“I don’t know many people who get through adolescence without something terrible happening to them,” said Laurie Halse Anderson, renowned author of popular books such as “Speak” and “Winter Girls,” during her visit to RIT on March 3.
Anderson started her career by writing children’s books before writing her most well-known book “Speak,” the story of a girl, Melinda, who is sexually assaulted a few weeks before entering high school. The book draws from Anderson’s own high school experiences. She stated that she was also sexually assaulted before beginning ninth grade and, like the main character of her story, she didn’t tell anyone about the incident.
“‘Speak’ is not a memoir,” Anderson explained. “It’s a borrowed emotional experience that can apply to anyone who had something terrible happen and doesn’t feel like they can talk about it.”
The author draws her inspiration from the many individuals she has talked with and heard from since writing her books. For example, she says her book “Twisted” was based off the reactions she saw from boys after they read her book “Speak.” According to Anderson, many of the boys didn’t understand why Melinda’s sexual assault was bad. Before writing “Twisted,” she said she asked a lot of boys what made their lives difficult, to which most responded girls, bullying and, in the event of the lack of a father figure, loneliness.
Anderson’s other books also focus on the difficulties of being a teen. In “Winter Girls” she explored the feelings and emotions that come with suffering from an eating disorder. Another book, “Catalyst” is a story the author said was inspired from a newspaper article on a girl who was the perfect student and athlete, but only got four hours of sleep each night from the stress. The book focuses on the pressure that many students are under.
The major focus of Anderson’s talk was sexual assault, although many questions were asked about her other books. Anderson spoke of the difficulties she had with writing on the topic, including the movement to censor her novel because of its touchy subject matter. She felt that despite the fact that 44 percent of rapes occur to victims under the age of 18 and that every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted, many parents have difficulty exposing and informing their children of the subject.
“America’s parents are failing men because they are never told not to rape or how to get consent,” said the writer. “If every man who had sexually assaulted someone was put in jail and boys were taught correctly there would be less sexual assault in the world.”
After a discussion where members of the audience were seen laughing, smiling and crying, Anderson requested that the audience ask her questions. When asked how she was able to write difficult scenes, such as Melinda’s sexual assault, Anderson explained that she spends a lot of time sobbing while she’s writing her books. In fact, the rape scene in “Speak” was actually made less graphic during the revision process so that students in seventh and eighth grade could access the book.
“Scenes are more dramatic if you leave some things out,” she said.
Another student asked Anderson what her feelings on the Steubenville case were. This event took place in Ohio and involved a few high school football players raping a girl while she was unconscious and shooting a video of the act. Those responsible have since been convicted in juvenile court for the rape of a minor.
“People who commit rape need to go to jail,” Anderson said, stating her feelings on the subject and also expressing her anger at the kids who stood by while the crime was being committed. “This is still happening because people don’t have the balls to talk about it.”
At the end of the night Anderson reminded individuals that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. She stated that she has joined forced with Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to raise awareness and funds for victims of sexual assault.