Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Student View: Popular Author Speaks to 500 District Teens

By Olivia Siciliano, The Stratford Oracle student newspaper

“I am going to talk about fear,” she said, as the whole student-filled auditorium listened intently. On March 9, New York Times No. 1 best-selling author of the Divergent series, Veronica Roth, visited Stratford High School to speak to SBISD teens and answer questions they had about her writing process and the dystopian vision of an edgy future that captures reader imaginations inside her popular book series.

More than 500 SBISD high school and middle school students packed the Stratford Auditorium for Roth’s talk. Represented in the student audience were five traditional and alternative district high schools and six SBISD middle schools.

As she described her various misadventures in high school a pattern emerged. From track, to choir, to volleyball, she was always held back by fear and anxiety. Even writing scared her, but through hard work and perseverance Roth developed a unique written voice that gave Divergent the strength to capture readers’ hearts.

“After 35 rejections, I wrote Divergent,” she said. “I just follow my curiosity wherever it goes. Every other day, I look at my computer, I look at my writing and think, ‘This is worst flaming piece of garbage I have ever seen.’” However, Roth has realized that “the difference between people who have written books, and people who have given up, is that they keep sitting down to write.”

She related with some of the young writers in the room by recounting her own challenges. When Roth was 17, she felt her “life was a collection of mostly failures,” and sometimes she “still feels like a failure now.”

However, Roth has discovered that “even if you fail, you are not a failure”. She realized the important distinction that allowed her to move on with her work was “being able to edit, or try again.”

“Writing was something I liked so much that I didn’t mind failing,” said Roth. She encourages students to understand that “you don’t have to do anything special to get ideas for your book, you just have to pay attention.” Not only that, but to “write even when you have everything going on.”

In the future, Roth is working on a piece that has no title or release date yet, but will be out sometime next year. The book is not dystopian this time, and centers on a young man who is kidnapped with his brother. When the brother’s life is threatened by the leader, he has to align himself with someone he thought was his enemy.

Roth’s talk was organized by Blue Willow Bookshop and Events Coordinator Cathy Berner in association with Stratford High Librarian Lisa Stultz. Blue Willow brings authors like Roth to the district at no cost. Book sales are conducted, but students do not need to buy books to attend.

“They know that we will provide a stellar experience for the author by having engaged, well-prepared students ready to interact with the author in a very positive environment so [Blue Willow] has never charged us to bring in authors,” Librarian Stultz said. The district provided lunch for students.

The SBISD Communications Office contributed to this report.


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