Young adult fiction writer Laurie Halse Anderson visited the Oswego State campus on Oct. 19 as part of the Living Writer Series to talk to college and local middle school kids about her life as a writer.
Born in Potsdam, N.Y. and now current resident of Mexico, N.Y., Anderson has become a well-known author thanks to her young adult novels "Speak" (1999) and "Twisted." (2007). "Speak," an award-winning book and New York Times bestseller, revolves around a girl named Melinda Sordino, who was raped prior to her freshman year in high school. Instead of telling anyone about the horrific incident, she remains quiet, living in a world of despair.
The chilling tale of Melinda is not all fiction. Anderson came up with the idea of "Speak" based on her own childhood experiences. In the summer preceding her freshman year of high school, Anderson was raped. She kept quiet for 25 years, living in a world of depression and darkness.
"The book ‘Speak’ was roughly 5 percent my experience and the other 95 percent was fiction," Anderson said.
Anderson never believed that she would one day become a famous young adult author. School was not her forte, constantly skipping classes. She never enrolled in a creative writing class and avoided English classes whenever possible. She hated writing essays and reading books that didn’t capture her attention. While she disliked the books provided to her in school, Anderson loved to read books of her choosing, taking out numerous books at one time at the library.
"I love to read," Anderson said. "I hate to write essays but I absolutely love to read."
Anderson didn’t want to go to college, but an eye-opening experience as a waitress made her realize that college was her only option. She attended Onondaga Community College, a fact that she is very proud of, and earned her degree in Linguistics. She went on to graduate school at Georgetown University.
Her writing career began at "The Philadelphia Inquirer," a decision she made over becoming a pizza deliverywoman. Anderson’s received her big break when "Speak" was published. Her ability to connect the topics in her books to teens has made her a top young adult fiction writer today.
"Adults in the nation have a really hard time talking about sexuality," Anderson said. "This causes kids to be confused about their own gender issues and allows them to become damaged. I want my books to serve as a gentle pat on someone’s knee."
However, much like other young adult writers, like Judy Bloom, Anderson’s work has come under heavy criticism by schools and parents. In the first half of October alone, banning attempts have been made on Anderson’s books on four separate occasions. Despite the constant scrutiny, Anderson is a comical, joyful woman that enjoys cracking jokes and making fun of herself. Her personality is evident when describing the reasoning for writing "Chains," (2008) a novel about the struggles of slavery during the Revolutionary War.
"I use to have a huge crush on Benjamin Franklin," Anderson said. "If he would have been my age in high school, I would have dated that man. Then I found out he was a slave owner and became interested in that time period and slavery. I love history and if I would have become a teacher, it would have been in U.S. History."
In 2009, the American Library Association gave Anderson the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her significant contribution to adolescent literature. In 2008, Anderson was awarded with The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (LANA) Award for her young adult books. Anderson has won numerous awards for her work in the young adult genre, having written a total of 23 books. Anderson currently has five books slated to be published in the near future, including "Forge," the much-anticipated sequel to "Chains."