Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lois Lowry: An Exclusive SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview

One of the super-exciting things about the upcoming SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, January 28-30, 2011 is that Lois Lowry will be speaking there. (And YES, you can still register!)

Lois Lowry

Born in Hawaii, Lois Lowry has lived all over the world and now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and a 1768 farmhouse in Maine. Her list of fiction includes 36 books for young people. Twice the recipient of the Newbery Medal - in 1990 and 1994 (for the Middle Grade novels "Number The Stars" and "The Giver")

"Number The Stars"
Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal

"The Giver"
Middle Grade Dystopian Fantasy
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal

Lois has received countless other honors for her work. In recent years she has traveled extensively, speaking to children in Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia about the importance of literature and imagination in their lives. She is a mother and grandmother and has worked as a photojournalist as well as a writer of fiction. She even has a blog!

Lois Lowry's latest historical fiction middle grade novel,

"Anastasia Krupnik"
(the first in the Middle Grade series)

Lois will be giving the opening Keynote address for the 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City on Saturday, January 29, 2011. She's a master of so many styles; historical fiction, dystopian fantasy, and amazing, heart-tugging fiction - both as series and as stand-alone novels. She's also a brilliant speaker. Go here to download and read her Newbery Medal acceptance speech for "The Giver" - it's amazing! I can't wait to listen and learn from her at the conference, and I'm especially thrilled that she agreed to answer a few questions pre-conference, to further whet our appetites for all the insights and inspiration to come!

Lee: Hi Lois! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let's jump right in: You've won the Newbery Medal twice! How do you face the blank page differently as "an award winning author" than when you started out and were still hoping to be published?

Lois: I don’t think there is a single difference. In fact, I’ll go farther and be more blunt: if you start thinking of yourself as “an award winning author” then you are in serious trouble. The only way a writer should face a blank page is with a sense of adventure and curiosity. You should face it as a new writer every single time, and with the same passion for the work, respect for the craft, and awareness of your limitations.

Lee: Anastasia Krupnik often times is frustrated by not being able to transcend her developmental age, like when she is alarmed that she begins to hate her parents. When you were growing up, did you feel trapped by your own age and the expectations adults and others had for people in your age group?

Lois: I’m thinking of myself at 12 and 13. What I felt trapped and frustrated by was my own gawkiness, my own self-consciousness, my own timidity. But I was aware that that was exterior stuff (and I probably knew that I would outgrow it eventually). I never felt limited or trapped in terms of creativity or intellectual curiosity; and in retrospect I think I did (privately) transcend my developmental age in those areas. Even at a young age, long before I had any tools for expressing it, I felt ageless and powerful in my imagination.

Lee: In "Number The Stars," which is the first Holocaust book in many U.S.A. school curriculums, you quite brilliantly made us as readers feel the danger to Ellen and the Rosens - the characters' fear that the Nazis would catch them, and Annemarie's heroism in trying to save the day by racing to the dock with the secret package - without ever going into too much horrible detail about genocide or the whole-scale murder of Jews. At one point at the end, Annemarie's uncle tells her that she had saved Ellen's life, but that's really all we hear as readers. And yet you do have the assassinations of other characters revealed to Annemarie. When dealing with really hard issues like murder and death, how do you find that delicate balance about what's enough to share with a middle grade audience, and what's too much?

Lois: I never look at that issue from an objective point of view. I suppose the editor or publisher does. But I enter the story by entering the consciousness of the protaganist, and so I see what she (in this case, Annemarie in Number the Stars) sees, understand what she understands. I was dealing in this book with actual events. A ten year old child in those circumstances would not have had any knowledge of horrific events taking place elsewhere; she would have known nothing of genocide, nothing beyond her childlike comprehension that the Jews were in great danger from the Nazis. Of course what happened in Denmark was unique, and the focus of the story was on the integrity of the Danish people, not on atrocities that were happening in other countries at the time. It’s what has made the book a popular introduction to a difficult topic.

But to address the same question in regard to others of my books...I think I always approach topics, and how I deal with them, through the perceptions of the young protaganist, and therefore by extension the young reader. If the person in the book is facing this...you can, too. That’s the way I look at it.

