Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday Spotlight/An Interview with Sharon Draper

Saturday, March 20, 2010


This Saturday I am delighted and very honored to spotlight one of my all time favorite authors, Sharon Draper.  She is not only an award winning author, but an educator, speaker, poet and a National Teacher of the Year. Sharon has written over twenty book for children, young adults, and adults.  
 
Her most recent release Out Of My Mind (out March 9, 2010) is one of the most beautifully written and poignant stories I have ever read.

Because Sharon has such an auspicious career it would take several blog post to give you all the details. Luckily, Sharon has a fabulous web site that provides tons of information about her amazing life and career. She also has a blog where, I am proud to say, she featured my review  of  Out of My Mind in one of her posts. Talk about honored, I am flabbergasted

Sharon graciously agreed to answer some questions about her new book and her life for me to share with you.

Out of My Mind is about a brilliant young girl who does not speak or write.  Can you explain how you came up with this character and provide some insights into what made you want to write a book about her?

I’ve often wondered about what’s really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts.  I have a pretty good idea, because I have a daughter who is disabled.  I’m pretty sure she’s really smart, but I’m her mom—of course I’d want to believe that.   So I created Melody—not as a portrait of my daughter, but as a character who is truly her own being.  Melody has spunk and determination, and a great sense of humor.  I tried very hard to make her memorable—someone you would never dare feel sorry for.
Kids with disabilities are just like their peers.  They want to be accepted, to have friends, to be included in the social life of the school.  Melody understands the pain of being ignored and overlooked, and I've given her a voice to show her humanity.  She represents all those young people, who have feelings as well as dreams.   I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.


What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? What part gives you fits?

I love getting up early in the morning (4 AM!) and sitting down to a quiet house and a fresh computer screen.  I love listening to the birds outside, and watching the sun warm the trees, or watching a rain or snow storm.  All of this helps my writing.  I need complete silence and focused concentration so I can “live” in the world of the characters I’m creating.  The worst part?  I’ve done this work of love and beauty and I have to chop it up to work on the edits my editor suggests.  She is very good at what she does and we usually agree on most changes, but it’s hard to change one single word, let alone whole chapters.  But I do it and the result is always better than the original.

All of your books except for Copper Sun and Fire From the Rock are set in the present. Why do you primarily write about the here and now with characters that face modern issues affecting middle and high school students?

Teens and tweens live in the world of today—a modern, techo-friendly world of current problems and issues.  I want to speak to them, to create characters they can relate to, so I write about the world they know right now.  I want to address their issues and create a forum so they can talk about them.  I try my best to make it real for them.

All of your covers accurately portray your characters. Can you explain the process you have had working with your publishers when picking a cover?

Some covers I like.  Some I think could have been better.  Authors rarely have much say about what ends up on the cover, but I do get some input occasionally.  I REALLY like the cover of Out of my Mind.  It really captures the frustration of the main character in the book.  When a fish leaps to freedom, the result is probably not what he expected when he made that jump.  The same is true for Melody in the book.

You have a very successful career, not only are you a writer, and an educator, but you just recently completed a Doctors of Law degree. What made you go back to school to get this degree? What plans do you have for using this degree and how will it affect your writing?

You want to hear a funny codicil to getting a Doctorate?  I now get all kinds of junk mail for medical supplies and lab coats and magazines on surgical techniques.  And lots more respect when getting seats on a plane.  I just chuckle and hope no one asks, “Is there a doctor on board?”  But seriously, a doctorate is simply another means to gaining more knowledge, to being better prepared to face the world.  There is so much to know, and never enough time to absorb it all.

When you taught school, what were some of your favorite books to teach and why?

I used to love to teach Shakespeare (Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet) and Beowulf.  I always wanted to make a movie of Beowulf, and someone has done so—in 3-D no less!  It’s a powerful story of heroism and honor.  I used bits of that story in Just Another Hero.  The teacher in that novel is teaching the story to a group of students who, of course, need a hero before the end of the book.

Your bio on your website states that you travel extensively. What have been some of your favorite destinations and why?

I’ve been to England and Germany and Russia.  And Guam and Bermuda and Jamaica.  But the place I loved the most was Africa.  I loved the warmth of the air, the grace of the people, and the power of the history there.  It was during my first trip there that I knew I had to write Copper Sun.  I went back twice more for research.  I learned more and loved it more each time I visited.  The last time I went I took a group of American students with me, and we met up with a group of African students, and all of us share the book together.  Now that was a powerful experience. 

You once stated that you would love to have dinner with Zora Neale Hurston if she was still alive. What would you most like to talk with Zora about?

Zora grew up in a place where women didn’t write or express themselves much at all.  She grew up in a place where African-Americans weren’t expected to do much or accomplish much.  But she became the spokesperson of her generation, one of the members of those literate few of the Harlem Renaissance.  She was so creative and literate and powerful.  She was like a flower that bloomed in spite of where it had been planted.  Not only did she bloom, she still continues to influence writers and readers today.  Because of Zora Neal Hurston, I am able to write and publish and be respected for my art and creativity.  She set the path for me and many others.  I’d just like to tell her thanks and let her know that she made a difference in the lives of many.

Thank you Sharon for taking the time to be intereviewed, and for being so accessible. I have enjoyed getting to know you and wish you continued success.

If you have not yet read Out of My Mind then you need to pick this up. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Check out other great titles by Sharon Draper

8 comments:

Jody said...

Wow. This is a really great interview! I found you through the book blogger hop. I love your blog and am now a folower

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InABox said...

Hi! I got here through The Saturday Network. I love the title of your blog. That's cute. :-)

What a great interview! The questions about the writing process were very insightful.

Kristin Rae said...

I love author interviews!

Found you on the Saturday Network!

Jami said...

Fantastic interview! I haven't read anything yet from this author, but after this interview I really want to. :)

ck.twilighter (Chasity) said...

Wow... thank you for this interview and introduction of Sharon Draper. I have not read or heard of these titles but now I am intrigued! I have my Goodreads window up as well and perusing the titles.

Mahalo for the great interview!

Sharon... mahalo for briefly sharing about your daughter. I appreciate the insight and the personal connection.

MissAttitude said...

Thank you for brining us this interview with the great Sharon Draper! I've read and loved many of her books, including Tears of a Tiger, Copper sun, Fire from the Rock and romiette and Julio (I've only reviewed two of her books on my blog so far but I'm excited to re-read her books and review them).

Ahh she wakes up at 4 AM?! That's amazing, I could not do that everyday, but the scene she describes does seem peaceful. I appreciate her writing about modern day teens. Although, I can relate to her characters in the now and in the past, she makes them genuine regardless of the time period.

I can't wait to read Out of My Mind! I love how Sharon chose to write a story that is not often told, stories about disabled teens (especially disabled teens of color). This story may be a tear jerker.

I envy all the places Ms. Draper has traveled. Hopefully one day I too can travel the world (especially to africa) :)

Anonymous said...

I will be your frequent visitor, that's for sure. pain relief

 
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