Author Event: Laurie Halse Anderson

This was the second time I’ve been privileged enough to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak. If you’ve never been to one of her events, I truly hope the opportunity arises for you to change that at some point; Anderson is an absolutely incredible person that is full of so much wisdom. There’s that age-old question that asks if you were able to sit down for coffee with anybody, dead or alive, who would you choose? For me, Anderson is that person.

Before I get too far, I want to extend a huge thank you to Penguin Teen for sending the Shout tour to Tulsa. Not many young adult authors make their way through this area, and I’m so thankful to everybody that planned this event for giving my town a shot. The turn out was great, and I know there were people attending that needed to hear the words that were spoken.

Anderson was joined by Kimberly Johnson, CEO of Tulsa City Country Library, who has done incredible work for literacy in our community. I’ve seen Johnson at other events, but this was really the first time I had heard her speak. The night was started by Anderson letting us know that the conversation would be heavy, so if at any point something was brought up in your heart that was hard to deal with to feel free to step outside and take a breath. There was no judgment in the room, and it felt empowering.

Shout is really broken into two main parts, the first being a memoir with the second being a manifesto. Anderson was attacked by a boy she knew when she was 13-years-old, but because of the way her family handled things and the silencing that went on, she didn’t tell anybody for 23 years. Now, due to her experiences, she hopes to give a voice to people suffering in silence and help everybody begin the conversations that need to be happening.

sometimes you have to shave

yourself bald

and start again like a newly hatched chick

leaving the faint rot of broken magic

in shattered eggshell pieces

behind you.

shout by laurie halse anderson

Due to the content of Shout, it has very close ties to her first novel, Speak. In fact, when reading Shout you’ll notice a lot of references. Whether it’s obvious ones that actually contain the word speak or more subtle ones that simply mention Melinda, this poetry collection almost feels like an extension of Speak that just happened to come out 20 years later. A big difference between the two though is Anderson says Speak is 10% her emotional truth, whereas when you read Shout, you can tell that 10% jumps to 100%.

Anderson was actually working on a different “terrible” novel when Shout began to form. Walking down a busy sidewalk, poetry started pouring out of her to the point where she immediately called her agent and told her about the new idea. Skeptical, the agent told Anderson “you should explore that”, and from there Shout was born. Anderson said she has never written a book that flowed out of her so quickly.

This was when we got to my favorite part of the conversation. Anderson started speaking heavily on how it’s important for adults to be truthful. She has a responsibility to her audience to speak her truth, especially during school visits. For some children, her event may be the first time they truly realize they aren’t alone in what they have and continue to go through. This responsibility extends beyond her though. For parents, it’s incredibly important that they are honest with their kids. Topics are going to come up that are hard to talk about, and parents need to share what their anxiety levels are so their children understand that what they are feeling is normal.

At the end of the discussion, Anderson shared her three wishes: 1. Every survivor is surrounded by love and care 2. The conversations surrounding sexual assault begin to happen and 3. That Shout is sent to your mother and grandmother so they can know that things are getting better. These are simple things that we can all be doing. In fact, it’s our responsibility to make sure they do happen.

There were quite a few people in attendance, so the signing line was long. Because of where I was sitting I ended up toward the end, but the entire time Anderson was so gracious and kind to every single person. When you were at the table with her, you were the only person there. I was only getting my copy of Shout signed as all my other books of hers were signed when I saw her a couple of years ago. While she signed my book I thanked her for encouraging parents to be honest and talk with their kids and I shared with her how some of my experiences were similar to hers. Really I just wanted her to know how much I appreciated her words and that I was doing everything in my power to raise my son in the best environment possible, but out of nowhere, I started to cry. She quickly got up and gave me such a long hug, and it meant the world to me.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Laurie Halse Anderson’s events, I highly recommend it. Even if you’ve never read one of her books and maybe don’t plan on ever reading one, just hearing her speak her truth is worth it. Shout is an incredible book. It’s raw, gut-wrenching, and at times hard to read, but necessary. I’m so thankful for Anderson’s honesty, and I hope I’m able to see her again and ask all of the questions my heart has for her.

Tell me, have you attended an author event recently? If you were to sit down for coffee with anybody, who would it be with and what would you ask them? Leave me a comment and let’s chat!

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