In my address at last year's RHPL Young Adult Story Contest celebration, I talked about how brave you kids are for giving us your stories - for putting yourselves out there. This year, I thought I'd put myself out there for a moment and talk about beauty. Beauty is sort of a preoccupation with me; thinking about what beauty looks like; thinking about what it means when we say a thing is beautiful. It's a preoccupation that many others share with me - you included, I hope. Beauty was Socrates' main concern. Beauty was Bobby Fischer's preoccupation when he looked for his next move on the chessboard.
Beauty can be deceptive. When we come away from reading a book with the feeling we've experienced something beautiful, we tend to equate that experience with the book itself - with the object that stirred that feeling of beauty in us. But is the beauty really in the object? Is it in your stories? Is it in the words you string so carefully together on the page? I don't think so. I think the beauty lives in the momentary feeling a story or book stirs inside us. I think the beauty dies the moment we close the book or turn away from the story. It lingers in us, like the memory of someone we love who has passed away. The feeling that it leaves us with will stay, even if we never see the book again.
So what does this mean to the young writers who entered this contest? It means that when I read your stories, and I met each of you there in your words, you were coming from a certain place in your life. And I was coming from a certain place in my life. And something beautiful arose out of our coming together at just that moment. I didn't read any of the stories more than once. I don't know if that's a good thing. I only know that if I had read any of your stories a second time, it would have been like a different person was reading them; because every day - every hour even - when I look inside myself, I find a different person looking back at me. The kids who won this contest met me at a time when I needed what they wrote to help me understand what is beautiful in myself. I thank each of the winners for that. But I don't for a minute believe that those who didn't win this contest aren't involved in their own search for something beautiful inside themselves.