Jean Craighead George, Author
With hot dog in hand, I took a break from signing Julie of the Wolves at ALA's Newbery Award festivities in Las Vegas, 1973, and headed for the TV set in my room. The Watergate scandal was breaking. In the corridor I met Bill Morris, also with hot dog in hand, and invited him to join me. We turned on my TV precisely at the moment John Dean said to the Congressional investigating committee, "There is a cancer in the presidency." With that, Bill and I exchanged a long, wondrous look and bonded for life.
That was the beginning of a friendship that flourished because of and despite our different backgrounds: the woods and civilization. It was a friendship of love and laughter nourished by books, politics, my children, dogs, crows, gee-whiz facts about nature, and Bill's gentlemanly mind.
His sense of correctness always amazed me and sometimes spared me embarrassment. On a nature walk with him and two dignified lady librarians, I stopped to explain that the eerie light in the forest was due to the shrouds of caterpillar silk from New York's worst gypsy moth outbreak. The caterpillars were so numerous we could hear them. "How do they make that sound?" one of the women asked. Without a pause, Bill answered, "I think we're hearing caterpillars chewing leaves." The ladies smiled, I said nothing, and we continued our walk.
The next day I phoned Bill to set him straight. "The sounds we heard," I said, "were not caterpillars chewing, but billions of feces falling." "I know," said Bill. "But wasn't it a nice walk?"
Charlotte Huck, Professor Emerita, Ohio State University
The world of children's literature has lost one of its best friends. Bill Morris had an amazing memory and contained a directory in his mind of all the authors, librarians and professors of children's literature. He even developed a kind of genealogical record of where students had obtained their Ph.D.s and under whose tutelage.
Bill was a mover years ago. I told him back in the 1960s, when I was chair of the elementary section of NCTE, that I was tired of seeing nothing but textbooks at the NCTE and IRA conventions. I told him teachers and professors would buy trade books and would love to have them autographed. He believed me, and Harper was one of the first to exhibit trade books at teacher conferences.
We will all miss Bill's gracious smile and warm welcome at Harper events. He was a wonderful ambassador for children's books.
Charlotte Zolotow, Editor and author
Bill was intense about everything in life, the good and the bad, and he was influential in both professional and personal ways. He was a sensitive antenna to life and made lasting connections between people unknown to each other who shared an appreciation of the fine things in the children's book field. From the wings, Bill silently united like minds and tastes into a fabric of wisdom: he united artists with authors, and editors with undiscovered writers.
He himself never fully realized the impact of sending a particular book to a particular reader, library or bookstore, and the reverberations of his many small acts. This sounds too good to be true and Bill never thought he was that good or that true, but he truly was.
Bill believed what Ursula Nordstrom also believed—that "children will understand the very best that authors and artists can give them."
His instinct, brilliance and delightfully wicked sense of humor made him a unique and wonderful man.
Tor Seidler, Author
Just before the publication of my first book with HarperCollins, the publishers invited me to a party at the United Nations. I remember plastering a name tag onto my blazer and making my way into a crowded reception room, looking around anxiously for a familiar face. Seeing none, I headed for the bar. But before I got there I was waylaid by a man whose gray cowlick didn't even come up to my chin. He had on a suit and a too-large tie, he smelled of cigarettes, and he looked up at me with a boyish grin and said in one of the gentlest voices I'd ever heard, "Oh, I just love your book."
Like hundreds before me, I was instantly put at ease, made to feel important, by Bill Morris.
That first encounter with Bill was 1992. My last was this past September 27. In between, I was lucky enough to have dinner with him 60 or 70 times. Occasionally with others, usually just the two of us; sometimes at my place, more often at three- and four-star restaurants where we were greeted, "Oh, Mr. Morris, how nice to see you!"
Impossible to say what I'll miss most about Bill: his wit, his exemplary modesty, his erudition, his marvelous sense of irony (keen but never mean-spirited). Or maybe the gleeful twinkle that came into his eye when he got onto one of his pet subjects (the horrors of bad writing, of Republicans—Nixon most deliciously, of the military school his mother sent him to in Texas; the glories of the New York Yankees, of the rising Dow, of Harper's Newbery winners). Or his stunning generosity.
When I last saw Bill, even lying in a hospital bed in his Kip's Bay living room, shockingly not in a suit, he was utterly himself—blue eyes gleaming at Bush's recent dip in the polls, insistent that I plunder a basket of goodies his banker had sent him, proudly showing me a beautiful love letter from a favorite librarian, worrying about the fate of the books surrounding him on every wall.
I worry about the world without him.
Betty Carter, Professor Emerita, School of Library & Information Studies, Texas Woman's University
Bill Morris was so loved and respected by librarians because, in many ways, he was one of us.
