A truly amazing thing happened to me this year. The Walls Around Us was chosen as the first-year read at Salem College, a women’s college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which meant that all incoming first-year students read my book over the summer (and wrote an essay on it!). So many young women, at the start of their college lives, reading my novel! And this week, I visited the campus and met with two classes of honors students and then, one evening, gave a lecture to the whole first-year class on campus, here, in this room:
When I was thinking of what I might say before a large group of young women, I was brought back to why this book was written, and why all my books are written… Why I write proudly and exclusively about girls, and why these stories are universal and just as worthy as the stories I remember reading all through school about men and more men and boys. I spoke about something that happened to me as a teenager that told me girls’ stories—that women writers—weren’t thought of as worthy… and why everything about my reading life and writing life is to prove that wrong.
I won’t recap the talk here, since in fact so much of it is infusing an essay I’m currently writing at the moment, and I look forward to sharing that with you in the future.
But I looked out at that room of young women, and I saw myself there. I remembered who I was (I’m still that girl—aren’t we always?).
I couldn’t fit the whole room in this photograph, but here is my first sight of the audience when I walked out onto the stage:
My talk touched on a lot of things—within the book, and within my life. I made a small mention of the book’s dedication, which was all connected.
This is the dedication of The Walls Around Us:
For the girl who needs to hide her diary
For the girl who doesn’t think she’s worth so much
Astute readers and/or those who know me very well might realize who this book is dedicated to… Someone specific, whose diary was found and exposed when she was a teenager, making her ashamed of her giant ambitions because who was she to have them? Someone so specific, who was told by multiple men in her life that she wasn’t worthy… That same girl stood on a stage on a college campus this week, giving a talk about her fourth published book. And the men who told her she wouldn’t, couldn’t, would never accomplish much? Look how small they are now.
Who dares to dedicate a book to herself? Someone who was told she’d never be able to publish a book at all.
After my talk, there were questions (some of which I am shocked I even answered, as I don’t usually reveal the secrets in my books! don’t ever expect that to happen again!) and a book signing, and it was a wonderful thing to meet some of the students and sign the book to them and get the chance to chat with them.
A few of the students confessed to me that they wanted to be writers, too.
If any happen to have found my blog and are reading this post—specifically one aspiring writer in particular who didn’t know how she would ever be able to pursue her dream, I hope what I said was encouraging, and I am always here if you want to reach out. I mean it. You can email me.
A few of the students asked me to sign the book for them on the dedication page instead of the title page, as if they saw themselves in the dedication as I did.
As if the book was for them as much as it was for me—and I believe it is.
If you see yourself there, it’s yours, too.
Thank you so very much to Salem College for having me! What an incredible experience.
As I was traveling home, I was thinking of all the ways my life has shifted and surprised me this year. I never expected to have these opportunities or to even be this person—even though, yes, it’s what I dreamed of and it’s what I wanted. These were pipe dreams. And now, standing in the shoes shown here (gifted from a dear friend and now, clearly, my new lucky shoes!), it has somehow become my reality.
When I reached New York City, on the way home from the airport and stuck in traffic in Queens, I had a moment. I know I’ve turned onto a new path this year—one more focused on teaching; one more true to myself—but I also know I have a lot more to do, to say, to learn, to write, to become. There is more I want, there will always be more I want… that ambition I carried as a girl has only grown.
But it’s not daunting or debilitating, even if the new road I’m on is long.
I haven’t written in a true diary in years… not since I started this blog, so I guess this became my diary, my public record. I’m not hiding anymore. Look, no hands! Here I am, I’m here.