At the CBI conference this September, Professor Amanda Piesse was announced as the worthy winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature award. She was presented with this award by her former student, Publishing Editor and Art Director at Little Island, Gráinne Clear. Gráinne has kindly allowed us to reprint her citation to Amanda. Amanda and Gráinne are pictured with Valerie Coghlan, chair of the CBI board.
This year’s winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature award is someone who has progressed the study of children’s literature in the academic sphere in Ireland, is an exceptional and inspiring teacher, and is one of my all-time favourite people.
Professor Amanda Piesse has for many years been consistently and purposefully working to further the study of children’s literature in Ireland. When she first came to Trinity College Dublin in 1995, children’s literature was not a course of study that existed in the college, except as part of an education degree. With Amanda’s continued efforts and her fierce belief in the value of studying children’s literature for its own sake, she successfully introduced several undergraduate courses to the School of English. With the exceptional popularity of these courses, Dr Piesse was inspired to continue her mischief and founded the MPhil in Children’s Literature in 2011 under the direction of herself and her former PhD student, Dr Padraic Whyte. Since its foundation, the MPhil course has run annually, and sees its largest cohort this year with 18 students. Her investment in the study of children’s literature in Trinity has led many young scholars to undertake PhDs in the subject. She has also been instrumental in the use and study of the Pollard Collection of children’s books in Trinity College Library, which has gone on to form a hugely important part of the corpus of children’s literature in Ireland, including in the new National Collection of Children’s Books.
As for her own academic work, Dr Piesse has been contributing articles to collections on children’s literature and reviewing children’s books for many years now, always to the highest academic and professional standard. Her insightful and original contributions to academic discourse in a variety of different strands of children’s literary criticism is a testament to her inquiring mind and deep intellect. She has also been a board member of the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature and has encouraged many new members and board members to join its ranks.
But really what I would put most emphasis on, and one of the main reasons I believe Dr Piesse so richly deserves to be given this award, is her constant and exceptional encouragement of the next generation of children’s literature students. She is a superb teacher, an inspiring mentor, and someone who leaves a very deep impression on her students.
Speaking as a former student of Dr Piesse’s, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level in the very first year of the MPhil, she has an ability to encourage and enthuse her students like no other. During her classes, one feeble comment made about a text would be prodded and poked, your reasoning drawn out and expanded, questioned and nurtured. Within a few minutes, you would find yourself saying something so wonderfully intelligent and positively inspired, and have absolutely no idea how you arrived at such insight. That is exceptional teaching – making the student find their own way to the idea, but guiding them with a sure hand and a very real belief in their ability to get there. Dr Piesse was hugely challenging as a teacher, and expected and accepted only the best from her students. Lazy thinking was not an option, and as a result her students reached the highest of standards, something that is even more important in a new and sometimes undervalued area of study.
Her dedication to her students was recognised by the college when she won a Provost’s Teaching Award and was elected as Dean of Students a few years ago. As if this weren’t enough, Dr Piesse insisted on continuing to teach during her time as Dean, lest she might lose touch with her students. She also works closely with the Trinity Access Programme in the college, helping young people who come from difficult backgrounds to aim for third level education.
On a personal level, Dr Piesse is ferociously witty, a brilliant conversationalist and sharp as they come. She is also incredibly kind and compassionate, and she both listens with and speaks from her heart. When I sneakily asked a few of my colleagues and college friends about their thoughts on Dr Piesse, they all immediately spoke of her warmth, of her openness and of her exceptional willingness to listen. Throughout my time as an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I went to her about numerous bumps in my road, and at every one she was a supportive and compassionate guide. My experience of college, and the experience of countless other students , was enhanced and made more steady by her presence.
Finally, one thing I know to be true about Dr Piesse is that she is the most modest person in children’s literature. Despite this, her influence is felt widely and deeply in the world of children’s literature in Ireland. Her teaching has affected hundreds of students, and many of the people in this room today. Her academic writing and reviews have raised the bar of children’s literature study. Her warmth and encouragement of the next generation is genuine and unrestrained.
Amanda, you are the most worthy recipient of this award I can imagine.