Midwest Literary Walk 2021

27 Apr

In 2020, COVID hit right before the Midwest Literary Walk and it was one of the many things I had to cross of my calendar and was, of course, crushed about. I was so relieved to see that the 2021 event would go virtual and that I’d be able to attend. To make it even better, they had the two authors I most wanted to hear signed up to come back! Since I’m not a huge poetry fan, I was able to do some chores during the middle speaker and made the day a bit more focused on my interests, which felt really nice, too.

The first speaker was Laurie Hales Anderson. I don’t remember another year when MLW had a YA author so I was surprised and excited to hear her speak. Two of her books, Speak and Chains have been National Book Award Finalists. Her most recent book, Shout, is about her own experience with sexual violence. She was thirteen at the time but didn’t seek therapy to deal with her trauma until she had young children and realized her trauma was affecting her family. She first addressed sexual violence in Speak which is still often found on banned books lists. One of the reasons cited that always baffled her was that parents of boys say the book makes boys feel bad about themselves. Anderson listed several more books about sexual violence that are coming out with the topic being raised in the #MeToo movement. She hopes that these stories help people develop a vocabulary to talk about sexual violence so it becomes less hidden. Though it must be flattering to have a book so widely read so long after its publication, Anderson hopes that the book becomes less relatable as our society battles sexual violence and consent. She never talked to her mother about the book when it was published which speaks to the taboo nature of the topic. Recently, the book was turned into a graphic novel. Anderson said they chose the artist they did because she was known for drawing horror novels. One thing Anderson liked about the graphic novel format was how turning the page could be a moment of tension, since the reader is hit so forcefully with images when they’re revealed.

Anderson talked about her personal life and how it’s influenced her work. She grew up without wealth and worked on a dairy farm to make money to pay for her community college classes. She was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to Georgetown and received her degree in Linguistics, thinking she might become a translator. Her father was a poet and she said he was the single biggest influence on her life. Her latest book, Shout, is written in verse. She’s been fascinated with history and will read about it a lot. Anderson mentioned that when the COVID lockdown started, she was drawn to books about people during the Blitz in London because their lockdowns felt very relatable. Her book, Fever 1793 about the Yellow Fever saw a resurgence during COVID because readers seemed to connect with the relevance to our current lives. She mentioned that because of her two distinct genres, some of her fans aren’t even aware of her other genre books.

The second author I was excited to hear from was Azar Nafisi. I have a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran on my shelves and would have loved to get it signed, but I’ll settle for having heard Nafisi speak. I don’t have a ton of notes from her interview because I was so enthralled with it so please forgive me for a short recap. She has a book coming out next March called Read Dangerously where she talks about books that can inspire. Her most recent publication was That Other World where she focuses on Nabokov. The book was first written in Persian and has been published in that language. It was translated and first published in the US in 2019. Nafisi talked about how powerful books can be and how dedicated to them people can feel. She mentioned how some American literature is felt more deeply in countries outside the US. Some people’s present is more like America’s past. You don’t have to be at an event to understand what happened if you can read about it and put yourself in a person’s place who was there. My favorite line from Nafisi’s talk was that good literature does not allow people to live in a world that is black and white. Good literature makes us explore the grey.

Thank you to the Chelsea District Library for putting on such a great virtual event! I hope we can be back on the streets of Chelsea in 2022 for another good year. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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