Friday, August 19, 2011

The Most Interesting Thing--Donna Jo Napoli Made Me Cry

"Civilization is built on empathy. If dreadful things happen to you, you learn empathy. The safest way to learn empathy is through a book. "--Donna Jo Napoli

If you don't know who Donna Jo Napoli is, visit her website.
If you'd like to read a summary of her Keynote, go to the Official SCBWI Conference Blog here.
If you'd like to know why that Keynote, "How Writing about Terrible Things Makes Your Reader a Better Person" made me cry, keep reading.

Just for the record, I can count on one hand the number of times I've shed tears in the past twenty years. Go ahead and analyze that all you want, but the point is that I rarely cry. So what did this spunky author say that opened the floodgates of my dammed up heart? Without knowing it, she talked about my novel, passionately putting into words the essence of why I wrote a story titled WHY I TOLD, a story that earned me the 2009 SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for A Contemporary Novel.

Here's what she said: 

 "Unprotected children, because of family problems, don't talk out of a sense of loyalty, because they feel alone, guilty, unworthy. Then they meet that person in a book and realize they're not alone, it's not their fault, that bad things happen to good people. Children don't have the power to change their world. These books help them to be hopeful, introduce them to those who managed to survive."

This was the point in the talk in which I started asking everyone around me for kleenex (which, by the way, no one had). Why did these words rip me wide open?

Because until I wrote this book, I didn't realize that (A) the majority of abused children never tell.

Because until I wrote this book and put it out there for others to read, I never realized (B) how few people truly understand an abused child's reasons for silence.

These two facts (A & B) make me very, very, very sad.

Just at the moment when I needed to hear it, Donna Jo Napoli touched my heart by reminding me why I write about terrible things.

Sometimes, it's good to cry.


  1. Donna Jo is one of my favorite people! This is brilliant, and even more support for tough YA books that got a pounding last month from a certain journalist.

    Even when friends listen, they don't alway hear. They can't always relate because it's hard to accept it as real. But when a kid who is living it meets someone in a book who is living it, they know it's real and that someone else has been through it.

    Donna Jo is a wise woman and a brilliant writer!

  2. Exactly. Thanks for chiming in, Mary Ann.

  3. I don't believe I've read anything by Donna Jo Napoli, but I love the quote you posted. It's amazing how deeply a book can change someone. :)

  4. I'm so proud of you for putting in writing a story that must be told. And for having the courage to say something.

    It's wonderful that you got some validation in Donna Jo's presentation. Just what you needed to hear, and so very true.


  5. Thanks for sharing this. I'm sure so many of us have had experiences where we recognize something in a book that resonates or we feel, Yes, this is my story too.

    I can't imagine what that would be like if the experience you're reading about -- the thing you relate to -- is so horrible you can't talk about it with anyone. It's like that book is your best friend, the only one you can be honest with. The only safe place.

    You gotta keep writing about the hard stuff, that's for sure.

  6. Thanks all of you for the encouraging thoughts.

  7. Angelina, thanks so much for sharing this. I've also struggled with why I have written about terrible things. I sometimes glimpse this perspective, but can never seem to hold onto it - the fact that maybe I'm writing it because someone out there needs to read it.
    Congratulations on having the courage to write through the tough stuff.

  8. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  9. We write what we need to write, don't we? And yes, someone out there needs to read it. Thanks for that, inluvwithwords.

    Glad you enjoyed it, Lola.

  10. Donna Jo's keynote was a pivotal moment for me as a writer and a teacher. Her contrast of the protected child vs. the unprotected child opened my mind and my heart.


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