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Laurie Halse Anderson on writing "outside of your lane": "Be prepared to do years of extra work"

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In her 1999 YA novel of teenage sexual assault and its aftermath, she wanted to "Speak." Now, two decades later, Laurie Halse Anderson is ready to "Shout." The Margaret A. Edwards award-winning author of "Fever, 1793," "Catalyst" and "Winter Girls" is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her literary breakthrough with a special anniversary edition of "Speak," as well as a timely new memoir in poetry. Anderson spoke to Salon recently about "cancel culture," Brett Kavanaugh, and why she loves the parents who want to censor her.

I read an interview that you did less than a year ago where you were talking about "Speak." You said, "I feel like 'Speak' should be retitled 'Shout.'" Then a little while later, you said on Twitter, 'I got angry again.' Here we are. This came together quickly.

I was actually working on "Shout" at the time of that interview. I wasn't sure that it was going to work, so I didn't want to talk about a new book when I was in the middle of something new, like a memoir told in poetry.

You had some stuff that was bubbling up.

Twenty years. For 20 years of simmering.

Twenty years ago, when "Speak" came out, was a huge surprise. I never thought it was going to be published. Then it was published and even more surprising, people responded to it quite nicely. I began to receive invitations to speak at schools all over the country. For 20 years, I've been listening to the stories of survivors because I have never given a presentation at a middle school, high school, college, bookstore, anywhere, where I haven't had at least one — and often many — survivors come up to me afterwards.

I've been absorbing all of these stories. What happened in October of 2017, as the next wave of the #MeToo movement began — remember, it started in 2006 with Tarana Burke — then the backlash started. And it was the backlash that lit the fire for this book because I was so incandescently angry.

It's sometimes hard to take that long view and see that we have moved forward in many significant ways but also, why are we still having these conversations? Why are we still fighting these fights? Thinking of just this past year, the Kavanaugh hearings, in the context of this story, your story, high school sexual abuse, accusations of sexual abuse, that culture around it. When you were watching that unfold last fall, what were you thinking?

I was restraining myself from throwing the television out the hotel window. As frustrating as this can be, it has created moments of incredible light and education. I was in Colorado and I spoke to a woman that weekend, and she was feeling very enraged during the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh.

She sat her 17-year-old son and her 15-year-old daughter down at the breakfast table and they were the first people that she disclosed to about her rape when she was 15 years old.

You had better believe that was a powerful moment for that family. I think that's the difference between 20 years ago and now. Twenty years ago, you had women of my generation who were confused and trying to figure this out. There was a little bit of a door opening. 1999 was the first time I ever saw survivors of sexual violence being willing to put their face on the cover of a magazine. They said, "No, don't shield our names. It is not our shame that we were assaulted. It is the shame of the person who attacked us." I think those of us who came through that year, now we're the next generation taking our place on judge benches, in policy making positions. Then we've had this younger generation that is way smarter than ours. And much more compassionate. They're now taking it the next step forward.

There is a part in this book, and I want to ask you about the choice to do it in poetry, the moment where you say, "That was me." Those three words.

I've been saying them for 20 years. I thought when they first sent me on the road, that I was supposed to talk about literary devices. No high school student wanted to hear about literary devices.

But they liked the book. And the book "Speak," it opened up........

© Salon