More than 20 years after the success of her groundbreaking YA novel Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson is raising her voice with SHOUT. The author’s powerful memoir reveals her own history as a survivor of sexual assault through poetry that spans from traumatized, depressed, angry, healing, growing, demanding change, and every other emotion in between.
First published in early 2019, the New York Times-bestselling SHOUT is getting an all-new look for its paperback release this spring — and EW has your exclusive first look at the drastically different cover. “Given the consequences and price that vicitms of sexual violence pay often for their lifetimes, the publishers felt and I agreed that the cover for SHOUT needed to be more stark,” Anderson tells EW. “The cover needed to shout. It needed to be a strong statement of meaning that the days of shame are over. It’s time for us to shout together and change this.”
Anderson first wrote about sexual assault and its aftermath in the groundbreaking, award-winning fictional novel Speak (loosely based on her own experiences) back in 1999. It helped shatter the taboo around the important issue and inspired a national conversation about rape culture and consent for young people, long before the cultural shift of recent years. And because it was a young adult novel, it also quickly became one of the most frequently banned books in the country due its honest and therefore controversial material that adults deemed inappropriate for young minds — many of whom were already dealing with sexual assault in their lives and no one to talk to about it. And while things are certainly changing for the better when it comes to talking about and dealing with sexual violence, Anderson’s frustrations at how slow that change has come — especially with adults choosing to censor these topics from young people — inspired her to share her personal history through nonfiction poetry.
Below, the author reveals why she decided to share her own story two decades after Speak, what she hopes the legacy of SHOUT will be, and more. Plus, check out the first look at SHOUT‘s statement-making new paperback cover.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What has the response been like to SHOUT since its initial release last year?
LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON: I was on the road for a long tour for the hardcover last year, and the reaction to SHOUT was so much stronger and deeper than I had ever hoped for. The audiences were huge, people were standing up in Q&A’s feeling safe and comfortable enough to disclose their own episodes of sexual violence, some of them for the first time ever. I was in Toronto and an elderly gentleman at this open forum was waiting and waiting and when he finally came up to me, he was in tears. Because he had been abused by a priest for a long time when he was a boy. And he said, “Finally, we can talk about this. I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see it.”
Yeah. I feel that the movement, it began hopefully a long time ago with books like Speak, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, the elevation of the #MeToo platform when Harvey Weinstein was finally outed as a sexual violent offender — alleged, on trial this week — there’s this momentum that is carrying the culture forward. It’s making victims feel safer and empowered. It’s beginning some long overdue conversations about what is consent, what is healthy sexuality.
What finally inspired you to tell your own story 20 years after Speak?
It’s funny, I have been telling my own story for 20 years but I’ve been doing it in presentations for high school students and college audiences. It was very clear to me early on that no kid wanted me to talk about the metaphors in my book. [Laughs] They all wanted to know what part of Speak was my story and what part was fictionalized, so I was honest and open with them about what I had gone through. I was comfortable sharing it in that smaller, more intimate scale but I can tell you the moment that changed for me. It was fall of 2017 and I was listening to a podcast that was discussing the very predictable and infuriating backlash to the #MeToo movement and all the misogyny that was flowing from part of the culture. I got angrier and angrier as I was walking in New York City listening to this podcast. Lines of poetry started to drift in my head. By the end of that walk I knew that I wanted to write this book.
How did the writing process of SHOUT compare to that of writing Speak?
It’s difficult to compare them because now I’m 20 years older. What they have in common is in the writing of both, the fictional version and the nonfiction version, I was showing the part of me that was comfortable in being shared with the world. And you have to remember, when I was working on Speak in the ‘90s I never thought it was going to be published. YA wasn’t huge, there was no internet, it was a small book everyone thought would go away very quickly. I was just thrilled a couple people read it. I’ve been baffled every day since then! When I was writing Speak, I was really focused on what it felt like to be carrying around this secret, that it was eating me alive, and transmute that into a fictional character. I wasn’t prepared at that point to share the details of my life or the lives of the people around me. When it came to writing SHOUT, it was a whole lot easier to not have to shape things with fiction and just put it all on the table. Having been graced with the opportunity to talk about sexual violence and what I’ve been through and listen to the stories of tens of thousands of people, that gave me the confidence that it’s okay to talk about this. It’s healing to talk about this and it’s strengthening.
Since Speak has had such a wide-reaching and influential impact, what do you hope the legacy of SHOUT will be?
I hope to help people, and this is already happening, for people to recognize that they can be blunt and honest about what happened to them. There is no shame in having that hurt any more than there’s shame about having their house robbed. And Speak was mainly for teens and young people; SHOUT is a crossover book for both young people and adults. Older people need to learn how to be able to talk about this. This makes for the perfect book club book in a community of friends, family, people close to you to open the door for these conversations. That’s what the best pieces of literature can do — they offer us a seat by the fire so we can sit and talk and listen to each other and grow.
The paperback version of SHOUT will be available here March 10.