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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more The Booklist Printz Interview
This year’s Printz winner, March: Book Three, was a record breaker: never before had a book won four Youth Media awards. For the record, that’s the Michael L. Printz Award, the Sibert Medal, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, and the Coretta Scott King Author Award, not to mention the National Book Award and inclusion on numerous best-of lists. Although Congressman John Lewis, quite understandably, was unavailable, coauthor Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell chatted with Booklist, reflecting on the trilogy’s monumental success and what they hope readers will take away from this stirring account of the civil rights movement.
The response to your work has been utterly tremendous.
AYDIN: When I brought up this idea to Congressman Lewis and then to publishers, I pitched it as “Maus for a new generation,” and I think March has lived up to that. I believe in the story of John Lewis so deeply that no mountain seems high enough for honoring the life he is living.
Being honored for our work as creators of literature has surprised me deeply because it is one of our nation’s sacred stories told in many ways over the years, so finding the love and honor for our attempt has been surprising and fulfilling in a way I never anticipated.
POWELL: Much of the first book was created in a vacuum. When we started, I had only an inkling of what the potential scope or scale of this project could be, and it was made with much the same creative process and critical considerations as any other book on which I’ve worked.
The level of embrace we’ve received since then has been far beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve all been working since then to meet that enthusiasm head-on whenever possible! This trilogy wouldn’t have the impact it’s had without the passionate response of so many readers, and so many champions—institutions and individuals who have put March to work in their communities.
This installment had more speeches and conversations than the previous two books, and yet you maintained a thrilling cinematic visual style. How did you go about striking that balance?
POWELL: From the starting gate, I recognized that the level of storytelling success in conveying these dense, necessary, text-heavy scenes would determine the success or failure of the book as a whole. We all agreed that the information within was indispensable—there really wasn’t much that even could be trimmed down—and found ourselves returning to Congressman Lewis’ mantra on the project, “Tell the whole story. Make it real. Make it plain.”
In a lot of ways, those text-heavy scenes were the most challenging from a storytelling perspective, and ensuring that the camera kept moving to give time and space to all parties present, as well as environmental details that might otherwise be overlooked, became my priority. Focusing more on camera work allowed the text to carry itself in those moments.
Was working on this volume different than the first two in the trilogy?
AYDIN: It was much different working on Book Three. We were traveling a lot, visiting campuses; there was a lot of pressure to finish the series, and then the book kept growing in length. That being said, the actual writing was much the same: you do your research, you read everything, and you keep writing until the whole story is told.
POWELL: Between the first and second books, our creative and editorial process intensified, as our historical and representational responsibilities grew, and we dove deeper into primary source documentation to get at the heart of history. It was necessary to increase that process further, as the civil rights movement became more massive and influential, and as more documented historical figures came into play.
By the third book, our method had gotten more efficient and allowed us to spend the time needed to contribute more directly to the existing historical record. At the same time, personal and subjective scenes within Book Three presented themselves with much-needed breathing room, and became more of a playground for the visual narrative, allowing the nonverbal content to enrich elements of the story in between those lines of the book’s script. The result, I think, was a book that was necessarily more personal, intimate, and emotional despite the increased level of density in content and darkness in tone.
The similarities between the events depicted in March: Book Three and the atmosphere of today are chilling: What do you hope readers will take away from those parallels?
AYDIN: When we debuted March: Book One at Comic-Con back in 2013, I asked the people gathered at our panel if any of them watched Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the room shouted yes. So I reminded them of a quote from that show: “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.” I hope readers will understand the magnitude of the struggle we face as a society, and their power to be a force for good. We’ve been down this road before. Understand which side of history you are on, and make sure it’s the right one.
POWELL: Throughout this process, there were worldly events unfolding, in real time, with disturbing and profound parallels to the content on my drawing table, but we generally felt that those echoes were so strong that we didn’t need to make extra connections for the reader. People everywhere are hungry for information, for a sense of history and continuity, for something with which to grow and move forward. Ultimately, we decided to let those parallels speak for themselves.
My personal takeaway for readers in 2017 (and beyond) is this: let this account of dedicated young people shaping the fabric of our society serve as a very real road map for action. Learn not just from the successes of the movement butalso from its shortcomings. Pay attention to the mundane work involved without credit or glory, and respect the ideological and strategic differences among the movement’s factions. Despite these growing differences (and even amid heated personal schisms), people showed up in the streets together to push toward a more reconciled world.
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