Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.
Today we have an extra-special treat for you: a blog post written by Jay Asher, spokesperson for this year’s Teen Read Week!
Before I began writing Thirteen Reasons Why, I hadn’t read many YA novels. I was mostly interested in writing funny stories for young kids. But when the idea for this book came to me, I was intrigued by both the unique storytelling opportunities and the ability to explore several important issues at once. When it sold, and as I awaited the approaching release date, there was one aspect of being a YA author I was most nervous about: The School Visits.
A lot of people think that, to write a book like this, I must’ve had a horrible high school experience. While I was glad to leave my years of public education behind, I got through relatively unscarred (I think). But, like many people, I was terrified of public speaking. I did well in my college speech class out of sheer fear of needing to take it again.
Knowing about my fear, and of the importance in spreading the word about my debut novel, my agent arranged for me to speak at a school near where she worked.
My very first visit was memorable from the beginning. In fact, it was memorable before I got to the auditorium. As the librarian walked me down the hall, she informed me that one faculty member had tried to stop me from speaking at their school. And she would probably be in the audience. And I just shouldn’t let her get to me. â€œOh, okay,â€ I said. â€œThank you for letting me know.â€ The students began filing in and taking their seats, when a woman walked up with a warm smile and extended her hand to welcome me. While we shook, her smile dropped sharply and she said, â€œI have real concerns about you being here.â€ Yes, those words have set up permanent residence in my brain.
I began my presentation standing on the floor of the auditorium, trembling microphone in hand, with the stage at my back. And I mean right at my back. The lip of the stage was pressing between vertebrae C6 and C7 on my spine because I was subconsciously putting as much space between me and the audience as possible.
But the speech was going well! The students laughed where I wanted them to laugh, were quiet during the serious parts, and when I asked if there were questions, hands went up without any more prompting. The questions about writing were intelligent. The questions about issues presented in the book were deep and mature. I noticed I was moving away from the stage, feeling like I wasn’t just talking to the students, but that we were having a discussion.
Through the entire presentation, I kept sneaking glances up the center aisle to the very back row where Ms. SmileAndHandshake sat. When the students laughed, her face stayed stern. When they showed compassion and curiosity, she remained stern. Whatever her concerns were about my visit, I wasn’t changing her mind. Unfortunately, neither were the students. Thankfully, the students were willing to listen to each other, and to me, and I enjoyed listening to them.
I’ve been to a lot of schools in the four years since my book came out, and students around the country are always this engaged. They can be just as opinionated as anyone else, but they’re still open to other opinions as long as those opinions are presented with honesty and respect.
And that is why I love writing for teens.
— Jay Asher