“The security guard said these were the best cheese steaks in the city.”
This is what I overheard as I jostled and bobbed in the sea of humanity ebb and flowing in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market – just across from the convention center where the National Council of Teachers of English were holding their annual convention. Lucky for me as the first cheese steak joint I had stopped at ran out of sandwiches while I was in line and I wasn’t going to leave town without checking off one of these colloquial culinary concoctions from my local delicacy to do list. The market was reminiscent of Cleveland’s West Side market – only around fifteen times the size.
Sara and I were attending the NCTE conference and it was wonderful to have the market so near –crepes for breakfast are not always the fare at these things. The conference was pretty well attended this year estimates I heard ranged from six to nine thousand. For a change we were not presenting a session even so we had trouble squeezing in all the appointments, book signings, dinners, and publisher meeting we scheduled ourselves. The absence of the stress instigated with presenting though, (technology worries, finding the room, having set up time, preparing the presentation etc. etc.) made the conference one of the most enjoyable AND productive ones I have attended.
This year poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins was honored as the recipient of the Excellence in Poetry award given by the council. Lee has edited about a kajillion anthologies of poetry for kids. It has been my pleasure to get to know him a little over the last few years and I’ll tell you – the guy is a hoot. So there was no way I was going to miss seeing him get his well deserved comeuppance. During the award – toast – roast – ceremony, speakers gave him as much credit for his inside info gossip acumen as his prowess as a judge of poetic talent. Hopkins was the first to publish Langston Hughes’ children’s poetry and continues to produce several books year. The dais was littered with kid lit lyrical luminaries including Jane Yolen, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Georgia Heard, and Ralph Fletcher to name just a couple.
I also got to see another poetic friend and VIP, Jimmy Santiago Baca – who has been contracted by my and Sara’s teacher text book publisher Heinemann to provide stories and poems for a new series of books. I met Jimmy years ago at a poetry conference in Ohio and he has been more than gracious each time we’ve run into each other since. He has been doing some excellent work with youth and Heinemann was smart enough to grab hold of him.
We also had time to sit down and eat with friends including one really fantastic dinner with our editor Harvey Daniels and a crew of other authors and publishers in some swanky Italian joint’s comfortably catacombed stone walled basement. While perusing the menu Mr. Daniels questioned the provenance of the lobster served in Philadelphia. I suspected that the shellfish may actually be irradiated crayfish kept in a galvanized washtub in a closet – “Here take this iodine pill and grab a lobster willya?” I had the veal.
After the conference we hopped into our little blue car and headed to Virginia where we are on babysitting duty while Sara’s daughters Kelly and Katie head up to NYC to work a Rosie Broadways Kids benefit. We took the boys to the Smithsonian to scope out some dinosaur bones but that’s another story now isn’t it?
BTW - the cheese steak WAS pretty great.