IG Live with Sharon Draper!
"My personal word is Joy… It’s the essence of how I feel about life…. Gift of writing is a joy. The fact that I can share my writing with other people is a joy… the blue sky… full moons... Joy is the thing that will carry you on when you don’t have happiness. Joy will take you beyond happiness, it will take you beyond sorrow because joy is something that’s inner...you have to focus on joy to get past the not-so-joyous times.”
Last Thursday, around 3PM, Health Sciences Academy welcomed the award-winning, international best-selling author Sharon M. Draper via Instagram Live. Joy is what she shared is her key advice for life, and joy is what she brought to staff and students across the district.
Originally scheduled for 30 minutes, Mrs. Draper generously spent over an hour and a half answering each and every question. The conversation ranged from writing tips to current reads, individual books of hers to life advice, even pandemic time-passing strategies (answer: reading, writing, and ice cream!). Over 60 questions were submitted in advance from students and staff at the Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle, East Union Middle, Parkwood Middle, Piedmont Middle, Cuthbertson Middle, and Walter Bickett Elementary, and more during the live event. Draper’s wisdom and joy in conversation emanated, even while over a screen.
“It was really important to us once we realized the medium of the event could allow this to invite and share in this with our peers - in planning with our admin team, Mrs. Byrd and Mrs. Giddins, we wanted to ensure to share the book love if we could!” Ms. Gendron, HSA Media Coordinator and event organizer shared. “We’re so grateful Mrs. Draper generously allowed us to invite our peer schools, the more we can celebrate together, the better!”
As a student, Mrs. Draper recalled spending a lot of time in the library and with books. To a question about her favorite books as a child, she said, “You know, I can’t really tell you, because I took the library from A-Z and I read them all.”
Readers of all ages connect with Mrs. Draper’s books and characters - Melody from Out of My Mind, Izzy from Blended, Andy from Tears of a Tiger, Amari from Copper Sun, and Stella from Stella by Starlight. Draper is known for her unparalleled art of description, depth of character, and plot arcs that keep readers engaged from the first pages. Her characters mirror the lives of some and offer a window into a different world for others.
“I try to create characters that are real, that feel real to me, so if they feel like real people to me then they’ll feel like real people to you…” Draper explained. “I’m real, real careful when I write for young people to write about things that are real because their lives are real. And their lives are often not easy and somebody needs to tell their stories.”
As a teacher, she shared her favorite books with her students and encouraged and transformed their writing. As an author, she researches and reads a variety of subjects to make sure her fictional stories are accurate and believable. She described the detailed research that comes especially with historical fiction (such as having to research what a fire-truck or bucket brigade would look like in 1932), “Historical fiction takes a lot longer to write because even though you’re writing fiction you have to tell the truth.”
“...None of it came from real history in my family or my life, but I did spend every summer with my grandmother in North Carolina,” she shared in response to a question about how much of Stella by Starlight was from her grandmother’s story, and how much was research. “Stella's front porch is my grandmother's front porch. And the look of the stars at night on a hot summer night in North Carolina would be what I saw as I’m sitting on my grandma’s porch. You know, the old people sitting around drinking lemonade on the front porch... the story-telling comes from reality. Absolutely nothing came from my grandmother's journal... except for the inspiration to write.”
She continued to share more of the inspiration for Stella, “The fact that she was a little girl, who didn’t have a whole lot of educational opportunities and yet she wanted to write. She had this desire to write, but she didn’t have the ability to go to college and to learn it. So that’s why I dedicated it to her, because she would have been a wonderful writer had she had the opportunities I had.”
Many questions were posed by our students and staff about writing - how to get started, what to do once you hit writers block, and Draper’s advice included not just writing, but reading: “If you want to write a book, write a book, and read a lot of books in the genre of the book you wish to write.”
“Mostly a good book comes from inside, from your heart, you have to find that in your heart and put those words to paper. And then you have to revise them and then you have to revise them again and then you have to revise them 97,000 more times,” Draper shared. “...The first thing to do is sit down, and write.”
As an author and educator, Draper also gave a homework assignment with all those in attendance. “You have to write a journal of 2020. Nothing like this has ever happened in history before, nothing... So you need to write it down. I want students to write it down, I want the teachers to write it down. Write down what it was like to live through 2020. This is something that your children will need to read.”
Mrs. Draper also shared a new opportunity she has started to honor what teachers are doing during this time. She encouraged all teachers to share their COVID stories.
“I was a teacher so I know how hard that this is, and… I don’t know if I could have done what you guys have done, just overnight re-created teaching,” she reflected. All teachers are encouraged to submit their stories, see her twitter post calling for submissions for more details.
One could tell that Ms. Draper was enjoying the interaction with students and staff as much as we were enjoying watching her. Ms. Gendron, HSA media coordinator and event facilitator, had a great rapport with Ms. Draper and their shared love of literature made her a perfect host to connect with Ms. Draper. Nearing the end of the interview Ms. Draper expressed her delight with the conversation, “This has been the most fun and the most thorough, and the best run of any of them, bar none… I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly... This was just awesome.”
Mrs. Byrd, an HSA Assistant Principal who participated in the IG Live event thanked Ms. Gendron, “It is so amazing to see how her passion ignites love and a joy of reading in others. I am so grateful to be able to work alongside such an inspirational educator. Ms. Gendron works tirelessly to make sure that teachers and scholars have the books they need to grow their thinking and curiosity. Thank you, Brittany, for your selfless efforts in engaging and educating our school community.”
Thanks to Ms. Gendron’s organizing and Ms. Draper’s kindness, we all were able to escape a bit on Thursday afternoon into the warmth and joy of conversation with a great author and her effervescent devotee.
“We’ve been working on author visits all year, and while no one could have imagined it would end up looking like this, we are so honored by Ms. Draper’s wisdom, time, generosity, that she took so much time for us!” said Ms. Gendron. “What a gift for our scholars, our school, and our district!”