Lois Lowry discusses upcoming book and answers readers’ questions


Rania Matar

Lois Lowry, author of The Giver and On The Horizon, poses for a photo in her home.

Hannah Thomas and Melanie Duronio

On Thursday, April 16, Lois Lowry, the author of The Giver, answered students’ and teachers’ questions through a Zoom call that served as a substitute for her canceled book tour. Lowry used the opportunity to promote her upcoming book On the Horizon, as well as connect with her readers during this time of uncertainty.

The meeting was arranged in a question-answer style format, giving many attendees the chance to ask questions about Lowry’s life and her creative process.

Q: What is your favorite personal aspect of On the Horizon?

A: When I was a kid, after WWII ended, I went to live in Tokyo, Japan.  I used to ride my bike around the streets of Tokyo where I lived. There was a Japanese school and I used to stop my bike at this school. I would look through the fence at the kids on the playground and there was a boy around my age who would look back at me […] many years later, I met an illustrator who won [the Caldecott medal], Allen Say […] we gave each other our own books, and I signed mine in Japanese. He asked ‘How come you can write in Japanese?’, and I told him that I lived in Japan when I was a kid […] At the end of the conversation he suddenly said ‘Were you the girl on the green bicycle?’ […] He looked as astonished as I did at that moment, and now he and I have become great friends […] I think that is what the book is about, the way that people become connected to each other.

Q: What advice can you give for recognizing important moments in your life, and taking writing inspiration from them?

A: People often think, ‘Oh my life is boring, nothing has ever happened to me’.  But I think the best advice I can give is to think of a moment in your life that on the surface seems ordinary, but brought about a great change in your life and your way of looking at things.  Those moments tend to be so ordinary, but I think that’s the important thing about them […] it’s a small moment in time in which you changed in a great way.

Q: What were your favorite types of books to read?

A: When I was a kid, fiction was what I read the most.  People are sometimes surprised to find that I did not enjoy, and still do not enjoy, science fiction or fantasy because they think The Giver falls into those categories […] But I prefer realistic fiction because I like reading about people to whom I can relate, but who are different enough that I could enter their world and it would be an experience different from mine […] and I can learn about life through their eyes.

Q: What do you think the importance of free speech in writing means today?

A: Over the years there have been attempts to censor or ban some of my books, most often The Giver.  When The Giver was first published, there would be parents demanding for the book to be removed from the curriculum […] Nonetheless, that book has the right to exist.  The author has a right to write about those things […] And we have the right in this country to say, to write, and to publish whatever we believe, and nobody can take that away from us.

Q: What is your creative process, and how do you make difficult topics easier to digest?

A: One of the things I worry about while writing about hard topics is, ‘Will the publishers deny this?’ So what I try to do is re-enter the mindset of my younger self and remember how I felt and how I would react to the topic I’m writing about.  Then I ask myself, ‘would I be interested in reading this?’ and I try to write the story in a way that my younger self would want to read […] I also don’t have index cards or an outline of the plot laid out, I just have my brain and my imagination. Sometimes the story will go somewhere else entirely until I have found myself in a different place, but that is also part of my process.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: When I was younger I was doing all the right things.  I was paying attention in school, mostly in English class, and I was fortunate to have some of the most amazing teachers. Then I went to college and majored in English and writing […] One thing I might change was the fact that I dropped out of college and got married at 19. I would go back to my younger self and tell her that it was a bad idea and I was too young.  However, I can’t truly regret that now since I ended up having four kids that I wouldn’t ever want to give up […] Even after I dropped out of college, I did go back eventually, and I continued to read and write. So I don’t know if I would change everything.

Q: What inspired you to specifically write for young people?

A:  When I was in my late 30s, I wrote a short story that was published in a magazine, and after it was published I got a letter from an editor who had read the story.  She commented that I sounded like somebody who could write for young adults and asked if I would consider doing so.  Because [she] encouraged me, I sat down and wrote my first book. After [the book] was published, the response from readers was extraordinary to read.  Each response has been so profoundly moving to me, which may be the reason I have stuck with writing all these years.

Q: What encouraging message do you have for young people who want to become authors?

A: It is not an easy way to make a living.  Everyone who wants to become an author wants to have enormous success, but that does not happen to many people […] [But] I think people who are willing to write and are passionate about it are going to have the most wonderful lives, because to me there is nothing more satisfying than sitting alone in a room and writing […] A lot of terrible things may be happening in the world, but all that disappears once you sit down and put words on a page.  It gives such satisfaction and pleasure to those who are writers.