For those of you who were not able to be there, here's the welcome speech I gave and a snapshot of the incredible talent that surrounded us.
First, I want to thank you all for being here tonight. Eric, Laura, and Emma, thank you for all of your efforts in bringing this year's award to fruition. Each year when I hear the nominees read I am grateful I am not the one who's left to choose among them. So, thank you, for doing that hard work. Thank you, too, Tina, for not running the other way when I accosted you on a sidewalk in downtown Savannah last fall and for generously, and without hesitation, agreeing to be our judge this year. It's been a pleasure getting to know you and I am looking forward to your reading tomorrow night.This has become the most meaningful night of my year. I am grateful every day for the continued connection to Georgia Southern and to the Department of Writing & Linguistics this scholarship brings, but this night...this is my celebration; my opportunity to honor what really was the distilled essence of my daughter's life: her love of the written word. She was an insatiable reader and she was a fierce and fearless writer; she pushed boundaries - both on and off the page - and challenged everyone around her to be the bravest, most outrageous version of themselves they could imagine.She had big dreams and solid plans. She had a laser-sharp vision of the world as she thought it should be and an unwavering confidence in the power of language to shape that world. To make it a reality. And, this night - in the company of so many young people who love words in that same way and who recognize the power of language to transform - is a gift I will never stop appreciating.Chris, I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to hearing your new work. I was particularly pleased to hear you were this year's winner. As I am sure you're aware, this small mountain of books from writers & readers across the country now belongs to you. Each one represents someone who not only loved my girl and her work, but who believes in you and yours. We all wish you - and all of this year's nominees - the best and will be expecting powerful, life-shaping, world-changing words from each of you in years to come.