Here at the Alliance we love teachers, students, regional affiliates, artists, writers, curators, editors…and of course, our families. Our families are our first brush with encouragement and inspiration; the people who were there for us when we needed a ride to writing classes; the people we turned to when we needed money for art supplies. Where would we be without them? Poet and Wordsmith Patricia Smith dedicated the following speech to the parents of Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recipients.

It Began (Patricia Smith)

It began.

You lifted your child’s stubby forefinger and touched it to some color-splashed page, traced mountainous As, the dual belly of capital Bs, the clashing crossroads that say X and X again. Back then the letters were just lines, curious back and forths. You tangled your two voices in the up and down again bounce of that first song, the one no one ever forgets: Now I know my ABCs…next time won’t you sing with me? And the sounds took on shape, wriggling and strutting, and the shapes took on sound, bellowing in place.

This is an R, you said, a Q, and look how the Z twists like a road that can’t decide.

You first whispered the sounds, the sputters and pops and sweet hisses that build words. B-b-b ball. T-t-tree, Go ahead, now YOU say it, and every unfolding day was a little bit more of miracle. It was you, you who held your son or daughter in the scooped cradle of your lap and began to give names to things. You first said the words seashell and tulip, anemone and angel, you matched what the eyes could see to what the open throat could do.

It began, and kept beginning.

You grabbed book after book from the nighttime shelf and snuggled with your son, your daughter, under daisied or spaceshipped blankets, you opened those books and a world at the same time, painting impossible and mystical escapes with the ups and downs of your voice, teaching them to dream, to dream those huge and boundless dreams where every door opened, opened wider still, and never remembered to close. You sang them wizards and cowboys, mumbling bears, planets that danced and train engines that tumbled and giggled and cartwheeled down the meandering tracks. You crafted stories from nothing, stories where the child in your arms was always the beacon, the power to decide, the insanely sparkling highest star. Your stories grew so huge they dribbled across the borders of the real, and even the monsters under the bed stopped to listen.

It began, and just wouldn’t stop beginning.

They crawled, stumbled, learned to walk, and immediately walked away from you, walked through the opening of your arms and into the glorious chaos of everyday, where the mere fact of purple dazzled them. And because of you, they spent a thousand hours naming wherever their eyes fell. That is a policeman. Fireman. Chimney. Truck. Pigeon. Subway. Cow. Baby cow. Library. River. Worm. Flower. Sunflower. That is a rainbow. And the names became breathless exclamations, barged into the middle of stories, splashed onto easels and notepads and your children picked up pencils and crayons and carefully conjured As like mountains, Bs with those funny bellies north and south, Xs so simple and so stark, trucks with grinning mouths, exploding blue sunrises, sometimes just stick figures–and one of those skinny stumblers, for some reason, was always you.

And the tomorrows hurtled ahead, not slowing no matter how hard you begged, and now here is your daughter, your son, painting stories for everyone, crafting whole lifetimes of lyric and light. Think back to when you first took their hand and helped them trace the beginning of a language, the outline of a world, line by line, letter by letter. Now, awash in limelight, they have become the teachers. Now they are holding your hands in theirs, and there is only a single translation for that touch. It says thank you, thank you, over and over again, like a beginning that keeps beginning, like a sun that won’t stop rising.

First read at the Carnegie Hall ceremony on June 4, 2009. To learn more about Patricia Smith, visit her website at http://www.wordwoman.ws/.

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