Lois Lowry on "Looking Back: A Book of Memories" at 2016 National Book Festival

Lois Lowry on "Looking Back: A Book of Memories" at 2016 National Book Festival

Host Rich Fahle talks with Lois Lowry on her latest book, “Looking Back: A Book of Memories.

In this fascinating, moving autobiography, Lois Lowry explores her rich history through personal photographs, memories, and recollections of her childhood. Lowry’s writing often transports readers into other worlds. Now, we have the rare opportunity to travel into a real world that is her own—her life.
This new edition features a refreshed design, an introduction by New York Times best-selling author Alice Hoffman, and original material from Lois as she shares memories from the past twenty years of her life, including the making of the film, The Giver. Readers will find inspiration and insight in this poignant trip through a legendary writer’s past.

Women authors, autobiographies, biography, nonfiction

welcome back everybody we're at the Library of Congress National Book Festival 2016 I'm rich Valley this is the PBS book view now set and it's such a pleasure to have Lois Lowry joining us right now who's the author currently of looking back a book of memories it's a book he wrote a while ago but you've updated yeah well welcome it's great to have you good to be here yeah let's start with looking back okay you are also the author as we of some amazing books the giver and number of the stars which are sitting right here beautiful books and part of the iconic canon of literature now for young readers both newbery medal winners and so many other books was it though that made you want to go back and first of all write your go about writing your memoir the first time but then go back and update it and add to it okay I wrote it the first time I think 20 years ago at least it was published 20 years ago and it was because like all authors the number of times I was asked how do you get your ideas which required me rather than just giving a glib answer to think about that and I realized that most of my books including the two you have here came from things in my own life and because my father had been a photographer and I was the recipient of the boxes of old photographs I began going through and making those connections put them together in book form and that first copy of looking back was published 20 years ago but of course 20 years have passed and the publisher came to me and said hey why not update it so again I went through the past 20 years looked for photographs look for the connections to books that I've written in those past years and here it is all over again people reading this book now often either Word Alive 20 years ago or we're too young to read the first one so for them it's like a brand new book there's the book is a collection of photographs you mentioned from your from your family history both when you were a girl and with your grandchildren and its own children your pets lots of others but it's also uh it's it's snippets from your books and there's little quotes from all the books in it to your point it sort of leads us down the path of maybe where some of your inspiration comes from those snippets though that that are in the book do they just pop out into your mind or how did you know which which paragraph and where do they come from inside of it of course looking through the bottom boxes of old photographs some triggered nothing outside of made me a memory in my past but others spoke to me about a book that I'd later written and it would appear in my I mean some of those books are quite old I've been around a long time but I would remember oh yes that's where that came from and and to make that connection between what I felt when I was in that photograph and what I maybe 50 years or so later wrote that's really quite intriguing to me and I think also teachers have found that it inspires kids and they don't have as long a history as I do they don't have as many old photographs but they can do the same thing and they can tell a story about that moment in that photograph how does that relate to your writing the visual art side of your writing is that you mentioned earlier your your once a professional photographer and and in the darkroom etc yeah I miss the direct room but I've always been a very visual person and I think that comes through and what I write and in fact when I wrote The Giver when I was working on it at first it was very difficult to create a world in which there's very little visual stuff because it's a colorless world to me the world is so full of of color that that's that permeates all of my books and I had to extract it from the giver it was hard yeah there's there's an interesting element to of your of your memoir that also applies to the giver in the sense that you're looking back at so many of these photos and you don't know exactly what was happening there and you're sort of extrapolating of an image or trying to remember oftentimes there is no memory of that moment but it's just a picture that you're wondering what was going on tell us about that whole notion of photographer II as a snapshot in time but maybe isn't up here in your mind exactly what was happened that day well of course back to the giver for a moment that's a book about memory and and it it was triggered by the fact that my father was losing his memory I though I'm getting close to the age at which that happens to people have not yet had that happen and I actually do have a photographic memory and when I look back at these old photographs you said maybe some of them don't trigger memories right they all do I can look at a photograph like the one on the cover of this book in which I'm probably five and I can remember that day and I can