Every year, the Boston Book Festival brings literary luminaries to the Hub, and this year is no exception. Lois Lowry, one of the most beloved middle- and young-adult writers of all time, will be featured on a panel of fellow Newbery Medal winners on Friday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. I’m a huge fan, so when I got the chance to talk with her, I ended up taking some liberties with the “Four Questions” format!
Tell me about the panel you’re on at the Boston Book Festival.
Well, to be honest, I don’t really know that much about it! I think it’s called “Meet the Medalists”?
Yes; I actually just got the press release for it today.
Oh? What does it say?
[I read it to her.]
Well, each of the panelists happened to win the Newbery Medal. I’m guessing we’ll each tell the story of when we got “the call.” Then it will be five minutes to tell about our experience of the following year, and what it was like getting the medal at the banquet. There are actually a lot of public demands; the Miss America riding a tractor aspect of it all. But they should give me 10 minutes because I’ve won two Newbery Medals. Just kidding, of course!
I’ve always heard writers are told to “write what you know.” You’re originally from Hawaii, grew up in an army family, and you aren’t Jewish. How did you end up writing “Number the Stars”?
Well, I’m not sure I agree with the starting premise about writing what you know. The story about the Danes saving the Jews in 1943 was first told to me by a close friend who actually died recently. She grew up in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation. Jewish kids often ask me why the protagonist of the story isn’t Jewish. But when you write a story, the protagonist is always the one who has decisions to make, and in 1943, the Jews didn’t have decisions to make. The Christians had all the choices.
When I was preparing for this interview, I actually consulted my sister, who is a young adult librarian, and she was curious if “The Giver” was inspired by “Number the Stars.”
You know, that’s never occurred to me before, so no. It’s interesting that “The Giver” is used by a number of Christian churches and is believed to have a lot of Christian themes to it. But at the same time a lot of Jewish children receive it for bar mitzvah presents. The main character happens to be a boy who has to make adult moral choices. In fact, the book is now being made into a movie, and the movie-makers decided to make the boy older, so I think that aspect of the book is now being lost. He should be 12 or 13 years old.
Who’s in the movie?
Ha, yes, although I just saw some shots from the location where they will very soon be filming, and with the makeup he looks very un-Dude-like. And Meryl Streep. The boy, Jonas, is being played by an Australian young man, Brenton Thwaites, who I know is going to be a very big star. And, actually, an Israeli girl named Odeya Rush is playing Fiona. And what’s her name—Katie Holmes? She’s playing the mom of the protagonist. Oh, and they just hired Taylor Swift.
[Small gasp on my end after hearing all these names.]
Have you heard of her?
Yes, of course.
She is playing the part of Rosemary, who has died before the book begins. But we get to see Rosemary in the movie.
This might be like asking you to pick a favorite child, but do you have a favorite character you’ve written?
Gosh, I’ve written 40-something books. Honestly, in each book it’s usually a minor character. In “Gathering Blue” there’s a character named Matt. I also wrote an autobiographical novel called “Autumn Street.”
I’ve read that.
Well, I think it’s just you and me who remember that book at this point! But there’s a character in it named Charles, who is very much like Matt, actually. And I’m very fond of Anastasia Krupnik; her parents were lapsed Jews, if that helps.
Oh, she’s totally my favorite too. What do you think she’d be up to today?
Well, let’s ignore how old she’d be today. The publisher is actually talking about a republication with some updates. Let me see. Well, of course she would have gone to college as her dad was a professor at Harvard. Hmm…maybe she went to Bard. What do you think?
Gosh. Well, you know, I feel like with her father’s job, and her antics, Brown would eat that up. They’d love her. Oh, wait. You went to Brown, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. And you know, it’s funny you mention Brown, because when I wrote the book in 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, and his daughter Amy was very appealing to me. She’d stick her tongue out at reporters. There was just something I enjoyed so much, and she definitely was inspiration for Anastasia. And then Amy Carter went to Brown and was kicked out for something. I don’t remember what; we’ll have to look that up.
But I certainly don’t think Anastasia ended up as a housewife. Maybe she could have been a librarian, but that might be too organized a job for her. Maybe she’d run a shop in Harvard Square.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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