Laurie Halse Anderson Speaks to Nantucket

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"Hard times are when we find out what we're made of," says Laurie Halse Anderson. "Speak truth for yourself. Books can show us how to point our moral compass towards bravery, courage and strength" -- a theme repeated throughout her day spent with Nantucket Island students in presentations for elementary, middle and high school audiences. Anderson is known for tackling tough subjects, creating characters and worlds that bring awareness and open doors to conversations that matter. 

In eloquent testimony to the power of this experience, high school student Deja Lewis said, "Reading Speak, and following Melinda as she navigates her problems and learns to find her voice, helped me find my own voice and let everyone know how I truly feel. After speaking with Laurie Halse Anderson, I had the courage to talk to my parents about issues I had been keeping quiet for a long time. She really helped me."

  

A critically acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, Laurie Halse Anderson's work spans the universe of childhood, from the youngest readers in elementary school, through high school, with young adult novels. "Ms. Anderson's visit highlights the focus of Nantucket Public Schools to expose all students to great literature and great authors," comments NIS Librarian Laura Coburn. "Ms. Anderson's stories bring history to life."

For so many of our island students, the lessons gained were about the power of telling their own story, of understanding techniques to tackle writing, and gaining an understanding of how to conquer fear, step by step. With advice that is helpful to all, but used to help students overcome the stress of writing papers, Anderson addresses that loaded topic of procrastination. "There is a simple equation: fear + anxiety = procrastination, the enemy of creativity. We all have control over this issue," Anderson continues, "if we can just begin. Override the inclination to keep putting it off. Take one step forward. Just begin." Getting that first draft down is the beginning of the "brain's reorientation towards: I can do this."

Looking out at her differing audiences, she said to each group, "I know every one of you has a story to tell. Be brave. It doesn't mean that you're not afraid. It means that you work through your fear."

Her work has global reach, with books published and taught in schools throughout the world. Our island, a microcosm of the world, with its international community of diverse cultures, religions, and people, is a reflection of its past as a port city and whaling capitol. "Nantucket is this small place in square miles," reflects Halse Anderson. "But maybe you have a larger place in the world than people realize. Home for people from all over the world. It says something special about your community that you have people willing to travel half way round the world to settle there." Resilience, strength, courage and optimism are all qualities hopeful to the human experience. "The more our children can be versed in the ways of the entire world, with many cultures and many languages, the better prepared they are for the future."

Books open into that wider world and take us to stories that inform, enliven, enlighten and broaden our understanding of what it is to be human. Through the prism of people brought to life in the pages of books, we can experience joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations, and the triumph that can emerge through strength of character. "There's always going to be pain," Anderson says. "That's the inoculation that literature provides."

Anderson concluded her day with the Page to Stage Presentation: Laurie Halse Anderson In Conversation with Nathaniel Philbrick, a collaboration made possible by the Nantucket Book Foundation and the Dreamland Theatre. Their work intersects, each with its broad reach of history, each delving deep into America's past to best reflect the stories that continue to inform our present and our future. As we chart our human journey, Philbrick notes, "The one thing that history can teach us is humility."

This visit is part of the ongoing work of the Nantucket Book Foundation, with support from the Community Foundation for Nantucket and the Nantucket Golf Club. Our mission is to put books in the hands and hearts of readers; to continue to remind our community that there are no boundaries to imagination. Being able to communicate, to understand, to enlarge the world of ideas, all begins with the elemental tools for reading and writing. Engage a child with a love of reading, and you just might get a reader for life. "What matters to me," Laurie Halse Anderson concludes, "is for all of us to remember how clear we all are that we want our children to develop a love of reading. One of my jobs: to write books that might be literary, but more importantly, to write a story that stays in a kid's heart. So as the child grows up, she will reach for a book when she is looking for something that is interesting and fun."

by Mary Haft