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Accepting the Missouri Author Award at last night’s Missouri Library Association annual conference. That’s Kaite Stover, the Author Awards Committee vice chair, behind me.

The Missouri Library Association is the umbrella organization of all the libraries in Missouri – public, private, academic, and otherwise. They’re a great organization, and they speak out strongly in favor of information access and freedom of expression.

They also give out two Missouri Author Awards each year, one for fiction and one for nonfiction. This year, I was honored to have Scattered Lights win the fiction award.

Receiving this award from the MLA is extra special for me. For one thing, the books that have won it before are really terrific, and I’m honored to be in their company.

But additionally, libraries have always been special places to me, even sacred. My mom worked in the Fredericktown library, and when we moved to Annapolis, she was instrumental in establishing the Annapolis branch library, which today is named in her honor. At the dedication of the newest building that houses the Annapolis branch, my brother and sister-in-law had buttons made celebrating Mom’s commitment, and that button is what you see on my lapel. Here’s a closeup.

What she saw in libraries was their immense potential for improving people’s lives, without regard to wealth or background. When you walk into a library, you are equal to everyone else there, and the knowledge of all the planet is available to you. She loved to cultivate that curiosity. Whenever a kid came into the library, she made careful note of what that kid was interested in. And the next time that kid came in, there would be a new book pulled from the revolving collection, just waiting, to satisfy that curiosity and perhaps nudge it along a little.

A library represents the potential in us all. The existence of free public libraries is one of the great advancements of civilization. So receiving an award from the state library association is, well, pretty much the best thing I can imagine.

I’d like to comment particularly on my co-winner this year, The Last Children of Mill Creek by Vivian Gibson. I’ve been reading it over the past few days, and it’s a marvelous book. It’s a memoir of growing up in the Mill Creek Valley of St. Louis, a large Black district that was demolished and emptied out in the name of “urban renewal.” The story of Mill Creek is one of the tragic chapters of Missouri history, and it’s not well enough known. This memoir is beautiful and heartbreaking, and you should get a copy. Or tell your library to buy one!