TLA 2020 Virtual Summer of Learning Launched Successfully on June 2
The Texas Library Association launched its first-ever Summer of Learning – an extension of the TLA 2020 Virtual Conference – with a live keynote speech from renowned young adult fiction novelist Neal Shusterman.
Authors Marisa de los Santos, S.C. “Sam” Gwynne and Ally Carter were also featured at the day-long virtual event which also included an interactive online chat about reopening libraries in the time of COVID-19.
Shusterman, the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels, began his address speaking about the worldwide demonstrations and grief that has arisen since the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
“We are living in difficult times, the most challenging time of all of our lives,” he said. “I want to really address this as much as I can.”
Shusterman talked about posting on his social media about the difference between protests and riots, and his dismay at the racist comments he received afterward. “They were frightening to see,” he said. But other readers were supportive and compared today’s news (the COVID-19 pandemic, protests and the ensuing government reaction) to dystopian novels he has written, saying they found inspiration in handling conflict by reading his work.
“This brought me to tears, seeing how people are taking questions that are posed in books and then applying them to real life,” he said.
“You don’t write science fiction just to tell a story. You want to look at what could happen and figure out ways of preventing it. Or figure out ways to work to solve that problem…through ideas, through books, we can get through everything we are facing right now.”
Shusterman spoke movingly about the death of his mother, as well as the mental health struggles of one of his children. Those challenging times influenced his work, particularly his Challenger Deep novel.
“When I sit down to write I’m trying to make something that matters. In Challenger Deep there were feelings that I tried to put into words. Writing from experience means to relate feelings and ideas in the way that other people can grasp.”
Marisa de los Santos, the New York Times best-selling author of Love Walked In, Belong to Me, Falling Together, The Precious One, and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, was a poet and then became a novelist, but the act of writing poetry – distilling words very precisely, sensitive to their nuance and detail – became part of how she writes her novels.
Her newest novel, I’d Give Anything, is about a young woman who experiences a tragedy at age 18.
In the book, while a town cheers on the high school football team, someone sets the school’s auditorium ablaze. Ginny’s best friend Gray Marsden’s father, a firefighter, dies in the blaze.
Ginny makes a shattering discovery about the cause of the fire, and this secret weighs her down, changing her and influencing her life over the next 20 years.
The author discussed how many of her novels, including her latest, involve love, and how love frequently requires sacrifice for another person.
This idea “influences my work is in every possible way. That is what interests me. I have had people call me a romantic. I think love is what saves us. I think love gives rise to moments that give rise to our breakthrough selves. I think love is extremely interesting. If thinking ‘love is what saves us’ is romantic, then I am romantic,” de los Santos said.
“I think it is real and practical how love functions in people’s lives. Love is transformative and endlessly interesting. The love of mother and child, between friends, all of these different shapes that love takes are interesting. I love books about the intricacies of family.”
Historian and author S.C. “Sam” Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, and Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, spoke next and joined in the live chat to answer questions from attendees.
Gwynne talked about how living in Texas inspired Empire of the Summer Moon, which tells the larger story of the Comanches in American history, alternating with the smaller, but very powerful story of Quanah Parker.
He discussed the tragic story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped at the age of 9 by the Comanches. Raised by the Comanches, she became culturally fully Comanche, fluent in their language and growing up to become the matriarch of an important family. She had three children with her husband, a Comanche chieftain.
Later in life, she was “rescued” by Anglo soldiers along with her daughter, and returned to her white family, who she did not recognize and could not speak to. Devastated and heartbroken, she repeatedly tried to take her daughter and return to her Comanche family, missing her other children and her husband. She was never able to return to them. Her daughter died and Cynthia Ann died in a hunger strike, heartbroken.
Her son, Quanah Parker, grew up to become chief of the Comanche nation.
Gwynne also told some of the many fascinating stories from Hymns of the Republic, including the fall of Richmond and how it was covered by Thomas Morris Chester, the country’s first African-American war correspondent.
As a historian and author, libraries are very important to his work, Gwynne said. He related an anecdote about needing to find out more about Marthe Bibesco, a Romanian-French author and socialite, for his next historical book. He was delighted to find that her accumulated papers belong to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, a library “only three miles from my house.”
The live, interactive “A Conversation on Re-Opening” discussed best strategies for re-opening libraries as we continue to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moderators Thomas Finley, Frisco Public Library; Jan Hodge, Crowley ISD; Marlinda Karo, Harris County Community College; Brandi Rosales, Lewisville ISD and Kristi Starr, Lubbock IS, led the wide-ranging discussion.
Topics included how to ensure personal hygiene and cleaning now that libraries are opening up; modifications librarians are making at their libraries to ensure safe personal distancing and limiting personal contact; and how to modify services to accommodate patron needs and being responsible for employee health and well-being. More than 100 librarians participated from all over the state.
The closing keynote speaker was Ally Carter, who also joined a live chat to answer questions.
Carter is the New York Times best-selling author of three YA series about the world’s best teenage art thieves (Heist Society), the world’s coolest spy school (Gallagher Girls), and the granddaughter of a diplomat who has to find her mother’s killer on Embassy Row. Her newest book is Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor, a middle-grade novel about an orphan unraveling the truth behind a mysterious legend.
She talked about why she’s drawn to creating strong female characters, how the YA market has changed over the years and become more adult, and how she enjoyed writing her first middle-grade novel.
Carter is grateful to the many librarians she has known throughout the years for their support.
“The highest compliment a librarian can give you is ‘I can’t keep your books on my shelves.’ I know great librarians; they care about filling their shelves with the kind of books that get the reluctant reader to read. Librarians are people who value that and I really value that. Librarians have played a great role throughout my life and I owe so, so much to them,” Carter said.
Asked what she hopes young readers take from her work, especially during the current troubling time, Carter answered:
“I would like for them to feel some sense of comfort and that there is a happy ending. I would like for them to feel powerful. They are the heroes and heroines of their own lives.”
Recordings of these sessions, and more than 50 pre-recorded sessions are available to TLA 2020 Virtual registrants on the virtual portal at https://onlineevent.com/texas-library-association. Mark your calendar for our next live event on July 7!