Norton Juster & Jules Feiffer: 2010 National Book Festival


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.>>Norma Krug: Welcome. [ Noisy crowd ] On behalf of the Library
of Congress, welcome to the 2010
National Book Festival. We hope you’re having
a wonderful hot day, celebrating the Washington
heat and the joy of reading here in
the National Mall. Before I begin, I just have a couple of housekeeping matters,
unfortunately. I want to inform you first that the
presentations here are being filmed on the Library of Congress’
website for their archives, so please be mindful of this
as you enjoy the presentation. In addition, please do not sit
on the camera risers in the back. And one more minor detail — If you were here for the
exquisite Corpse event earlier and you have a red sticker in your
book, in your flyer, your program, sorry, please go to the back
table to pick up your book. There are some people who
haven’t picked up their books, so. Without further adieu,
I’m Norma Krug. I am a contributing editor at
the Washington Post Book Review, and I’m here to introduce two
legions, and the story I’m about to tell you has numerous
versions and I will tell you one of them which is — in the
late 50s, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer were living in the same Brooklyn
Heights apartment building. Norton was working on a
book and pacing the floors and he was either bothering Jules or he was sharing all
of his stories with him. Both. Regardless of the
truth, Jules started sketching and I’m sure you are all
aware what the result was — the legendary Phantom Tollbooth. [Applause and cheering ] Jules Feiffer, as you know, has gone
on to become a prolific cartoonist, playwright and book author. He’s won an array of prizes
across many, many fields — a Pulitzer, a George Polk award,
an OV and an Academy Award. Norton Juster is an architect. He’s now retired. His firm’s projects include the
Eric Karl Museum of Picture Book Art in Amhurst, Massachusetts. [ Applause ] He taught architecture and planning
at the Pratt Institute in New York and was a Professor of
Design at Hampshire College. Some 50 years since their initial
collaboration, I’m sure you know that the two authors have just
published a wonderful new book called The Odious Ogre, which is
a draw fairy tale about an ogre who is extraordinarily large,
exceedingly ugly, constantly hungry and absolutely merciless
until he meets a young lass who does not fear him. So, here to tell you
more about the book and about their collaboration are
Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer. [ Applause ]>>Norton Juster: Since you
already know everything about me, let me say a few words in
conclusion, and then we’ll leave. [ Laughter ] It has been fifty years,
almost fifty years since Jules and I have worked together. Everybody asks that question. Some people think it’s
rather surprising. It’s really quite simple. Firstly, we wanted to make sure that The Phantom Tollbooth would
still be around and worked. So we waited a little time. Secondly, when you would
see someone all of the time, they get a little wearing, so we
figured that fifty years was just about the right time for us to come
away from all of the problems we had with The Phantom Tollbooth. So, anyway, I wrote this book. It’s not a book that was
just written a few years ago. I started making notes for
it about forty years ago, and this is the way I usually work
— I make notes about something, I stick it in an envelope and I put
it in a drawer where I forget it. And several months later, I’ll take
it out and look at it and I’ll say, nahhhhh, and I’ll put it back. So I did this on and off for a long
time and one day a few years ago, I picked this out of the drawer
and I looked at it and said, hey, I think I know what to do with this. And I started working on it. Well, as soon as I finished it
and brought it into my editor, almost simultaneously, we just
said, Jules has to do this. And luckily he was available
to do it and we did it.>>Jules Feiffer: Unplugged.>>Norton Juster: Yes. [ Laughter ] I didn’t want to bring that out
but there was a long stretch when Jules was really in decline. He did maybe six or eight
books, speaking engagements all over the country, some
plays, a few other things, but he really wasn’t
doing terribly well. [ Laughter ] So we decided we’d give him a little
break and he performed beautifully. Anyway, why don’t you take over
for a little bit and talk about it, whatever you want to talk about? [ Laughter ]>>Jules Feiffer: Um. Well, I don’t need
this if I have that. Can you hear me?>>Is your mike on?>>Is my mike on? OK. Are you criticizing
my dress, madam? [ Laughter ] I have spent hours
preparing for this appearance. I didn’t have a beard
before I came on here. [ Laughter ] This is, um, I have
been, when Norton and I originally did
The Phantom Tollbooth, I was a slashing hard-hitting
social and political cartoonist for the Village Voice and other
publications who had no interest in children’s books because
I had no interest in children because I didn’t have them. And, essentially, did The
Phantom Tollbooth as a toss-away. It was something to do
for my friend, Norton. It was an exercise in
experimentation because, although I was not interested
in doing childrens books myself, I was informed on and
loved the whole history of childrens book illustration,
particularly the 19th and 20th century English
and American illustration and I thought I would steal from
one of those guys in order to figure out how to do this book, so, there
