Sunday, December 4, 2011

Edward is the Phoenix: surprise for an author

Finding out that Edward Ormondroyd, author of the 1957 YA novel David and the Phoenix, was still with us (at age 86) was a highlight of my summer.

Contacting him and convincing him to let me interview him for my blog was as well.

Yet in terms of moving experiences, both turned out to be mere prologue to the Edward-related event that unfolded in Trumansburg, NY, on 12/2/11. I believe it is unprecedented in the known history of author visits at schools.

Like the fabled Phoenix of his book, Edward (as author) has risen again, and it didn’t require a pyre or fire of any kind.

In the interview, Edward said that, but for two “unofficial” (my term) exceptions, he never spoke in schools, as many children’s authors do today.

A humble and happy man, he didn’t say this with any discernible hint of regret or longing, but I saw an opportunity just the same.

By pure, freakish chance, at the same time I had been tracking down Edward, I was also booking an author visit at Trumansburg Elementary in Trumansburg, NY…which, I would soon learn, happens to be the town in which Edward lives.

Yet apparently, the fact that he is a published author is largely unknown among the townsfolk.

More broadly, David and the Phoenix remains beloved by certain adult readers yet largely unknown among the current generation.

I believed kids and Trumansburgians alike would be most interested in Edward’s books and in Edward himself.

So I asked Purple House Press, the exclusive publisher of David and the Phoenix, if they would discreetly donate copies of it to the school so the kids could take turns reading it in the month leading up to my appearance. The publisher kindly obliged and sent 30 paperbacks at no charge. The kids were not told that their assignment to read Edward’s novel had any connection to my upcoming author visit.

Edward had already planned to attend my talk—anonymously, he thought. But about halfway through, I ambushed the whole room.

I flashed a picture of David and the Phoenix, citing it as a childhood favorite. I innocently asked the kids if they knew the book. As I suspected, their reaction was excitement—and disbelief: what are the chances this guest author would mention the very book by an unrelated author that they all just so happened to read?

Then I announced that Edward just so happened to be in the room. I gestured to him to “introduce” him to the crowd—a surprised author greeting surprised fans...for the first time. He stood and endearingly bowed.

For the Q&A segment with which I close my program, I encouraged students to ask questions of either of us (not having cleared this in advance with Edward). To my great pleasure, upon hearing this, quite a few kids turned to Edward and shot up their hands.

Here are both segments on filmthe intro (unfortunately, Edward is cut off, except for his bow) and the Q&A:



Edwards wife and friend had accompanied him; later, his wife said Edward was touched and his friend said seeing Edward get such long-deserved attention brought tears to his eyes. Edward told me he had not thought I would involve him in my presentation, let alone even mention him.

After the presentation, Edward and I posed in front of an important word:


Edward requested this pose.
His wife shrugged and said authors of books for children
never fully grow up.

As if this weren’t memorable enough, the Ormondroyds kindly invited me to their house for dinner (featuring vegetables they grew themselves) that evening. Adding to the honor, fellow author Bruce Coville (whom I’d run into online but never in person) joined us.

Taken in Edward’s library, this photo shows (as Bruce commented) “three generations of
David and the Phoenix”—the author (holding the lone first edition hardcover he owns), a fan from circa the first edition (Bruce), and a fan from circa the 1981 Scholastic edition (me):

Let’s recap how many surprises were bundled into this story:

  • surprise on me: that Edward lives in same town as a school I was booked to speak at
  • surprise on Edward: that I was going to shine the spotlight on him during my presentation and that the kids read David and the Phoenix in prep
  • surprise on the kids: that Edward was there and that they'd read David and the Phoenix because Edward was going to be there
  • surprise on the people of Trumansburg: that Edward lives in town

The press release I'd sent began with this plea: “Due to the surprise nature of this event, please do not run story (or even discuss locally) until after!” The Ithaca Journal (the region’s daily paper) covered it; the Fox TV affiliate WICZ told me they would be there, but they were a no-show.
 The day prior, I had seen the film Hugo, in which a younger person shows an older person (silent era filmmaker Georges Méliès) who had a creative influence that he (the older person) is still fondly remembered. I felt like this Edward Experiment was a Hugo moment of my own.

Special thanks to Trumansburg Elementary librarian Gail Brisson who eagerly agreed to take on this additional effort and who managed to keep the whole thing a secret for a month, even from Edward’s wife…who, it just so happens, volunteers in the school.

13 comments:

jay cohen said...

Very cool!

Liza Martz said...

Absolutely charming!

Michael G-G said...

What a wonderful story, Marc. My favorite line: "His wife shrugged and said authors of books for children never fully grow up." (You do look like a couple of mischievous boys!)

Tweeting this.

tanita davis said...

Oh, that's such an amazing end to the whole story. Except - it's not the end.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks, all. Tanita, yes, for starters, it would be lovely if even one of Edward's OP books would come back into print.

Ruth said...

What a lovely story!

Gregory K. said...

Pretty fabulous stuff! Thanks for not only doing it but sharing it with us all.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks for taking the time to check it out, Gregory!

Kathy i said...

A Hugo moment, indeed. How nice to be able to make that happen! Our family favorite is Time at the Top.

Susan Boiko said...

I always loved "Time at the Top" and was afterwards extraordinarily kind to strangers. I have ever since imagined myself in the scenarios in the book and wondered how I might have behaved. In the spirit of E. Nesbit ( I read "David and the Phoenix" after "The Phoenix and the Carpet") and Edward Eager, I now look forward to reading the Nobleman oeuvre. Thanks a MILLION for finding out whatever happened to Edward Ormondroyd!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Susan! I've forwarded your kind comment to Edward, who I know will be as touched as he's been by the other kind comments.

David Hopper said...

This really brought tears to my eyes. David and the Phoenix was my favorite book as a child, and is still in my top 5 most treasured works of art. Edward Ormondroyd has always been nearly as mythical to me as his creation, so it was wonderful to see him in your video and blog. He's always been such a humble man, but I hope he fully understands and embraces how much joy he has brought to so many of us.

Especially those of us named 'David'. :)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

David, I love your comment and have forwarded it to Edward. Thank you.

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