A.S. King had turned her cell phone off last Sunday morning, so she missed a call that came in at around 11:30 a.m., and the caller left no message. “I wasn’t sure if it was a robo-call or not, but I decided to call back,” she said. “I’m not really sure why I did that—I usually don’t.” Her call went to voice mail, but then her cell rang again. This time the author picked up, and was stunned to hear a voice say, “We’re calling from ALA Midwinter, and we have you on speakerphone.”

Within seconds, King learned that her YA novel, Dig, had been selected to receive the 2020 Michael L. Printz Award—and what happened next is a bit fuzzy in her memory. “I don’t remember exactly what I said,” she noted. “I know I probably cursed first and then rattled, ‘Get out! No way! You’re kidding! What?’ My husband screamed—he’s known me for 33 years, so he could tell it was some kind of good news. And my daughter yelled to ask if I was all right.”

King emphatically responded that she was just fine—if a bit shocked—since, she said, “I never, ever thought I would win the Printz Award,” after garnering Printz Honors for Please Ignore Vera Dietz in 2011. “Until this year, no woman had ever won both Printz gold and honors,” she noted. But with Geraldine McCaughrean’s 2020 Honors accolade for Where the World Ends and 2008 Printz Award for The White Darkness, she and King have both reached that milestone, which in King’s estimation “is pretty darn cool.”

King was surprised that Dig clinched the Printz for another reason as well. Released by Dutton last March, the novel explores the corrosive, labyrinthine secrets that affect multiple generations of a wealthy family in suburban Pennsylvania, exposing the exacting cost that five far-flung teenage grandchildren must pay to maintain the family name. “I thought that Dig would be a hard book for a committee to agree on,” she explained. “It is a big, saturated novel with almost too many balls in the air—I’ve never before put that many in the air! The book has so many ideas, generations, and different characters, and to keep them all organized and say what I wanted to say without beating it over the head was work, but I learned a long time ago that it’s all about the work. I am very proud of this book, and I am so happy that I live at a time when a committee could come together to award it the Printz.”

After receiving “the call,” King phoned her agent, Michael Bourret, who hadn’t yet heard the news (“That was a very good moment,” she said), and called her editor, Andrew Karre, which was also a gratifying experience. “Andrew was with me at the very start,” she said. “After I spent years writing and receiving rejection letters, he plucked me from a rough swell in the sea and in 2009 published my first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, when he was at Flux. Due to circumstances, I moved to a different publisher, but we got together again in 2014, and to have won this award with Andrew is the best thing in the whole world.”

Her Sunday calls to agent and editor completed, King realized that “I just couldn’t call anyone else right then,” and she and her husband and daughter took a walk to a pub in her Pennsylvania town. “My daughter had a hot chocolate, my husband had a small drink, and I had a double,” she said. “We sat there and stared at one another—we still couldn’t believe it.”

With several new projects currently in the works, King said she is not intimidated by the prospect of readers’ newly raised expectations after her Printz win. “I don’t think like that—I’m not scared of expectations,” she said. “I have a half-written novel staring at me—haunting or daunting me. I want to step outside fiction and I have been working on a graphic memoir for about five years. It keeps thinking that it has found its feet, but it really hasn’t yet. Writing one novel a year has been a lovely thing, but I want to explore new ideas. I’m about to turn 50, and as long as I have the brain flexibility to do whatever I want to do, I will—and that, to me, is not daunting at all!”