Jandy Nelson had to keep a very big secret – for two whole days. Last Saturday she found out she’d won the Michael L. Printz Award for her second novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, but the announcements were not being made until Monday. “I was so taken by surprise when they called,” Nelson said, reached by phone at her home in San Francisco. “They must have thought they were giving the award to a raving lunatic. I remember hearing it was the Printz Committee, and then I started screaming. I remember they were all clapping, and that made me burst into tears. They said a lot of nice things about my book, and I screamed some more. It was one of the happiest, most exciting moments of my life.”
I’ll Give You the Sun is told through the alternating perspectives of twins Noah and Jude, which thread their way to the event that drove the once-close siblings apart. The author says the book took her three and a half years to complete. “It was very much like writing three novels in total,” she said. “I wrote Noah’s story start to finish, and I locked the file [that contained] Jude’s story. Then I wrote Jude’s story start to finish. I didn’t want their voices to blend. And I wanted each story to have its own propulsion so it would work when I combined them. Then the last year I spent interweaving their stories, and working on the book as a whole.”
The committee had cautioned her not to tell anyone (she told only her mother and her boyfriend). “My boyfriend and I went out Saturday night to celebrate and we had champagne, and that was great.” By Sunday, though, “I was just tapping my foot. Thank God there was the Super Bowl yesterday so I could scream. It was like that feeling little kids have before Christmas – exponentially.”
Nelson said she’d been “up all night with excitement” the night before the awards. She had done her best to persuade her friends and family to watch the live webcast, without revealing that she’d won one of the big awards. “I told them it was the Super Bowl of children’s literature, they might be interested to see it, and they all did!”
And now that the news is public, the response has been “overwhelming,” she said. “My in boxes are exploding, I have hundreds and hundreds of posts and tweets.” And all of the well-wishing led to an insight: “I realize how much I adore the children’s book community,” Nelson said. “I feel really honored to be part of the community. It feels like an explosion of love.”
Before becoming a writer, she knew the publishing world well: she spent 13 years as an agent for adult books, at Manus & Associates. “I loved being an agent, it was terrific,” Nelson said. When PW named her a Flying Start in 2010 in a regular feature highlighting noteworthy debuts, she stated at the time that she was on sabbatical from her agency job. So we asked her on Monday if she was still on sabbatical. “Yes,” she said, adding: “Kind of a long sabbatical at this point!”
Nelson gives much credit to her agent, Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties, and her editor at Dial, Jessica Garrison. “I honestly feel like the book is all of ours,” she said. “And Penguin has been amazing, starting with the cover. It’s like a burst of energy.”
Knowing that winning the medal means delivering a speech at ALA’s annual meeting in summer, Nelson said she gave herself a break from that anxiety, telling herself, “I’m not going to think about the speech for a week.” And she’ll soon be back to work on her current project, a novel with the working title of The Fall Boys and Dizzy in Paradise. It’s about two brothers and a sister, whose father has mysteriously vanished 16 years earlier, and the enigmatic girl who shows up and throws their life into tumult. Its projected publication date is 2017.
When PW spoke with her on Monday afternoon, her joy at the now two-day-old news was still palpable. “I feel really blown away to receive such an honor,” she said. “I feel thrilled to the bone that they thought this book was worthy of this incredible award. And it will help it find its audience. I’m so happy that Noah and Jude get to go out into the world and find readers.” She confesses that she’s still “completely” in shock. “I never expected it. It’s probably the best moment of my whole life.
And is she ready for the crazy year in store for her as the newly anointed Printz winner? “It’s been a crazy year already, ever since this book came out,” she said. “But it’s been a magical ride.” A ride that’s only just getting started.
To read our interview with 2015 Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, click here.
To read our interview with 2015 Caldecott Medalist Medalist Dan Santat, click here.