was an illustrator that I loved at the time who seemed
closest to the looseness of my own style named Edward
Ardizzone and I did my best to channel him in my
work for the book. But, once I finished the book
and once we sold the book, and both of us were astonished
that it would have the shelf life which goes on and on that it
did have, once that was done, I put childrens books behind me
to go on to the more serious work of my life which was
overthrowing the government. [Laughter ] which I actually succeeded in doing [ Laughter ] with mixed results. [Laughter ] But, something funny
happened over the years. What happened was that I married
twice, have three children, and suddenly I, who never wanted
children, never liked children, was mad about children
because when you fall in love with your own children, when
you seem to fall in love with everybody else’s children,
and what my children did, what my children forced me
to do was tell them stories. And I started telling these
kids stories to my oldest, Kate, who now writes her own children’s
books and which I collaborate on. One is about to come out from
Candlewick Press in the spring, called My Side of the Car,
but we did Which Puppy? a year and a half ago, and we
did Henry, the Dog with No Tail, and she’s also done many
more with other illustrators. But that came about because I
was making up stories to tell her as I did with my daughter,
Hallie, and Bart George, a book you may know, began as a bedtime story for
my daughter, Julie. [Applause ] And word for word, the story I
told her is virtually the story in that book. So, I began to love this thing
that I had dismissed early, and what I also found out,
as politics began to fail me as a subject because politics
began to fail as a nation, was that there was something
truly reviving and uplifting about working for children. Because at the very
least, they were the future and they couldn’t screw
up anything yet. [ Laughter ] And, while, with my adult work,
essentially writing the cartoons and writing plays, they were
basically cartoons and plays in a sense about disappointment, about being let down,
about unmet needs. But, with a kid’s book, I can deal
with my silliness for the first time and use that as a subject; my
optimism, you can deal with hope; you can deal with innocence and,
as sour as we get over the years, as disillusioned as we get, what
saves us and has always saved us, is the continual rediscovery
and reinvention of innocence, of illusion, and nothing is better
than children’s books as a nest for that kind of illusion, to give
kids the sense, as I had as a kid, as I needed as a kid, as many
kids have and adults have, if you don’t find it at
home, a sense of hope, a sense of identification, if you
don’t find it in the neighborhood, if you don’t find it with your
friends, if you don’t find in a school, my God,
there it is in literature, over and over and over again. [ Applause ] And you find what you
feel that you’re alone, and no one understands you, you
accidentally pick up a book, and 20 or 30 pages in, you say,
oh my God, this is about me. And it gives you a connection. It gives you a connection to
the world but also a connection to sanity because you don’t feel
like quite the freak you felt like. You don’t feel quite
that alone anymore. And what I love about this work
is that, once being the recipient of that kind of feeling from
different authors and illustrators over the years and cartoonists too
in comic strips, now I’m the job of trying to play the
same role for a generation and several generations
of younger people. And it’s a great job. It’s a very happy kind of work. And it’s given me as much
or more pleasure than any of the various other things I do
and will continue to do and one of the great pleasures was
to finally get back together with Norton and figure out
how best to tell this story of The Odious Ogre, which we’ve just
done together, and my first reaction to the book was, all I want
to do is do the biggest ogre in children’s book history, so
that it can’t fit on the page. And the rest of it, I must
say, is story-telling. I mean, that — there
are great children’s book illustrations around. And some of them, if
you look at these books, have little to do with the story. They have to do with the brilliant
illustrator showing himself or herself off. But it seems to me that the only
point in a book, coming at this from the point of view of a
cartoonist, where words and pictures into play and mix and mingle,
is that the words and pictures in the book, in Norton’s, not so
much in The Phantom Tollbooth, because that were illustrations
for in a sense a novel, but in the picture book, they should
mix and mingle like a comic strip so that you can’t tell where
one begins and the other — they each affect each
other’s sensibility. They are part of the same piece. They are twin together, and
that’s what I try to do in this and I’m very happy with how the
book came out which owes a lot also to our editor, Michael
di Capua who guided this and sometimes force-fed
it into the two of us and, after loving what the illustrations
and loving every one said, I think you have to do this one
over, and loving it ever so much, I think you have to do this
one over, and, you know, if you love doing the work,
you love the opportunity to get it right this time, even though you thought it
was right the last time. Norton?>>Norton: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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