Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Close encounters with children's writers, part 2

Here is the next installment of my encounters, prompted by my present location. I happen to have a decent knowledge of Brazilian children's literature because some of it is translated into Russian and Swedish. Ana Maria Machado is by far the most famous, and I have read some of her books in Swedish. She is a great writer, or Writer, or crosswriter. She has received all possible awards, including the Andersen Medal. At the time, I was in San Diego, and the editor of the IBBY journal Bookbird approached me before the winner was announced to ask whether I would be prepared to write about the winner very quickly for the special Andersen Medal issue. I'd have to do it within two weeks after the announcement. I looked at the list of nominees and said to myself, OMG, hope it's someone I know well. I was delighted that Ana Maria Machado won, not only because she was worth it, but also because it was a joy - and a challenge - to write about her. My text was sent to Brazil for approval, and the Bookbird editor got back to me with a comment: "Who is this person and how can she understand Brazilian children's literature without being Brazilian?" I asked the editor to forward my reply: "I grew up under dictatorship".

Since then I met Ana Maria several times at book fairs and other events. She is an extremely warm and generous person and has sent me loads of books, some of which I have read, with my non-existent Portuguese.

I know that writers of her rank are busy, so I was a bit uncertain when I tentatively responded to my Brazilian hosts' question about any special wishes during my visit. I don't know whether they were surprised or impressed or whatever, but today I had the privilege to have lunch with the most famous and loved Brazilian children's writer, and, incidentally, the President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. All because I grew up under dictatorship.

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