Laura and Illinois Reads

This is going to be hard, which is why I keep putting it off. But I want to say it and it’s not going to get any easier, so here goes–

Laura Crawford's IN ARCTIC WATERS

Laura Crawford’s IN ARCTIC WATERS

I miss Laura Crawford. She was the author of several books for children, including a book selected for this year’s Illinois Reads program, In Arctic Waters, but her writing career ended suddenly when she succumbed to leukemia in the fall of 2013. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I mean, she had fought cancer before and vanquished it twice during the time that I knew her, but those battles were all behind her, I thought. We all thought.

I was taken by surprise. I had just attended an author event with her last spring–the 2013 Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington. Laura was her usual energetic, witty, genuine self all day. She, the more experienced and knowledgeable author–I, the newb. She was the only other writer there whom I knew. We had known each other for over ten years, in fact, long before either of us had published any books. We had scads of mutual friends, plus some little inside jokes and memories of other funny incidents that had taken place at previous events, so there was always something to talk about with Laura. I was so happy she was there.

Back at our hotel, we were tickled to discover that our rooms were right next to each other. We joked around while she dug around in her bag for her room key card, which, I remember, took a long time. A ridiculously long time. I smiled as she scrounged again and again through the bag’s contents. So Laura.

At some point during that weekend, we made vague plans to have lunch over the coming summer. She would be out of school then (she was a reading specialist–another talent). I looked forward to lunch with Laura, but you know how it goes. The meeting just never got scheduled. Next thing I knew, fall had come around again.

Then came the message in my email with the subject line “Sad News about Laura Crawford.”

LauraC

I couldn’t share my feelings with others who knew her, not yet. It wasn’t until this past March that I found a way both to honor Laura and to express my grief. At the ceremony to introduce this year’s books and their Illinois authors chosen for Illinois Reads, which was held the night before the Illinois Reading Council’s yearly convention, I carried In Arctic Waters.

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (l to r: Jim Aylesworth, me, Kristina Springer)

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (I’m in the center.)

Years earlier, I was one of the writers lucky enough to critique Laura’s arctic manuscript in its earliest stages. This happened, I realized, while traveling home from an earlier Illinois Reading Council convention in Springfield, before there was an Illinois Reads program, before either of us was published.

I was proud to be able to hold Laura’s book while standing in front of the crowd in the Illinois State House, in the very room where Abraham Lincoln used to speechify. Laura loved history. She would have loved being there. I wish she had had the chance.