiano, Rosemary Ingram, Anne Webb, Jerry Weiss, and president-elect, Lois Stover.

William Morris is a person who has been important to ALAN and to the ALAN Workshops from the beginning. Of course, many publishers have been generous and helpful with their support, but Bill has always been our Main Man, for lots of reasons.

To get some perspective on this, I talked with six past presidents about their experiences working with Bill on the ALAN Workshops. They practically bent my ear with an onrush of praise. More than one said, "I couldn't have done it without him." I also heard: "The first thing he says is 'How can I help?'" "He puts himself totally at your service." If he says he's going to do something, it's done the next day." "He's the easiest person to work with I've ever known."

Bill stands by, not only offering money and authors but also shrewd advice about the most appropriate speakers and emotional support for frazzled chairs. "I felt very secure with his help," said one past president. I also heard stories of Bill quietly helping out by doing things like handling the details of a reception for an overburdened chair. Charlie Reed was overwhelmed this year when, after asking for and getting four Harper authors, she got up her nerve to also ask for Aidan Chambers, who lives all the way across the Atlantic in England. Bill said, "Yes," without missing a beat. As I listened to these warm words of tribute, I realized that the chair changes each year, but Bill is a constant. He's been the director of Library Promotion and Advertising at Harper for thirty years, which means that he's been there for ALAN from the very beginning and has seen twenty Workshops. Yet he brings fresh enthusiasm to each one, and each chair feels as if he or she is the first Bill has ever worked with. Many of us in this room can attest to the fact that, when you go to Bill with a question or a request, he acts as if your need is not only the most important thing he has to do but also the only thing he has to do, although a moment's logical reflection would certainly show you that his desk has got to be piled with lots of other people's requests. Bill prides himself on this helping function of his job. In a recent Horn Book interview with Leonard Marcus, Bill said about his work with teachers and librarians, "When they have problems, I'm the one they know they can call."

In a field that is so plagued with shifting personnel that we often refer to publishing as a game of "musical chairs," Bill is our enduring presence, our fixed pole of reference. You can always call him up, and he's always there, not voice mail but Bill himself. When there are wild rumors or sudden shifts of power in publishing, Bill knows what is going on, and he'll give you the lowdown. But he will never say anything that isn't tactful, discreet, and kind.

In the larger sense, Bill Morris has been a strong force for excellence in young adult literature from the beginning. His career spans the development of the genre, and he has shepherded and nurtured and sung the praises of many a young unknown author just getting a first book off the ground, among them Robert Lipsyte, M. E. Kerr, and most recently Chris Lynch and Francesca Lia Block. And he is, as Betty Carter says, "The best trainer of folks in the world." Many of his trainees have gone on to be powerful editors in the field, with that same enthusiasm and commitment to excellence in YA books. But even more, Bill Morris is a Harper man through and through but also a lover of young adult literature. He reads other publishers' authors and will discuss them with great enjoyment. Then he always says wistfully, "I wish they were mine!"

Bill Morris has seen the mighty come and go. But always behind the scenes he was there: this modest, unassuming man, who in Horn Book described his work with authors and artists and editors and librarians and teachers and spoke of his pleasure in "being the sort of middle person who could bring them all together."

So it is with great admiration, respect, and affection that I have the pleasure of presenting this plaque to Bill Morris, this "sort of middle person" we all love. It reads: "The 1996 ALAN Award, presented to William Morris in gratitude for his support, and in appreciation of his enduring presence as an advocate and champion of excellence in young adult literature."

And Bill responded:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this award. Since Patty Campbell called to tell me I would receive it, my face has flushed everytime I've thought about being among such a distinguished group of recipients. Aside from my longevity - and, as many of you know, I've been knocking about in this field for a very long time - the only reason I can think why Patty and the award committee have been so kind is that I love my job as a go-between.

I love working with authors of books for young adults - among them those who are here today: Bruce Brooks, Michael Cart, Aiden Chambers, Don Gallo, M. E. Kerr, Harry Mazer, Joyce Carol Thomas, and Will Weaver. It's been a joy introducing them and so many others who write for both YAs and younger children to so many of you over the years. And it's the enthusiasm all of you have shown in getting to know these authors as well as you know their books that doubles my joy. I thank them all for believing me when I've told them you would welcome them into your fold with arms wide open.

And I owe so much to my employer the Children's Book Departments at first, Harper & Brothers, then Harper & Row, and now, HarperCollins. The company's name changes, but the way each regime has encouraged me has been wonderful.

Again, thank you, Patty, and the members of the ALAN Award Committee. Thank you authors. Thank you to those I have and continue to work with at HarperCollins. And thank you all so much for enabling me to have an honor that I'll cherish for as long as I live.

by Zulfia Imtiaz