February 7, 2014

An Evening with Lois Lowry

With the exception of the amazing Wisconsin Book Festival and select signings in the Madison area where I live, the past year and a half of blogging has made me feel as though the majority of the Wisconsin-based book and author events take place in Milwaukee. And then the really, really big events take place entirely outside of Wisconsin in Chicago.

Because my current schedule doesn’t really allow me to take treks out to Milwaukee or Chicago (at least not during the week), I had resigned myself to just not being able to attend many author events in the near future. So when a friend invited me to an event for Lois Lowry at the Central Library of the Madison Public Library system on Friday, January 31, I knew that I had to attend.

The Children’s Theatre of Madison is performing the play production of Lowry’s The Giver later this month, and so, in anticipation of their event, invited her to visit beforehand to talk about all things related to her Newbery award-winning work.
I first read The Giver back when I was in middle school, and have re-read it many times since then. (In fact, I think I’m due for a re-read.) The Giver is quite possibly the first dystopian story I’ve read, and so has a special significance to me as I continue to read recent releases for this genre.

I had a wonderful evening listening to Lois Lowry speak, and so I wanted to share some highlights on here.  

Lois Lowry signing my copy of Number the Stars.

On the origins of The Giver:
The Giver was written a little over twenty years ago now, at a time when Lowry found herself in between books. At the time, her mother was living in a nursing home and Lowry and her brother were helping their dad transition into the same facility.

Because her parents were in separate parts of the facility, Lowry spent some time first with her mother and later with her father. Much of the time she was with her mother, the two of them reminisced about Lowry’s sister, who died young. After visiting with her mother, Lowry went to see her father. Because he was suffering from some memory loss, Lowry brought an album to look over with him. She explained how, because of his memory failure, going through the album with him was almost like re-living events, especially her sister’s death (which she had to remind him of every little while).

After leaving her parents, Lowry began wondering about what it would be like if we didn’t have to remember the things that made us sad. Or those that made us scared. And those questions formed the seed that became The Giver.

On the adaptations of The Giver:
The Giver was first published in 1993 and has since been adapted as a play and an opera, and a movie version starring Jeff Bridges is set to release this summer (at least in the U.S.).

As this event was hosted by the Children’s Theatre of Madison, Lowry shared the stage with the actors who are playing Jonas and the Giver in the upcoming play. Lowry read aloud from Chapter 10, where Jonas goes to meet the Giver and receives his first lesson. After her reading, the actors picked up from where she left off and performed the first few transfers of memories from the Giver to Jonas.

After the actors gave their performance, they and Lowry discussed the challenges of bringing the book (and any book) to the stage. The Giver in particular is a difficult book to adapt visually, as it is very internally-focused. While the film can play around with special effects, those effects are limited for the play. How can a play help the viewers experience Jonas’ new memories? Or the fact that he learns how to see the world in color?

These were definitely some thought-provoking questions and make me anxious to see a performance of the play for myself.

It was also nice to see that Lowry had a mostly positive attitude towards the various adaptations. She talked about how writing is such a solitary experience that it’s exciting to see a writer’s stories take on their own life through readers and adaptations. She’s aware of some changes made to the film version (not all that she necessarily agrees with, such as a budding romance), but she also noted how the book and film have to be different things, as do the book and the play.

On The Giver and its reception in common culture:
The Giver has not been without some opponents over the years, as it does deal with some difficult and controversial topics (assisted-death, insubordination, a potentially corrupt government). Interestingly, the U.S. is apparently the only country that has brought forth challenges and censorship.

I think Lowry said it best when she explained how “great art and great music always arise out of great pain.” And by ignoring such intense feelings, more problems are caused than good.

Apparently the ending of The Giver has also elicited strong reactions from readers over the years. I never interpreted the ending as anything but hopeful myself, and so I felt vindicated to hear that Lowry herself “always thought it [to be] an optimistic ending.” Still, though, the various interpretations that readers have had over the ending just illustrate Lowry’s point how a book takes on a life of its own once its been published.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to Lowry myself, but I did leave the event with signed copies of The Giver and Number the Stars. As an aspiring author myself, it was really powerful to listen to Lowry’s own experiences as a writer. And it was awesome to hear how many other viewers were personally affected by Lowry’s works. 

Thanks to the Children’s Theatre of Madison and the Madison Public Library for organizing such a wonderful event!
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I remember reading Lowry's work when I was younger and I love that her novels force middle grade children to expand their minds. The Giver was the first dystopian I read and I've loved the genre ever since. Thanks for sharing this, Amanda, and yayy for attending an author event!(:

    1. Thanks for reading, Keertana! And I know! It was a pretty moving author event - I hope I can attend more soon!

  2. I love book signings and author events sooooo much!!! I love the Giver. Just an amazing book. I am hoping an author comes through my town soon that I want to go and see. There hasn't been one for a while now.


    1. It really is. I hope some author events come again to both of our areas soon. :)


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