You know Jennifer Berry Hawes.
She was one of the Post & Courier’s best feature writers, then an award-winning columnist, and always the prettiest smile of all those smiling stamp-sized head shots of P&C contributors. That was back when newspapers actually paid a newsroom full of journalists to do actual reporting and writing, but that’s another blog post….
Today Jennifer puts her love of writing to good use by nurturing readers. As a Library Assistant and the Young Adult (YA, in genre parlance) specialist at the Calhoun Street CCPL main branch, Jen is shaping the Gen Next of readers, and I’m delighted to introduce her as Literary Charleston’s inaugural Meet your Librarian subject — an occasional series in which we’ll Q&A with some modern day Superheros (not Action Figures), those good folks at your local library who are always ready to answer questions and help you find whatever it is your heart desires.
So, in honor of National Library Week, here’s Jennifer, a Mount Pleasant mother of two and writer, with a completed YA manuscript of her own. And if you’d rather meet her for real (highly recommended), stop by the YA desk on Calhoun Street for some great book recommendations, and check out her own YA CCPL blog here.)
Q: What was the book culture in your home growing up, and do you have a formative early library memory?
My family is very oriented around reading and learning. My mother is a retired librarian, my father a college biology chairman and law school professor, and my stepfather a retired superintendent. My dad went to law school while I was in high school, and I have great memories of sitting around while he studied and I studied, just hanging out together feeling like it was cool to learn. I also spent a lot of time in our town’s library, especially in the newspaper section reading papers from all over the world. It planted my love of newspapers and reading.
Q: How and when did you discover your interest in YA as a specific genre, and what is it about YA literature that intrigues you?
Okay, but don’t laugh. When my daughter was in fifth grade, she wanted to read Twilight. I was unsure about content, so I read it first. I got hooked! Halfway through, I accidentally left it in my daughter’s dance studio. It was a holiday weekend, and I could see my poor book locked in the lobby! I had to call the nearest teenager I knew to borrow her copy. How embarrassing. I guess the series reminded me of when I met my now-husband in high school. It was so fun to relive those amazingly, awkwardly intense feelings that come with being a teenager in love. That’s still what intrigues me about YA…the intensity of everything.
Q: What are your impressions about young readers today? Vampire cult or regular kids?
No more vampires, please! Thanks to The Hunger Games trilogy, many teens are hot on dystopias. However, I find that young adults in the library are like adults in the library — incredibly diverse. Some devour supernatural romances while others beeline to urban novels. Others seek out the slew of new books that tackle topics like homosexuality, drug addiction, peer pressure, and violence as pathways to understand what they or friends are dealing with.
Q: What’s your prediction about the next generation of readers, given the digital revolution, video games, and of course, vampires?
It’s all good. YA literature is a bright spot in the struggling publishing industry, which in turn means more and better YA books. We also are seeing more teens reading eBooks, which is a great tool for melding books with young people’s fascination with technology. There are great options both in how they read (on e-readers and tablets) and what they read (books on drug abuse, peer pressure, and other relevant topics). Never has YA literature been so accessible in form and content to younger readers. Our job is to show them this.
Q: As a writer, what does it mean to your creative life to spend so much time in the library?
I’m surrounded by everything from The Hunger Games to War and Peace to Zane’s The Hot Box. While I think the advice to write what you know is helpful, nothing feeds the muse like reading outside your comfort zone. It forces you to rethink the words you choose and the context you know.
Tell us a little known secret about the CCPL, or something you were surprised to learn on the job?
That the young adult staff is incredibly cool, savvy, and devoted (except for me, I’m not cool at all, at least according to my tween daughter!). We link with readers through our Reading Underground blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter, Pinterest, and all sorts of other means. We actually had to lock the Main library doors at our last big event because so many teens showed up.
If you could do one thing to improve literacy in South Carolina, what would it be?
Encourage parents to read to their children from day one. No, before day one. At one of my outreaches, I encourage pregnant teens to read to their babies even in utero and to continue throughout their children’s development. There’s something so special about that quiet time of reading together, especially at night after a long and tiring day. That investment pays off in bonding, vocabulary development, and a love of reading — all of which benefit children forever.
What are you reading now? And what is your daughter reading now?
I’m reading Shine by Lauren Myracle. My daughter is reading Night by Elie Wiesel (for school) and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (at my insistence).
And of course, the desert island question — if you could take just 3 books with you to some desolate place with no wireless or satellite or vampires, what would they be?
Just three!?!? Considering my husband just held an intervention so I would reduce my bedside book pile, this is tough. But here goes: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Oh, and I’d really need Walden, too. Please!
Thank you Jennifer Hawes, Librarian extraordinaire!
And one further note from Jennifer: On April 22, the Main library hosts Jenny Hubbard, the author of Paper Covers Rock, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which is a big award in young adult lit circles. Pat Conroy endorsed her novel, which is ala A Separate Peace but the narrator writes poetry to deal with the death of his friend and his role in the tragedy. Here’s a Q&A Jennifer did with Jenny: