Speak Up! Laurie Halse Anderson Talks Politics, Patriarchy


Recently, as a part of the last leg of her book tour, Young Adult author Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak and the Chains trilogy) visited ARS students for a Q and A presentation and book signing.

Anderson draws the attention of the crowd filling the cafeteria with animated motion and passionate storytelling, bringing up topics such as racial injustice and America’s white supremacy and patriarchy.

“I was gonna design a history course,” Anderson says, “I would start with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri two years ago. And then I would teach history backwards. Because there is a direct result from that police violence to the Civil Rights movements… to Rosewood, Oklahoma… to Jim Crowe and the KKK…to Reconstruction… to the Civil War.”

Her most recent book, Ashes, is the final installment the Chains series that centers around a black heroine during the American Revolution. Anderson touches on her belief in uplifting communities through storytelling, and emphasizes the importance of understanding the wrongs in our nation’s history

“There’s a thread that connects all these important things in America that goes back to the American Revolution and even earlier,” she continues. “And we will not be able to deal with the original sin of America, which is slavery, and the injustice that still today is hurting so many American families, until we start looking at our history. I want to do that in good stories.”

When it comes to her own writing, Anderson keeps her book as historically accurate as possible, first establishing facts and then creating a character best suited to tell her story.

“I can get through your mind if I go in through your heart,” Anderson says. “When you can identify with the characters in my books, then we can open up a conversation about what really happened back then.”

Anderson digs deeper into the historical significance she aims for in her books. She mentions again and again how to improve our nation today, we first have to gain a better understanding of wrongdoings in the past.

“I really do love the United States of America. We were founded on one of the best promises a government has ever made to its people, that Declaration of Independence, right? That everyone [is] created equal and we all have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – no government had ever promised its people that before!” She says. “We’ve had millions of brave, smart [immigrants] come here because of that promise. I don’t think that we’ve lived up to it yet, though, because when I look at our country I see that some people have all the equality in the world but not everyone.”

Anderson explains her first look into the women of the American Revolution with the book Independent Dames, a nonfiction account of 88 women and girls who actively participated in the Revolution, saying that the process of the book opened her eyes to the contributions during the war from groups that are traditionally marginalized and overlooked. Through her extensive research she unearthed the unsung black heroes of the Revolution, and attempted to channel these stories into her characters Isabel, Ruth, and Curzon in her book, Chains.  

“What few people have known, because of the whitewashing of history, is that ten percent of our army at Valley Forge were men of color! The American army during the revolution was integrated! This was a band of brothers – black men and white men, living, fighting, together.” She says.

Laurie Halse Anderson addresses the crowd in the cafeteria. Students and staff from across all grade levels attended this Q&A session, many having read Anderson's "Speak" in 8th grade.
Laurie Halse Anderson addresses the crowd in the cafeteria. Students and staff from across all grade levels attended this Q&A session, many having read Anderson’s “Speak” in 8th grade.

Anderson goes on from her historical work to mention the limiting views of our patriarchal society, describing her pride in her writing and how she aims to counter the male dominated culture we live in.

“Women, we often feel sometimes that we have to do this ‘false modesty,’” Anderson expands. “I’ve worked really hard, and I have a talent, and I write great books. You are allowed to say that about yourself when you do hard work and you do a great job.”

When asked about her next project, Anderson notes that since she’s a “grandma,” she’s taking the pressing social justice themes of her novels to the next level.

“I’m so enraged about the amount of rape culture that’s still in our society in America, and that women are objectified, and that we’re not holding people who commit acts of sexual violence to account,” she adds. “I suspect that I’ll be writing another book that’ll be Speak but way angrier. I’m not playing anymore, you know?”

Expressing her excitement and pride in the crowd of girls in front of her, Anderson reminds the group that it’s never too late to seek out change in the world.

High school counselor Amy Bryant gets her copy of "Chains" signed by Anderson. Many students and faculty brought their copies of Anderson's books to be signed after the presentation.
High school counselor Amy Bryant gets her copy of “Chains” signed by Anderson. Many students and faculty brought their copies of Anderson’s books to be signed after the presentation.

“You guys are the smartest generation that we have raised yet,” Anderson says. “Here’s what I believe: I believe that your generation is going to be that one to finally fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence because you believe in justice. You believe in kindness and tolerance. And you are firm in your conviction, you’re gonna make sure this country is free for all people.”