On Tuesday, April 4 at 3:30 p.m., author Laurie Halse Anderson visited West Chester University and gave a speech in room 168 in Main Hall.
Mostly known for her works “Speak,” “Wintergirls” and “Twisted,” Anderson writes young adult novels that discuss topics that are often difficult to talk about, such as sexual assault and eating disorders.
At the beginning of her speech, she discussed her childhood as a farmer with an alcoholic father who lost his job and their house. Her childhood, she said, was happy, but her adolescence, which is the target age in most of her books, was horrible. She claimed she needed to be educated because she’d only been exposed to the world of working on a dairy farm, so she attended Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y.
While in college, Anderson realized that she was one of the few students who took advantage of their time in college.
“I was shoveling cow shit every day to pay for education,” Anderson said, which is why she worked so hard at becoming a good student.
Her education expanded when she attended Georgetown University to study linguistics.
“I explored a passion,” she said. “Too much of education… has been forcing kids to walk away from their passion and instead for something that’s going to make them happy… Following my passion is what made the difference when I went through depression and survived.”
Anderson then went on to discuss how she became a writer.
“I never thought I was going to be an author, ever,” Anderson said. “But because I followed my passion, I went on a windy path and became a writer, and I found what I was supposed to do… The real world couldn’t be anything less like education.”
In 1993, living in Philadelphia, Anderson opened a Sunday magazine and saw a full color article about an epidemic that hit Philadelphia in 1792— yellow fever—and became fascinated by how graphic and disgusting it was.
“It was the perfect story to tell middle school students,” Anderson said.
She claims to have written “Fever 1793” over and over again, feeling more like a historical fiction writer. Before that was published, she had faced over 120 rejections for her picture books.
Anderson then went on to write “Speak,” which was based on a dream her daughter had in adolescence. It was turned into a Lifetime movie starring Kristen Stewart, who was only 13 at the time of filming.
Anderson spoke about her own experience of being sexually assaulted at 13, and though it was a different circumstance from what she wrote about in the book, it was emotionally the same in how she didn’t say anything.
“No one thought anything of it,” Anderson said in regards to her book “Speak,” “and then the wonderful English teachers of this country were handing out this book to their students.”
At that point, Anderson was between writing historical fiction and contemporary young adult novels but told the students that there was a theme to all the books she’s written.
“The theme that unites all my stories,” Anderson said, “is writing books about things people have a hard time talking about… When you read stories, it opens our heart, it opens your mind, and gives you the language and ability to talk about hard things. In the story is the answers that will heal us.”
After her talk, Anderson answered some questions by students who had attended.
One student asked, “Have you ever hated writing?”
The students laughed to her response.
“Every single f***ing day,” Anderson said. “It’s hard! Which is awesome. When you do a hard thing, especially when you go through periods where you don’t think you can do it… and you come out the other side, you are strengthened, and you grow.”
Another question from a student was, “What have you learned from writing about things that are hard to talk about?”
“Acknowledge the elephant in the room. We have to have a conversation,” Anderson said. “Put it out there, which makes you vulnerable… but then they’re listening. Acknowledging that you don’t know how to stay something… talk about a hard thing. You can say, ‘I just need you to listen.’”
After the Q&A, students were invited to have their favorite books signed or, if they didn’t have one, could choose to buy one at the stand in Main 186.
This fall will have marked 25 years since Anderson’s goal of getting one book published.
Her daughter currently attends West Chester University.
Samantha Mineroff is a third-year student majoring in English writings track with minors in creative writing and linguistics. She can be reached at SM825021@wcupa.edu.