On Wednesday, October 22, the Special Collections Department at the University of Arkansas Libraries honored me at a reception. I knew I was to be there to talk about my writing, but didn’t know much about “the rest of the story.”
It was overwhelming. Huge posters announcing my appearance greeted me. Many professors, deans, provosts, a representative from the university president, plus graduate students and so many others crowded in the large room and came to say hello and shake my hand or hug me. Cameras pointed at me. In spite of a downpour outside, people kept crowding in until they were standing all around the walls and sitting on the refreshment tables. I noticed one lady balancing a huge cookie platter on her lap. (When I saw her it was almost empty.)
Organizers showed a power-point touching on special collections, including a photo of DEAR EARTH, my first book. (I learned their collection already has several of my books and will now include all of them.) They also showed a preview of a new movie documenting the fight (which I took part in, years ago) to save the free-flowing and wild Buffalo River in north-central Arkansas from a Corps of Engineers dam. (Think mini Grand Canyon.) They had told me to include a reading from my novel, A RIVER TO DIE FOR, set at the (now) Buffalo National River in my remarks, so I spoke about my work and research, and then read as requested. After, people lined up to have books from the University Bookstore signed, and also to talk with me.
Then the organizers took John and me out to dinner.
One of the many unique parts of this came when the head of Special Collections told me at dinner that an English Ph.D. came to him after my talk to praise my remarks and my writing. AHHHHH! Can you hear that, Miss Maher?
………..I didn’t cry until Thursday.
Now, the rest of the story. Four years ago our (then) area Sisters in Crime chapter attended a reception for Sara Paretsky held in the University of Arkansas Library. Paretsky is one of the founding mothers of Sisters in Crime, an organization began in 1986 “to combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to the inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries.” (Quoted from the Sisters in Crime Handbook.)
Sara Paretsky spoke at the reception, we had cookies and other goodies, then she signed books purchased from the University of Arkansas Bookstore. It was very special, and most of the sisters there were in total awe of Ms. Paretsky. Count me among the awed group.
So, I couldn’t help thinking back to that event this past Wednesday. The honoree was different of course. I can’t touch Paretsky with all her lengthy accomplishments and book sales in the millions, but still–her shadow fell on me. I was, for a time, walking in her shoes, and believe me, the awed feeling is still with me.