I didn’t get the call from Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation to tell me the good news. He called on Tuesday afternoon, and I was in my classroom teaching. Afterwards, I heard the message (he told me who he was, without telling me why he was calling) but I couldn’t call back. Tuesday was a big day for our school. It was the end of a marking period, and as the school’s database manager it was my job to oversee the printing of the progress reports. The vice principal, the academic coordinator, and I holed ourselves up in the computer lab with a pizza and a 2-liter of Pepsi. We didn’t emerge until 8:00pm, and by then it was too late to return a call to New York.
I forgot all about it by the next morning. I went about my daily routine until Mark called right after my first period class. I didn’t – and still don’t – know quite how to react. I can’t say it’s a dream come true because it never even would have occurred to me to dream it. It wasn’t in my reality. I was speechless. For the rest of the day, I watched my e-mail inbox fill with congratulatory messages from friends, relatives, and artists I’ve long admired. I went home and my wife hugged me for a long, long time.
The next day, the reporters came, one from the San Francisco Chronicle and another from the World Journal, a prominent Chinese language newspaper. The reporter from the Chronicle called early in the morning and politely made an appointment. The reporter from the World Journal came into my classroom completely unannounced, before the school day was over, while I was working with students. It reminded me of something a Chinese uncle would do. Maybe this is why some folks think all Chinese people are related – we treat each other like relatives. Luckily it was an MP period (sort of like Study Hall, except with computers) and I was able to speak with her for a while. (And, in case you’re wondering, I wasn’t mad at all. It was an honor. The World Journal is more highly regarded than the New York Times by my parents and their friends.)
More cultural differences came out during the two interviews. The Chronicle focused more on my methods of working and how my experiences growing up played into the book. The World Journal focused more on my family and their reactions. They even asked for my parents’ phone numbers.
The whole week has been a blur- a big, colorful, surreal blur. It’s still hard for me to believe that it actually happened.
My one regret is that I forgot to shave before the reporters came.