Laurie Halse Anderson, ’81 has a remarkable gift. She’s able to write and talk about difficult topics in ways that resonate with her audience. The New York Times best selling author shared her gift with her alma mater, Onondaga Community College, when she returned to campus late in the spring semester while on a nationwide tour in support of her latest book, Shout. Anderson spoke at an OCC Foundation fundraiser on the night of April 25. The next day she presented an entertaining and informative discussion about her life and the history of our country to approximately 900 area high school students in the SRC Arena.
Anderson also took part in an intimate group conversation in the Community Room of Coulter Hall where she spent an hour with about two dozen students and faculty members. She talked about being raped at age 13 and keeping the story of what happened bottled up inside. “Because I’m from a family that was pretty conservative and we didn’t talk about things, I didn’t tell anybody for 23 years.” When she finally decided to talk about it and get the help she needed, she wrote the novel which jump started her book writing career. “Speak is about 10 percent what happened to me. It’s my emotional truth of having been attacked and feeling silenced.”
During her conversation, the topics ranged from her father’s PTSD to eating disorders which were the focus of her young adult novel, Wintergirls. She discussed “the canon,” the books students are required to read in school. “I say we should push the canon overboard. The books were written by wealthy white guys 200 years ago for mature, privileged people. That doesn’t reflect our country today.” She recommended everyone follow Project LIT Community on Twitter (@ProjectLITComm) which is a grassroots literacy movement empowering readers and leaders in hundreds of schools across the country.
Anderson discussed censorship, an issue she dealt with when Speak started becoming popular in schools. “Censorship has nothing to do with protecting children. It has everything to do with protecting adults who don’t know how to have conversations with their kids. It’s more important we learn how to talk to our kids about everything and equally important we make our kids know we’re ready to listen to them so they can come to us if something happens. One in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of sexual violence.”
One of the OCC students who listened to Anderson and had the opportunity to meet her was Samurai Johnson, a Graphic Design major from Watertown High School. “To be able to have an actual conversation with her and listen to what she had to say and have her listen to what I had to say meant a lot to me. It was really awesome. I love her books. Her ability to touch on serious topics but make it interesting and light enough that it’s easy to read is amazing.”
Anderson spent a few minutes speaking with local media outlets about timely topics. She told reporters from CNY Central Television, Spectrum News, Syracuse New Times and WSYR TV Newschannel 9 how she uses social media in a positive way. “If you care about readers there’s a chance to extend the conversation. Social media can be a profound source of good things, of change, of connecting kindred spirits and sharing information. It can also be a really damaging place. We need to learn how to navigate those currents.”
She reflected on the power of her presentations and the impact they have on those in the audience. “I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of survivors. I’ve never given a presentation at any venue in 20 years where I haven’t had at least one and in some circumstances dozens of people come up to me afterwards. My job is always to bring up rainn.org. That’s the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. They have a 24-hour hotline. They’ve helped more than three million survivors in the last 25 years.”
Onondaga Community College wishes to extend a “thank you” to Laurie Halse Anderson for returning and being so generous with the entire campus community. The College would also like to acknowledge Russ Corbin, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations who worked tirelessly to coordinate Anderson’s visit.