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Five questions for Laurie Halse Anderson

Photo: Randy Fontanilla.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Laurie Halse Anderson’s landmark novel Speak (Farrar, 12–16 years), about Melinda, a teenage rape victim who reclaims her voice. Now in SHOUT (Viking, 14 years and up), the author presents a “poetry memoir” that explores frequently painful events in her own life, her complicated family members’ lives, and the experiences of the countless young people who have shared their stories with the author and benefited from her own resonant and courageous voice.

1. You said in a 2018 interview re: #MeToo: “[With] all of these different loud demands for equality and justice…Maybe we should retitle [Speak to] Shout.” Was that a clue for readers?

LHA: You caught me! I’d been working on SHOUT for four months by then, and the title slipped out. While the increased visibility of #MeToo in the fall of 2017 was inspiring (remember, the movement was founded by Tarana Burke back in 2006), the backlash by rape apologists and other misogynists infuriated me. I was sick of the “two steps forward, one step back” pace of the battle against rape culture. My rage made me want to set things on fire, but that’s dangerous. I wrote SHOUT instead.

2. Why did you choose to write it in verse?

LHA: It wasn’t a choice. My mind often spits out random lines of poems, which usually wind up in journal entries. But after I wrote the first few poems about my experiences as a survivor, I realized that poetry was the perfect form for such intensely emotional material.

3. Many of the pieces are wrenching to read; were they as emotionally challenging to write?

LHA: I cried a river writing this book — it was a much-needed healing process. I am a stronger, healthier woman because of it.

4. What has it been like to revisit Speak — while writing SHOUT; while adapting it to graphic-novel format — so long after its publication?

LHA: I wrote the adaptation for the graphic novel in 2015. (It didn’t come out until 2018 because Emily Carroll needed time to create the magnificent illustrations.) So, when the new wave of #MeToo protest crested, I’d already revisited Speak and spent time pondering its significance. I’m proud of Speak and so grateful for all the support it has enjoyed for twenty years. At the same time, I’m heartbroken that our culture hasn’t progressed more in terms of how we react to the survivors of sexual violence.

5. What do you hope will change in the dialogue around sexual assault and gender politics?

LHA: The generation that has come of age in the last twenty years is already making a difference. They are more comfortable talking about sex than their parents were. They don’t shy away from confronting institutions, politicians, or the media about the treatment of victims. They are helping shift the responsibility for sexual violence away from the victim (“What were you wearing?”) to the perpetrator (“Did you have informed, sober, ongoing, enthusiastic consent?”) — where it belongs. They give me hope.

From the March 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Comments

  1. Thank you, Laurie, for your candor and your courage! I can only imagine how hard it must have been to re-live your trauma. Your voice will be heard, loud and clear and is a gift for us all, especially survivors of sexual assault. I can’t wait to read it!

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