Author engages library audience


New York Times best-selling author Sharon Draper speaks at the Alachua County Library Headquarters in downtown Gainesville.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:24 p.m.

New York Times best-selling author Dr. Sharon Draper wowed a standing-room-only crowd with her engaging manner and humor as she read from her books and shared anecdotes about her life and also obstacles and successes to becoming an award-wining author who has sold millions of copies worldwide and has served as the United States Literary Ambassador to China.

The 175 people attending Draper's discussion and book signing last Tuesday evening at the Alachua County Library Headquarters included a busload of students and teachers from the Gainesville Job Corps Center, a group from Terwilliger Elementary School, and other teens and adults.

Sponsored by the Friends of Alachua County Library, Draper's visit to Gainesville also included presentations at Eastside High School, Gainesville High School, Buchholz High School and Santa Fe High School.

In her introduction of Draper, Be Astengo, youth services manager at the county library, said it took two years on a waiting list to get Draper here. "It's been worth the wait," Astengo said. "The program was extremely successful."

Astengo said that in her books for children and teens Draper uses insight she gained during more than 25 years of teaching high school in Cincinnati. "Teens relate to her books," said Astengo, adding that Draper writes about the harsher realities of high school such as under-age drinking, teen pregnancy and teen suicide. Draper has received many awards and recognitions, including being named National Teacher of the Year and being a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Award.

During the program, Draper shared stories about her years in the classroom, read excerpts from her books, interacted with the audience and fielded questions.

Draper said she received 24 rejection letters before the Simon & Schuster Publishing House accepted her book, "Tears of a Tiger," which was released in 1994. It tells the story of a teen who is responsible for a friend's death. Draper said "Tears of a Tiger" sold millions of copies, so Simon & Schuster asked for a sequel, and "Forged by Fire" was released in 1998. Draper has written 31 books.

Draper said she feels very strongly about children reading books that are appropriate for their age. She said her inspiration comes from young people.

"I write fiction. I lie for a living," Draper joked. "They pay me to make up stuff. If you're a good liar, go for it (writing)."

She said her books are character-driven.

"Get a good character that people care about and you can do anything through that character," Draper said. "Focus on the character and let the character drive the plot and the theme."

She said the current educational climate is stifling student's creativity, but teachers can make a difference by trying different ways to engage students. She said when her students complained a book on the required reading list was boring, she tried different approaches, including having students act out passages in the book.

"As an individual teacher, you can instill creativity," Draper said. "You have to find your spark of creativity."

Draper read from "Out of My Mind," a book about an 11-year-old girl who is very smart, has a photographic memory, but can't speak or walk. She said the book spent seven months on The New York Times bestsellers list and has been translated into six languages.

Draper said her next book, "Panic," is set to be released soon. She said "Panic" is about an abduction and what happened to a girl who voluntarily gets into a car with a complete stranger.

She said "Panic" is for teens ages 14 and older, and edgier than any of her other books.

Astengo said she uses Draper's books when she does book talks at local middle and high schools.

When asked what she learned that she didn't know about Draper, Astengo said Draper is as engaging in person as in her writing.

"I learned she knows how to engage children's attention in her books and in person in her presentations," Astengo said.

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