Last night I had the great privilege to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak to a packed crowd at the Brookline Public Library. I’ve been a big fan of Laurie’s work ever since I read SPEAK ten years ago. My kids love her work, too. She was entertaining, honest and completely accessible as she talked about her childhood and early writing career.
But I noticed a big change in her body language and voice when she started to talk about slavery, the subject of her novel, CHAINS. Her voice grew louder, more passionate. Her hands started to fly. It is her wish, she said in so many words, for our country to come to grips with our long, complicated and complicit history with racism.
That’s quite a tall order.
Can we really change our culture with a book?
As she got into the details of her research, I looked around at the crowd. The younger ones were starting to fidget. The middle schoolers looked ready to bolt. And I wondered, how do we change our culture? We have come so far, in many ways. A black governor. A black president. And yet…
And then I saw this girl in the back who was watching so intently that I thought her eyes might pierce a hole in Laurie’s forehead. In the Q and A she asked a very insightful question. And later I saw her bend over Laurie, asking a different, maybe more personal question. And Laurie, full of grace and patience, seemed to give her all of the time in the world – even though there was a long line of people waiting. Finally the girl straightened and walked away. The look was still on her face.
I know that look. Because I’ve received it a few times and I’ve most certainly given it. It’s a look that says "you are my hero. You have helped me. Your books changed me. I will never be the same again. Thank you. Thank you."
And that’s when I realized, this is how you change our culture. One girl at a time.