Bill was the ultimate readers' adviser. He would talk about books that he believed would excite children and send copies of review books that he believed would fit just right into our collections. If he didn't think we got the message the first time, a bound copy of that book would invariably appear in our mailboxes with a note written in his small, precise handwriting: "Thought you would enjoy this. Bill."
Bill was a consistent presence at educational conferences, always reminding attendees that reading was more than a skill, but rather a behavior nourished in libraries by fine books. That was Bill's gift to both children and librarians. His genius, however, went far deeper, as he brought lovers of children's literature together in much the same way that he matched up books with readers.
The Harper breakfast at ALA was the place where book people got together, making and renewing friendships, discussing titles and trends, and developing a sense of national camaraderie about the work we did in our individual settings. It was all about books and the people who loved them. And the people who loved those books were rewarded with many a friendship. Some of those friendships were with fictional characters—Jerome Foxworthy, Buddy Boyle, Steve Harmon, Weetzie Bat—and some with real people. But the matchmaker was always the same: Bill Morris.
Jenny Brown, Publishers Weekly
As he did with so many people, Bill began quietly guiding my course from the day I met him, in early September 1985. I arrived at Harper & Row fresh from college, convinced I wanted to be an adult trade editor. But meeting Bill Morris changed all that.
Bill emerged from behind a desk piled high with papers; Wild Things dolls occupied his guest chairs. His Liberty tie, with its cascading flowers on a bright blue background, subtly defied the requisite corporate uniform. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a warm smile—with just a hint of mischief. I was charmed.
Bill always used a manual typewriter with a floating "t," and he carefully crossed out his mistakes with a row of X's. I got to retype his letters. I learned that correspondence is an art, and Bill crafted it to perfection. A letter to Katherine Paterson about an author appearance became a continuation of a conversation they'd had over the phone; confirmation of a book shipment to a teacher or librarian was an occasion to compliment them on the work they do.
When Harper threw a party for Bill that fall of 1985, to mark his 30th anniversary with the company, his brief speech began, "Mama would have said this shows a lack of initiative." Bill had a way of deflecting the spotlight from himself, often with humor, often by placing the attention on the author or artist or librarian in his midst. Even though he worked at Harper for 48 years, if you asked him, he would tell you he worked for the librarians and the teachers who put the books into the hands of "the children of America," as he liked to say. His "initiative" took form in countless, unpinpointable ways.
The following January, on Martin Luther King Day (when Harper was closed), several of us from library promotion and publicity gathered at someone's apartment for brunch to await Bill's phone call about the ALA committees' decisions. "Sarah, Plain and Tall wins the Newbery!" he told us. Somehow, I felt he was responsible. I just thought he was magical. I still do.
Bruce Brooks, Author
Things I now try to do/say/know entirely because of William C. Morris:
When agreeing to do something as requested, say "I shall," rather than "I will."
Avoid spending time with a person who says such things as, "So maybe we can get together later and have a drink or three."
The most sublime expression of appreciation is the word "Mozartean."
A person who says he is cognizant of something is probably not.
Understand that one's books will be read, aggressively and sometimes repeatedly, by two groups of smart, open-minded people who deserve the best—librarians and children.
No matter what else is known about a person, the fact that he or she smokes cigarettes means there's something of quality inside.
Someday, perhaps, there will be a time when one can put aside the prime joys, and allocate time to read children's books published by houses other than Harper. But it's not likely.
When phoning the desk at a hotel, one may sound pompous saying "This is Mr. Jones in Room 912." It is better to say, "This is Peter Jones in Room 912." Give no one, in any position, a reason to feel lesser.
Understand that the unfolding and denouement of events collected under the rubric Watergate was perhaps America's best evidence that there is a God, and He is both patient and amusing.
Take heart in having known in my life one wholly Mozartean gentleman.
William Joyce, Author and artist
I first met Bill Morris in 1981. I'd been out of college for only two weeks. Bill had been at Harper for 26 years. He was there before "Collins," before "& Row," all the way back to the days of "Harper Brothers."
Bill was not one of those "Let me tell you about the old days" guys. He didn't lecture. He didn't teach or preach. But if you were a young author and were lucky enough to spend the early days of your career around him, you learned volumes from his example. The nearly vanished arts of tact, taste and style were always on display as Bill did his job.
And he was great fun. He had a dry, sometimes wicked wit. He was a great talker and an even better listener. He knew the best restaurants and always got the best table. He cherished his authors. He adored his librarians. And he loved introducing them to each other.
Publishing has changed so much, but Bill never did. He came from another era and brought the best of the past with him. He will be much missed but never forgotten.