JULIE BERRY grew up on a farm in western New York as the youngest in a family of seven book-loving kids. She holds a BS from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. She now lives in eastern Massachusetts with her husband and four young sons, and two cats. She is the author of six critically acclaimed books for young readers. All the Truth That's in Me is her first novel for teens and adults.
You can learn more about ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME here.
If you are interested in hosting an appearance by Julie Berry at your school, library, or conference, please use the online request form, send an email to authorvisits[at]us.penguingroup.com with possible dates, your school name, location, details about the day, and your contact information.
Author Appearance Q&A with Julie Berry
All the Truth That's In Me has received great reviews from readers to critics alike, including three starred reviews. How would you set up the book to someone who hasn't read it?
All the Truth That's In Me tells the story of Judith, a young living in a colonial village who has suffered a trauma that left her unable to speak. Years prior, she and her best friend went missing from their small village of Roswell Station. A few days later, the friend's body washed up in a river. When Judith returns years later, she can't speak. Because of the suspicious circumstances, and her inability to tell what's happened, she's assumed to bear moral guilt; she's tarnished. She becomes an outcast in her repressive, Puritanical community, unmarriageable and unwanted. She floats around the periphery of her village, treated sometimes as invisible, sometimes as a halfwit. All her life she's been in love with a young man the community whose name is Lucas, but he's beyond her reach forever, now. The whole book is written as an address to him – not as a letter, but as an outpouring of all her thoughts to him – as though she's telling him all that she would, if she could.
What can a school, library, or conference expect when you are making an appearance? What do you do differently with audiences of varying sizes, ages, and interests?
I've done presentations ranging from graduate lectures on the psychology of creativity to performances where I perform multiple costume changes, sing, and juggle. These are, perhaps, my extremes.
My school visits generally take the form of a presentation on how I became an author (emphasizing the books that shaped me at different ages, overcoming the difficulty of starting out and doubting if I could write, and what I learned about what all stories need along the way) followed, where possible, by a hands-on creative writing workshop that amplifies the discussion of what stories need, and puts it into practice. This presentation and workshop can be adapted to upper elementary school (grade 3+), middle school, or high school. I also conduct intensive revision workshops for grades 6 and up.
With the launch of All the Truth That's in Me, I'll be speaking to grades 7 and up about the novel's central questions and themes: isolation, overcoming trauma and prejudice, finding the courage to speak, and claiming the right to tell one's own story. If applicable, I can discuss thematic connections to Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In groups of English classes I can shift the tone in a more literary direction to include All the Truth's unique voice, character development, and writing style, and the writing process in general.
What makes your author appearances unique?
I consistently hear this feedback from schools that invite me in:
- "We love the energy you bring."
- "We love how you got everyone engaged, especially the boys."
- "You have a great rapport with the kids."
- "Our students are still working on the stories they began in your workshop, weeks later. They work on them during every break they get."
Do you enjoy making appearances for adult audiences? What do you do when presenting to adults?
I always love speaking to kids, but I also enjoy the freedom I have when speaking to adults, whether it's about my books, a craft subject or about the writing or publishing process. Some of my favorite visits have been to book clubs for adults, writing groups at libraries, and adult students in writing or literature programs. Depending on the group's interests, I can lecture on requested topics or conduct interactive workshops. Some of my past presentations to adults include, "Humility and the Writing Life," "Finish that novel! Techniques to move past fiddling to finishing," and "Write Faster, Draw More, Love Deeply: How urgency, visualization, and compassion reveal to us our 'writing on the wall.'" I'm currently developing a workshop for adults called "Write What You Don't Know." I welcome requests to speak to adult groups, and I love researching new presentation topics.
What can schools and libraries do to ensure a successful appearance?
Advance publicity is key; it helps enormously to give all participants time to get to know the author beforehand. When students are exposed to an author's work before meeting them, they'll be ten times more excited to meet the author, and that excitement makes them attentive and allows my words to sink in and inspire an audience. It's an important one-two punch: preparation sets me up to have an impact. If I'm a stranger to them on the day I arrive it makes it harder for me to reach their hearts and minds.
For schools, I ask that students be given access to classroom and library copies of my books in advance, and that teachers or librarians read at least a few chapters of one of my books aloud to the class in advance, or conduct a book talk about the title. Allowing students who've read one of my books to book-talk to the class is a great option as well. For libraries that have book clubs or teen groups, it works really well to have the group read one of my titles in advance, and then we can discuss it together after my presentation.
Do you enjoy traveling to other parts of the country for appearances?
I love to travel, and I always welcome the chance to meet readers in areas I don't commonly visit. Distance isn't a concern.
Do you ever make appearances at more than one school in an area? Could schools and libraries from one area join together to bring you to their institution?
Absolutely. If you can figure out how to get me from point A to point B on time, I'm happy to speak to multiple groups as part of one trip.
What do you hope your audience will come away with from your presentation?
Telling and hearing stories is our human birthright, our legacy as creatures who use language. It's what separates us (we suppose) from the animals. Even in an age of digital distraction, stories matter, and reading is relevant. In every room of students I address, I know there are future storytellers: authors, screenwriters, marketers, lawyers, actors, artists, journalists, filmmakers, video game developers, inventors, entrepreneurs. Some already dream of those careers, others don't yet know they're allowed to dare to hold those dreams. I'm determined to help my audience, whether they're bouncy fifth-graders or skeptical juniors, see themselves as storytellers, realize their dreams are possible, see reading and creativity as relevant to their lives, and give themselves permission to write, doodle, brainstorm, and play.
What was your favorite/most interesting/most memorable appearance experience?
I grew up in a small farming town in upstate New York, and I never met an author until I was in college. (That, incidentally, was Jane Smiley.) I often think of what it would have meant to little Julie to hear a real author tell her she could be an author herself someday. Such dreams seemed elusive and impossible. When I go into schools now, I try to reach everyone, but part of me is scanning the room, looking for that shy kid who, perhaps, doesn't seem to fit in well, who is hanging on my words. I make a point of smiling at those kids, calling on them, encouraging them and praising their questions or ideas. When I can I seek them out afterwards to talk to them. A handful of times, teachers have told me afterwards what a difference my visit made to So-and-so, and I remember who they mean. That's an amazing feeling. It's still a little strange to me that I should be in a position to have that kind of impact, but kids admire authors, and that's a mandate for me to reflect that esteem back to them and infuse them with confidence if I can.
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