Crying Over a River of Words

Alison Morris - July 30, 2008

I can be a sentimental sap. It’s true. I tear up when things make me deeply sad. I tear up when things make me deeply happy. I am moved by pain and beauty. And, on slightly rarer occasions, I am sometimes moved by the very sight of a book, when it’s one that was created (meaning written, illustrated or possibly even edited) by someone I know personally.


Today our first copies of A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Eerdmans, August 2008) written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet arrived at the store. I never saw an f&g for this book but ordered several copies on spec, having seen some of its illustrations-in-progress when I visited Melissa’s studio last year. Having already been a fan of  Melissa’s illustrations, Jen’s writing, and this book’s subject, I expected great things from this book. What I didn’t expect was to find myself actually CRYING over it. But I did. And then I had to ask myself WHY. Yes, this is a great book. An interesting story, well-told, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. But why did that make me cry?

What I’ve come up with is this: it moves me, deeply, to see someone I care about accomplish or create something that truly wows me — that outdoes their previous work or reveals some new piece of their talents to me. The pieces Melissa created for this book just blow me away. I love the way she’s incorporated the pages, spines, and covers of old books into the illustrations. I love the way the bright colors of her palette stand out against their deep browns, dusty reds, and goldy yellows. I’ve always loved Melissa’s collage illustrations, and I love the way she’s used mixed media elements here. Mostly, though, I think I love knowing that Melissa, this wonderfully kind and fun-loving person, created the artwork for this beautiful book. I know she worked hard on it. And WOW! Look at what she did!

I’ve had this "my friends amaze me to the point of tears" experience a few times before. I can readily recall, for example, listening to NPR during my drive to work one morning in fall 2006 catching their report on the previous night’s National Book Awards ceremony. When I heard the familiar tones of my friend M.T. Anderson’s voice filling the car as he spoke his acceptance for the Young People’s prize, I cried with happiness for him, just as I’d cried with happiness for him when I first read the book (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Volume I, The Pox Party) that earned him a National Book Award. (Of course I also cried because the book was just so darn heartbreaking, but that’s another story…) Clearly the more people I befriend in this business, the more tears I’m likely to shed — for all the right reasons.


I suppose what I really want to acknowledge here is the fact that we work in an industry that is filled with truly REMARKABLE talents and (just as important for the enjoyment of our jobs) truly WONDERFUL people. In the best of cases, the two overlap. Having the opportunity to get to know great people who create incredible things – magnificent stories, awe-inspiring illustrations – is an aspect of my job that I couldn’t value more highly. I love that I’m often just as interested in hanging out with the creative souls I meet as I am in seeing whatever it is they create next. And when I come to really, really like one of them, watch them work hard at something, then feel wowed by the results, well…? I feel weepy. I feel honored to know them. And the added bonus? I feel doubly inclined to handsell their books too.

Anyone else feel this swell of joy and pride (with or without the tears) when they’ve read something/seen something created by a beloved friend or admired colleague? If so, could you make me look a little less sappy by admitting so? Thank you, thank you.

4 thoughts on “Crying Over a River of Words

  1. Elizabeth

    You’re not the only one! In college, a good friend of mine decided to transfer to a performing arts school where he could study musical theater. Before he moved away I went to see him in a dance recital and I found myself with tears streaming down my face. He was just so unbearably talented! I knew in that moment that he’d make his dreams come true. And sure enough, he’s since launched a successful career performing in musical theater…

  2. Kevin A. Lewis

    Actually, (and this is probably more about me being a stereotypical “guy” than anything else) there’s a fairly well-known juvenile writer who lives in my area who I’m on nodding terms with that evokes exactly the opposite reaction; he’s frankly brilliant, has won a Newbury Award, etc. and he could be as much of a YA sensation as Chris Paolini or Stephanie Meyer; back in the 90’s he did a wickedly funny send-up of the teen horror trend which Candlewick ruined by announcing it was a spoof on the cover… What makes me want to give this guy an old-fashioned 8th-Grade knucklerub is that he goes miles out of his way not to produce anything with the slightest bit of commercial appeal; while the rest of us have to walk on water and raise the dead just to get some lazy editor’s assistant to read a query letter he’s doing epic poems composed entirely in string and stuff. Self-induldence is OK in small amounts but some people way overdo it… Wow, was that a rave review or what?!

  3. Liz Szabla

    Alison, you’re not alone. I cry over beautiful manuscripts and books — sometimes on planes and trains. (Most recent shedding of tears in public was over an Anne Lamott book that I was re-reading.) I also buy books if a friend tells me that it made her/him cry. (This includes “it was so funny, it made me cry.”) So, bring on the tissues!

  4. Donna

    Any art that touches our hearts, that speaks Truth to our souls, whether words or dance or music or painting or a child’s sand castle sculpted with intense concentration, makes us cry because we see people using God’s gifts to give back to the world. They love what they do and it shows. I’ll cry for that any day.


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