Lee: "The Giver" has an ambiguous ending... And in your Newbery acceptance speech you said:

"Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the “true” ending, the “right” interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes."

The ending feels very European versus American, and challenging in that it requires a lot of the reader in an ocean of media that requires very little of them. Do you feel there's a lesson from your experience with taking this path for other children's book writers?

Lois: It would be presumptuous of me to assume that anything I do should set an example for other writers, or view my experience as a lesson for anyone else. We all have our own styles, our own way of dealing with the intricacies of our work. I guess I tend to like making demands of my readers. Make them think. Make them suffer a little! It makes them my partners, as we work together on something. But it doesn’t mean every writer should go about it that way. And I do know, from the mail I receive, that young readers don’t always like having to work! They want me to spell it out, explain it, tell it to them. But they’ll have to go to another writer for that, I think.

Lee: What's the best piece of advice you have received regarding your career as a writer?

Lois: A professor at Brown told me, when I was seventeen, that I needed to suffer more. I’ve been working at it ever since.

HA! Thank you, Lois. I'm going to be thinking a lot about how "suffering" might just be something good... for our characters, our stories, our readers, and maybe even our own ability to be writers!

I hope you, too, will get to hear Lois Lowry in person and partake of all the fabulousness of the SCBWI Winter Conference!

And remember to bookmark and/or follow the Official SCBWI Conference Blog, authored by myself and the rest of the remarkable SCBWI Team Blog. We're Jaime Temairik, Jolie Stekley, Martha Brockenbrough, Suzanne Young and me, and we're led by Alice Pope, who writes the indispensible Alice Pope's SCBWI Children's Market Blog!



ps: photo of Lois Lowry by Nadine Lowry


ivanova said...

Wow, what a great interview!

Sheri Doyle said...

Great interview, Lee! I wish I could cross the border and go to the NYC conference to see her speak - maybe I will. Thanks for posting this - I'm off to check out Lois Lowry's Newberry Medal acceptance speech from the link you provided.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

The Giver. A great book.
The Taker

Jaime Temairik said...

Great interview, Lee! I loved THE WILLOUGHBYS, too, which features drawings by Lois and some incredibly silly parents.


LS Murphy said...

Fantastic interview! I wish I could go to NY...sigh....but I cannot.

Amy-Baskin.blogspot.com said...

What a great, insightful interview, Lee! Thanks for posting it, and happy birthday to you. Namaste, Amy

Laurie Young said...

You ask the best questions, Lee. And Lois's answers are revelatory to me. I can't go to the conference this year, so I am grateful for every bit of information from the speakers.

Marcy said...

Wonderful! Thanks so much for posting this! I will be joining you in the pleasure of gleaning from her experience at the conference. Woohoo!!

Kristin McIlhagga said...

Oh to be able to jet to NYC to attend this conference and hear Lois speak. Since I can not, this interview will have to suffice. Thank you for sharing it!

Kristin McIlhagga said...

Oh to be able to jet to NYC to attend the conference and hear the amazing Lois Lowry in Person. But since I cannot (grad school and family get me first), thank you so much for posting this interview. I love what she said about expecting more of her readers, regardless of age.

Samantha Davis said...

Thank you for this. Lois Lowry is amazing. I particularly liked "hearing" her talk about facing the blank page.

jan godown annino said...

For those of us far away, eager for the blog team's coverage of the entire conference & delighted to hear you will cover the talk by Lois Lowry. Many thanks for this visit with her here.
For a discussion of her new novel set in a Maine Shaker community, please look at THE FOURTH MUSKETEER blog.
Younger children are my professional focus & I always like readers/families/teachers to know about the fun GOONEY BIRD chapter books that have also arrived for us from the magical keyboard of Lois Lowry. The scope & breadth of her work is awesome.

Kate Coombs said...

Thanks, Lee! I find it interesting that Lowry has been writing more upbeat books for younger readers--fantasy, too! I'm thinking of The Birthday Ball and the upcoming Bless This Mouse.