CMS Librarian Helps in Morris Awards Judging

Monday, April 13, 2015

Claremont students and library volunteers wondered why Ms. Riemer went to Chicago at the end of January in the middle of back-to-back blizzards. Finishing off a year of work, she was taking part in the final deliberations and awards ceremony for the Morris Award, given by the American Library Association (ALA) to the year's best debut book written for teens.

Carla Riemer, the librarian at Claremont Middle School since 2012, served on the 2015 Morris committee with seven other librarians from Alabama, New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas. In this interview, she described her experience.

Jennifer Vetter: How did you get to be on the Morris committee?

Carla Riemer: I applied. There's a selection committee that evaluates the applications for all the different awards committees.

JV: Why the Morris?

CR: The reason I chose the Morris, and fortunately the Morris chose me, is that a couple of years ago, when I went to my first ALA Annual, I sat in on a panel of debut authors discussing their books: how cool is that! The idea of giving someone a boost at this point in their career, when they have just been published for the first time, really appealed to me.

JV: Is it just novels? And how did you get the books?

CR: Oh, no. We read fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels Ð anything that was a debut. If an author had been published before, even for a different audience, they're not eligible. Most of the books we got from publishers, but sometimes we had to go out and get them ourselves. We were scouring every source of information about new books Ð we looked for small presses, checked blogs and talked to people at conferences and with colleagues.

JV: What was the process like? Were there big arguments?

CR: I can't tell you which books we discussed or what we said about them, but I can say we had a great committee with a great chair and I feel very fortunate to have worked with these people. And I'm not just saying that.

JV: How did the committee meet?

CR: We used ALA Connect, which is text chat, but then we started using Google Hangouts so we could see and hear each other. We met face-to-face at the ALA Annual Conference last June in Las Vegas, and again in Chicago at the ALA Midwinter Conference in January to choose the winner.

JV: Were there any books that were so bad that you didn't feel you had to read the whole thing?

CR: Even if we thought a book didn't meet the criteria, we had to write about it and explain why to the rest of the committee. Actually, we were all uniformly pleased at the quality of the books. There were so many really good books that we had a hard time narrowing it down. For those of us who are privileged enough to buy books for our libraries, we can still promote good books that didn't make it to the final round [of five].

JV: How many books did you have to read in total?

CR: Without disclosing the number, I can tell you I had to get a new bookcase for my house and even that was overflowing. My family got used to the loud thud of boxes on our porch.

JV: What will happen to the books now?

CR: Some I'm keeping, some have made their way to the Claremont library, some went to the school district, and the rest I will give away.

JV: Did you have any time for pleasure reading on the side?

CR: At the very beginning of the year, I was still reading a little bit for fun, but I soon had to give that up, and all my TV shows. The last few months were the busiest: it was insane. So many books! But in the end it was fine; we got it all done. What really takes time is the write-ups about every single book, and keeping track of that. You have to evaluate each book against each criterion, and if it made it to the next level, you had to write even more.

JV: Did you get to meet the authors?

CR: The publishers of the five finalists threw a small restaurant dinner for us, the publicists, and the authors. We had already made the decision by the time we had the dinner, so it had no influence on us. All the authors were really nice people, fun to talk to. It was a nice thing to do.

JV: Were all the finalists there?

CR: E.K. Johnson, author of "The Story of Owen," couldn't make it in from Boston because of the snow. [Blizzards in the Midwest and all along the East Coast complicated travel to and from ALA Midwinter, which was in Chicago from January 30 to February 2.] All the authors who were there gave moving speeches at the award presentation ceremony. All in all, it was a great experience.

From the ALA website: The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. For more information about the award, the 2015 winner, runners-up, and past winners, go to http://www.ala.org/yalsa/morris-award. -JV