In the Suburbs / ‘Speak’ author launches new memoir in Fairfield
It took noted author Laurie Halse Anderson 20 years to speak from the point of view of a survivor of sexual violence and share her “rage on the page” in “Shout,” her new memoir in free verse launched this past Monday at the Fairfield University bookstore.
Halse Anderson, 57, delivered a gut-level, from-the-heart explanation of her life and her growth as a survivor to an audience of more than 125, and each statement she made was packed with emotion and empathy for all sexual violence survivors.
“Writing ‘Speak’ helped me turn the corner,” Anderson said. But it was a novel. Now 20 years later, Shout assembles the jagged pieces of her experience as a victim of rape at 13.
Joining Halse Anderson in a powerful conversation that focused on Anderson’s new memoir, as well as the areas of sexual violence, changing attitudes about sexuality and how our society today reflects our attitudes among others was author Meg Wolitzer ( “The Wife” author). Wolitzer’s casual style and in-depth questions and Halse Anderson’s raw, emotional candor helped relax an audience, riveted to their every word, about the subjects of rape and sexual violence. These two authors made a powerful team.
Halse Anderson told the audience that she was silent for 23 years after she had been raped.
“Silence is necessary for your survival if you are a victim of sexual violence,” she pointed out. And in a passage she read from the book, she spoke of “Weaving her truth by unbuttoning her mouth,” which made crystal clear the importance of not remaining silent when in her words people have “giant holes in their hearts.”
A March 11 piece in Time Magazine about Halse Anderson really captured the essence of her journey.
“In the 20 years since Speak was published in 1999, it has sold more than 3 million copies and won multiple awards. ... Anderson’s book-signing table has become a nondenominational confessional, a sacred site where those who have suffered sexual violence can lean in to whisper their stories in her ears. Now inspired by the rising tide of the #MeToo movement and our national reckoning with abuse, Anderson is sharing her own story.”
I saw that touching side of Halse Anderson at our signing table following this event. She was so real — genuine and caring with no airs — that watching her with so many from our audience brought tears to my eyes. I watched her hug people, listen privately and intently to their stories and offer comfort while still finding time to sign their new copies of “Shout.”
I thought, “This isn’t just an author. This is a beautiful and honest person, who has triumphed over violence and is the victims’ voice.”
The piece in Time reinforced my belief about how special Halse Anderson is.
“In Shout, a memoir written in free verse. ... Anderson lays bare wrenching memories from growing up with an alcoholic father and a distant mother, as well as heartfelt tributes to survivors and hopeful calls for empathy and equality. ... Her poems raise urgent alarms, warning against the evils propagated by a culture that values dominance over respect.”
Wolitzer added that sexual violence exists everywhere, and many women who are victims often change their whole life paths. She added that “Shout” is a very different kind of book, timed effectively with the #MeToo movement and the growing need of victims to come forward and point out those who have victimized them. Halse Anderson echoed that sentiment.
“It’s easy to assume that a woman who has made a side career out of speaking candidly with kids about tough topics — her other novels tackle alcoholism, eating disorders and self harm, to name a few — has always been that way,” according to Time. “But it wasn’t until about five years after ‘Speak’ came out that Anderson shared her own truth. She was onstage at an Arizona high school the first time a kid asked if what happened to Melinda in ‘Speak’ had happened to her and she said yes: she was also raped, at age 13. She saw nodding heads around the room.”
Because Halse Anderson’s words and raw reality spoke to so many at the event, I was really pleased that two teachers and several students from our charter school attended. They all came away inspired and awed.
Asia, for instance, said that she hung on Halse Anderson’s every word as it dripped from her mouth, and was so impressed by her reinforcing that not everyone is created as equal as we think they are.
“I love her!” she added.
Kavante, another student, was very glad he attended and appreciated all that Halse Anderson had to say. Jose, another student, simply expressed appreciation for being there.
Sean and Lindsey, a young couple with whom I spoke, gave me some great insight. Sean said that just hearing her story and connecting on a personal level was valuable. Lindsey had read “Speak” and was looking forward to reading “Shout.”
I also had a brief conversation with Keri and Ryan, both middle school teachers. Keri shared that she is working on encouraging kids to speak their truth and appreciated all that Halse Anderson had to say. Ryan would have liked the author to share more about her process of writing.
There is no question in my mind that “Shout” potentially will become the same kind of landmark book that “Speak” was. And the fact that Halse Anderson launched the book at our bookstore along with the size of the audience was a preview of the success this book is going to have.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.