remember the the sensations that go with it I remember how uncomfortable that horrible bathing suit was and I remember the smell of the log built room where we had to change our clothes mold and dead bugs in the corners all of those things come back to me I think it's one of the reasons I've been able to write for kids because I can call back those childhood memories yeah that's amazing you you also write about loss in this book your sister who plays a big part in the in the memoir you see so many pictures of her there she is in the cover and and your own son gray yeah who you lost in an accident and the military accident he was a pilot there there's some really poignant photos in here of that and in fact there's one about his daughter and the Schmetterling which is the word for butterflies my granddaughter my son's daughter was born in Germany he was stationed there and he married a lovely German woman and so there's a photograph of him reading to her when she's – not yet – because she was under – when he died but it's a book about butterflies and he's teaching her the German word for butterflies yeah all of these little moments come back and of course everybody's life incorporates loss I mean that's how we go forward by learning how to incorporate that loss into our lives and deal with it but they are poignant photographs to me looking at the mouse well that's the photographs of my sister who died when she was 28 yeah there's this there's a scene in the book we talk about your mother who lost your sister at about the same age that you lost gray and this idea of having tea together a coffee or being able to talk about what you were going through a little fantasy yes my mother was was gone by the time my son died but it made me realize what it would have been like for her something we didn't discuss at the time and so I can only do it in my imagination now there's a beautiful part of the book you know I'd also there's so many photos in the book about with you with books or being read to or your sister reading to you or your daughter reading on the back of that horse which is a wonderful photograph or as you said your cue to say no that isn't a wonderful photograph as a photographer I can say that I snapped that so quickly from an upstairs window and it's not a good photograph and I regret that because it's a wonderful scene my daughter aged 11 on the back of a horse in our yard lying on her back reading a book it stopped me in my tracks so maybe from a composition standpoint you wish you had it otherwise but it seems to have done the trick in my mind the point I was trying to make though is the book seems to play I mean obviously you're you're you write wonderful children's literature and young adult literature it's an important part of your life it's been an important part of all of your family's life talk about just that role when you were younger of books and how you gravitated I was so fortunate to be born into a family that valued books with a mother who had been a teacher who read to me with an older sister who not only read to me but taught me to read and at an age where I already knew what books meant and so books have been a part of my life since early earliest childhood and then became part I think of my children's lives and now my grandchildren and all of those people my children my grandchildren they're all in this book all of them their hands so many people have read these books in my hand these two newbery medal winners the number of the stars and the giver you just told me that you took the photographs from both these books – these are your pictures that on these iconic covers which is stunning to me I had no clue but these books are important books and people in readers live still today what do you think though that the role of literature plays in the world that we're living in right now there's this confusing place there's there's whether it's a political election it's the world is always confusing but it seems like literature has a role to play there what are your thoughts about that well for me and I think for everyone literature plays a won't role I think in rehearsing our lives you have to come for kids who are going to go out there particularly in today's world and face some scary stuff what they're reading about helps them to rehearse how they will react to different situations of course they don't do that unless you give them a book with a protagonist they can relate to and sympathize with and with a plot that moves along and makes them turn those pages but they learn about life life they'll encounter someday and that's a very valuable thing for them I'm sorry to see today's kids with their advices things their devices and I include my own grandchildren in that although my only granddaughter the one born in Germany is now in graduate school and a real scholar but it's kind of sad to see see that aspect lost although I think books will always be there somehow or another books keep holding on especially with young readers and there seems to be a new generation now of writers who are finding ways to connect and maybe even incorporate some of those devices into the conversation let's see where it goes will we see another update of looking back so gosh I'm gonna be 80 on my next birthday 20 years from now I'll be update my life will be updated but you may not get to know ways that happens well I appreciate it's a very intimate look into your world in a way that allows us all to search in our own lives at the same time I hope so and for all that you've done for children's literature and for the beautiful book looking back thank you so much for being honest yeah Lois Lowry thanks so much for being with us here on PBS


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