Remembering Richard Peck

The recent death of Richard Peck at age 84 invites reminiscence. I first met him back in the early 80s, when I interviewed him for my television author interview program In Print. I was immediately impressed by how easily articulate he was. I so enjoyed talking with him that we continued our conversation after the TV cameras were turned off—to the considerable consternation of his many fans also waiting impatiently for his attention.

Richard Peck, via

I encountered him many times over the years thereafter, usually at conferences and seminars.  He was often a guest speaker, and I marveled at his, well, presence at the podium. It was, in a word, magisterial. [Click here to watch a video of Peck addressing the audience at the 2013 National Book Festival.] He had a great speaking voice which underscored his sometimes controversial points; he was never afraid of voicing opinion. Others will summarize his many accomplishments and awards. but I always felt I had received an award when I had the pleasure of his company. We had in common Midwestern roots—Dick was from Illinois and I, from Indiana—and we shared nostalgia and, yes, occasional sentimentality for the Heartland of our respective childhoods.

While I always enjoyed and admired his fiction (35 novels for young readers and four for adults, but who’s counting?), it was his book about teaching and writing for the “literate” young, Love and Death at the Mall, that gave me particular pleasure as a reviewer and self-styled critic. It’s full of wonderful insights, many of them autobiographical, that sparked my thinking about books and filled in gaps in my knowledge about literature for young readers.

Not so many years ago, I had the pleasure of lunching with him when we both found ourselves in Sacramento, California. I can’t remember the occasion that brought us there, but I certainly recall the conversation. We talked about publishers and literary agents, his career, cruise ships (he had traveled as a guest lecturer on many of them, and I was delighted to learn that he had used my book, From Romance to Realismin his presentations), and more. At one point, I asked him how many years he had been writing. When he told me, I started to observe that it was extraordinary that, after having written for so many years, he was still writing at the peak of his creative powers. Before I had gotten the whole observation out, anticipating what I was about to say, he said, “Oh, I think I’m going to like this!” And he did, for he appreciated having his work appreciated.

All of this brings me to his last book, written, again, at the peak of his powers; heartfelt, witty, and beautifully executed. It is, of course, The Best Man, the loving celebration of a gay wedding and its participants, including the eponymous best man, a boy named Archer, whose much loved Uncle Paul is marrying his favorite teacher, Mr. McLeod, who had earlier created something of a sensation when he came out to Archer’s class at school. The book created something of a sensation, too, exciting the usual suspects, those who live to challenge books, especially those with gay content. But Dick bravely survived it, as did his splendid book, my favorite among all of his novels. It serves, I think, as a memorial to a man whose legions of fans—and friends—will miss his commanding presence and his gift for creating literature to delight us all. Thanks, Dick, and Godspeed.

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About the Author:

Michael Cart has been a Booklist reviewer for over 20 years and is a leading expert on YA literature. He authors the column "Carte Blanche" and has published numerous books. He is the editor of Taking Aim: Teens and Guns (HarperTeen, 2015).

1 Comment on "Remembering Richard Peck"

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  1. semslibrarylady@gmail.com' Mary Clark says:

    Oh, Michael, when I read the sad news, I immediately thought, “But at least he went out at the top of his game!” I loved The Best Man. One of my favorite recollections from my first year working in an elementary school library: laughing too hard to speak while reading A Long Way from Chicago aloud. A student attempted to finish for me, and he, too, was overcome with the giggles. That book was never on the shelves after that.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

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