Remembering Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins
Photo Credit: Charles J. Egita

In August the world lost a giant of poetry–the one and only Lee Bennett Hopkins. Lee edited more than 120 anthologies of poetry for young people, and was a champion of accessible poetry and emerging poets. He was a big personality with a delightful sense of humor and a dear friend to everyone who knew him–and it seemed like everyone knew him. Leading up to today’s release of his latest anthology, I Remember, two Lee & Low staff members share their memories:

Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing:  I first met Lee when we brought him out to a conference in Washington DC, early on in my publishing career. I was a wide-eyed assistant then, just a few years out of college and still learning my way around the industry. I was totally star-struck, but he was so warm and approachable that it was easy to forget how prolific he was.

I remember standing with him in our booth before one of his signings. I knew very few people, and must have looked young and nervous. But Lee leaned over to me and, in a conspiratorial tone, shared stories of this editor or that author as they passed. To me it seemed like he knew every person in that convention center–and had great stories to share about them all. He was a gossip, but his gossip wasn’t malicious. He simply delighted in the range of personalities that make up our industry. Standing next to him, I felt that I had been let in on a great secret–he was a guide, a mentor, and a friend.

As many others have noted, his emails always began the same: “Dear One.” From someone else this might have felt canned or strange, but Lee had an authenticity about him that made the greeting feel genuine and sweet. After my first conference with him, Lee sent me a small ornament–the first gift I had ever received from an author I’d worked with. “When Charles and I found it in Fort Lauderdale, I felt it was YOURS,” he wrote in an email. He had a special way of making each of us feel appreciated, special, and seen.

Lee’s dedication to poetry was absolutely unmatched. He established multiple poetry awards and was always looking for emerging poets to include in his anthologies. He had great taste but was never snobby;  he felt that poetry should be for everyone, and especially for children.

Lee often signed his emails “Best-est,” and that’s what he was: the best of the best, and someone who inspired all of us who knew him to be our “best-est,” too. I’ll miss his emails in my inbox, his wicked sense of humor, his smiling presence at conferences, and most of all, his warmth. But I’m grateful for the body of work he left us with: enough poetry to last many lifetimes for many readers.

Louise May, Editor At Large:  Words can’t express what the loss of Lee Bennett Hopkins, who really was the “Dear One,” means to all of us in the kid lit world and to all the children who have learned to love poetry from his books over so many years. I am blessed to have known him for more than thirty years and to have worked with him more recently on three poetry collections.

Lee was the ultimate anthologizer of poetry for young readers. HeI Rememberhad the uncanny ability to bring together a diverse group of poets to write around a common theme. And it was always an exciting and informative adventure working with Lee. I know he did a lot of work with the poets before he ever sent any poems to me, but he was always open to my suggestions and queries to further tweak the poems. And when he became exasperated at me for questioning punctuation or suggesting other “minor” edits, he would always exclaim “It’s poetic license!”

Our latest book together, I Remember, will publish on October 22. What a fitting tribute. We will all remember Lee as an inspired advocate for poetry, poets, and young readers. He will be missed more than he could ever know.

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