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Find more The Booklist Interview
Twenty years after her groundbreaking novel Speak was published, Laurie Halse Anderson revisited the topic of sexual assault in a powerful and personal memoir in verse, Shout, which she reads herself.
BOOTH: Can you tell me about the experience of recording Shout?
ANDERSON: First of all, I never expected to record Shout myself. I’ve been really fortunate to have terrific narrators on some of my other books. But when they came to me and said, “So, we think you should record this,” I was baffled by that but also excited. When I have a draft of a book close to finished, I make my own little audio recording. And then I print out a hard copy of the book, and I listen to myself reading the book while my eyes are on the paper because my ears can pick up on things that don’t sound right. So, in the course of working on the book, of course I read each poem 80 bazillion times. The walls in my office got tired of hearing it. But then I had the offer to read the whole darn thing, and I jumped at the chance.
BOOTH: There is a moment in Shout when you get off the plane in Denmark for foreign study. At that point, I could hear in your voice there was more air. It was like you could breathe in a different way. It just felt so personal. Were there moments in the recording where you felt really glad that you were the person delivering these words?
ANDERSON: There’s something magic about the human voice, right? We can paint with our voices, and clearly you heard what I feel about that experience and about my Danish family, whom I love. They’re still a big part of my life. There’s a poem in the book, “keys,” about a girl who gets invited by a friend of hers to come over and play video games, and he drugs her and rapes her, and the poem is about her shock and being so wounded in every way by this. Every once in a while when I was recording that poem, it felt like my lungs were filled with flames. So sometimes I think in earlier takes, there might have been a different kind of emotion, and there were a couple of poems my producer had me do several times just to get it right.
BOOTH: In the introduction, you mention the poetry advice that your dad gave you about being gentle with the living, but that the dead own their truths. In light of that, I wondered how you talk to somebody who’s trying to decide, Is now the time to share my story? Knowing that there is pain in both the silence and in the sharing.
ANDERSON: It’s important to recognize that every person is the boss of their own story. That silence can be a safe place, depending on a lot of different circumstances, and it’s not for anybody to judge another person’s choice to come forward, to not tell, to tell, how to tell, when, whom, or how.
I will say that, in my experience and in the experience of a lot of other people I know, leaning into artistic expression can be a really healthy thing because the danger is, when you’re trying to recover from sexual violence or any other kind of trauma, the pain is overwhelming. Especially if you’re young and you don’t feel like you have people that you can go to for guidance or help. This is what leads a lot of people to turn to substance abuse. The problem is, it doesn’t make anything go away, and then it creates another layer of problems, like that’s what you really need at that point in your life. I always encourage, especially younger people, to find their art. What art moves you? Is it dance? Is it music? Is it movies? Is it drawing? Is it poetry? You should be consuming it every minute of every day; it’s way healthier and way cheaper than drugs. Because you are a person who’s trying to find your path in life, you are going to have things that you want to express in an artistic way. Again, you don’t have to share that with anybody. But the act of creating, the act of creating anything artistic is a revolutionary act, right?
That’s when you say it doesn’t matter if the world sees you or not, you see you. You claim your space on this planet, and you create music or a poem or a drawing or you plant a garden or you dance in the dark. That’s really healthy.
BOOTH: Is there anything more you’d like to share about audiobooks in general—favorite listens or anything like that?
ANDERSON: I have to say that Hunger by Roxane Gay is a life-changing book. She narrates it. Wow! For people who’ve not heard much audio, or people who maybe are a little questioning about the power of an audiobook, know that audiobooks are amazing, and, please, everybody, come join the team; come read with your ears and your eyes. Roxane, wow! That book changed me.
Also, one of the happy surprises about Speak is that I have heard from families who listen to the book together as an audiobook in the car, driving on vacation. Then they chat about it, which is the smartest way to talk to your kids about sexual violence I know of. I’m secretly hoping that Shout can be a book that people give their loved ones, whether it’s your mom, your grandmother, your aunties, your sisters, your friends, your cousins. It will be interesting to see if people listen to the book together. I’m really hoping that within small, safe circles of love and friendship the book really facilitates people sharing their stories. It’s a lot safer sometimes to open up these conversations in a talk about a book or a movie. Because then the kid’s not feeling under the microscope, and the parent’s not freaking out quietly, and you’re just sharing a book.
BOOTH: Thank goodness for art, right?
ANDERSON: It keeps us going. It keeps us going.
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