I’ve been waiting since October to talk about this.
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 23, 2018
Back in October, on our last day in Portland, my agent, DongWon Song, took Stu and me out to lunch at a sandwich shop — one of those places where you find yourself eating a sandwich and saying it’s the best sandwich you’ve ever had, because Portland.
Towards the end of the meal, DongWon — smoothly, calmly — leaned over to show me an email on his phone. I started reading it.
I saw “LeVar Burton.”
Then I burst into tears.
This is not hyperbole. Messily, noisily, I found myself weeping in a sandwich shop in Portland because — well, Community already did this in jest so I feel it’s some kind of self-parody for me to say, completely earnestly, everything that got played for laughs there. (YOU CAN’T DISAPPOINT A PICTURE!)
LeVar Burton — of Reading Rainbow, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, two pillars of my childhood emergence into books and science fiction — was asking for permission to read “The Truth About Owls” on his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads. It’s episode 14.
He says, of the stories he reads on this podcast, “the only thing these stories have in common is that I love them, and I hope you will too.”
I keep reaching for more words to really spell out the heart of how much this means to me, why it’s undoing me to the degree it is. I think, maybe, it’s that LeVar Burton specifically — his face, his voice — was my first experience of seeing a character also be the person behind the character. I was watching Star Trek and Reading Rainbow at the same time, and I was so young; it seemed to me that Geordi LaForge walked out of a starship and into a diner where he became LeVar Burton. It seemed like a kind of reality-bending power — which is also the power of books, the power of that colourful butterfly touching the world with magic and wonder. That butterfly touched LeVar Burton and he became Geordi LaForge.
And now it’s touched this story, and made it into a story read by LeVar Burton.
I’ve only listened to half the story so far — blown away, already, by the production of it (there’s music! SOUND EFFECTS!) as well as LeVar’s reading — and suspect I’ll have to take it in increments because I’m just feeling so much. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out to Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, the editors of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, the anthology where this story first appeared. It’s literally a rainbow of good reading.
I’ve said before, and will say again forever, that this story wouldn’t exist without Julia’s kind insistent shepherding of my insecurities out the door until I wrote it for her. It was a very hard story to write. Thanks, too, to Tessa Kum, for introducing me to the Scottish Owl Centre; to the Scottish Owl Centre, for patiently putting up with my repeat visits and being at the heart of two award-winning stories now; to CSE Cooney, for brain-storming this story’s core with me; to Strange Horizons, for reprinting it online and inviting me to talk about its genesis.
All these things are inexorably tied up, for me, with the fact that LeVar Burton is reading my story on his podcast, and I expect to be reeling from this for quite some time.