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Laurie Halse Anderson Discusses Graphic Novel, Speak

New York Times-bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is reintroducing her critically acclaimed novel SPEAK as a graphic novel. Her works, including SPEAK, have earned numerous honors including national, international, and state awards. She recently discussed storyline updates, #metoo, and the continued impact of her work SPEAK.


Q) 19 years will have passed between the original publication of SPEAK (1999) and the publication of SPEAK: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL (2017). What do you think has changed in society around the issues of sexual violence between now and then?

A) On the positive side, I think that the shame stigma that has been used to silence survivors of sexual assault (for centuries) has faded a bit. Survivors are speaking up more and finding strength from each other. This is forcing our culture to begin conversations about sexuality, consent and toxic masculinity that are long overdue. On the negative side, technology has made sexual harassment, stalking, and intimidation much easier, and access to violent pornography is normalizing sexual violence for teens whose parents don’t have the courage to talk to them about sex.

Q) Did the content of the book change at all as you were adapting the book into a graphic novel?

A) Only a little bit. I updated the story with technology like cell phones and computers, but that wasn’t as challenging as I had feared. There were two points in the novel where I realized some scenes were carrying the exact same narrative weight (without moving the story forward), so I performed some surgical repairs to those scenes. I hope I made the stitches fine enough that readers won’t even notice what I did. I had a blast revisiting the story and honing my craft tools a bit. 

Q) How did Emily Carroll come to illustrate this book? Did you work with her directly on this project, or did you each work separately?

A) Emily was suggested by Calista Brill at First Second, which is a sister imprint to FSG BYR, the publisher of this book. She was on the top of my list, too. Her online comics and award-winning graphic novel, THROUGH THE WOODS, are unsettling and visually dynamic. Emily is an artist who excels at conveying horror; the trauma of sexual violence is a living nightmare. She was the perfect person to bring Melinda’s grief, confusion, and rage to life. As in many projects involving an artist and a writer, we communicated through our publisher. I wrote the adaptation, Emily created art. She provided feedback about my words, I provided feedback about her images. Mostly, we just fangirled about each other’s work.

Q) Why did you want to reimagine SPEAK as a graphic novel?

A) I’ve been wanted to do a graphic novel version for more than a decade. SPEAK is an intensely close first-person narrative, told by a young artist struggling to find her voice at the age where everyone is experimenting with different forms of artistic self-expression. Combining visual art with words creates powerful chords that resonate deeper in the reader’s heart than either form can manage on its own.

Q) Were you daunted by the task of creating a script for a graphic novel--which generally focuses heavily on dialogue--that stars a main character who is nearly an elective mute?

A) I was energized by it! I’m always looking for new ways to stretch my creative muscles. I studied graphic novels, figured out what aspects would work best for my story and dove into the deep end of the pool.

Q) Thanks to the #metoo campaign, victims of sexual violence have been speaking out now more than ever. In what way do you think SPEAK: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL can add to the conversation?

A) SPEAK has always opened doors to a conversation; that is one of the most important things that Story does for us all. I suspect that the graphic novel version is going to reach more readers, and help even more survivors to clear the fear from their throats and speak up.

Q) People may think of SPEAK as a book with a predominantly female audience, with its empowering story about a teenage girl about speaking up, but it's also very much a book for boys. What do you think young male readers can take from SPEAK and the graphic novel adaptation?

A) I get irritated when SPEAK is labeled as a “girl book.” For one thing, boys can be victims of sexual violence, too. For another, there are many, many different contexts in which sexual violence occurs. Emphasizing a cisgender, heterosexual, non-familial attack and then identifying readers as potentially belonging to Team Survivor or Team Perpetrator is demeaning, disrespectful, and frankly, stupid.

The impact of SPEAK is because sexual violence (and the threat of it) affects millions more people than anyone in our culture has been willing to discuss. But it goes beyond even that. SPEAK is a story about the pain and the cost of silence. It gives readers - many of whom have had to deal with bad things that they don’t know how to talk about - the chance to live the search for courage, to test out their own strength and voice. Everyone needs practice speaking up about hard things. SPEAK: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL makes the journey accessible and rewarding for all.

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