Author talks to high school students about trauma, life

  • Author A.S. King, second from right in the front row, with students at Greenfield High School. King spent a day at the high school, including a school-wide assembly. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FRANCESCA PASSIGLIA ​​​​​​​

  • Young-adult author A.S. King speaks to students during an all-student assembly at Greenfield High School on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/ANITA FRITZ

  • Young-adult author A.S. King speaks to students during an all-student assembly at Greenfield High School on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/ANITA FRITZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2019 11:30:55 PM

GREENFIELD — Award-winning young adult author A.S. King asked several hundred Greenfield High School students Friday morning to look for their “own cans of succotash and examine their suitcases.”

Before King (Amy Sarig King) asked those questions, though, she explained to students how she became a writer because of a can of succotash and several English teachers who didn’t give up on her.

“When I was young, I had to eat all of my vegetables, and I hated succotash,” she started. “Some nights I’d be at the dinner table until 10.”

When she was in ninth grade, she was given an assignment to write, first-person, about a can of succotash. She wrote about the last can of anything on the shelf of the local grocery store during a blizzard.

“I wrote about the loneliest item on the shelf, but it was really about me,” she said. “The truth about succotash is that what I wrote about it was really about myself — I hated myself.”

King writes about trauma in ways pre-teens and teens can relate, covering topics like divorce, depression, racism, human flaws and much more.

She shared a story about a math teacher in seventh grade who told the class not to chew gum and the girls not to raise their hands because they didn’t need to learn math.

“I had my hand up all the time, and he never called on me,” she said. “I gave up on school and myself. I shelved that trauma like I did other trauma, but trauma has a way of sneaking up and tapping you on the shoulder at the weirdest times.”

King said she was bullied and her trauma just got bigger — until she decided to explore and empty her “suitcase,” as she pointed to her head.

King said her emotions and experiences are just some of the vehicles she uses to write her books — 11 of them and a new one, “The Year We Fell From Space,” which is about depression, is coming out Tuesday.

She said when she took a poetry class and started journaling, everything started pouring out. She said what students need to understand, though, is that everyone has to face rejection and she wants them to be prepared. She said she received 500 rejection letters before her first book was published.

King explained that students need to think about others and think about who their friends are and what they stand for — they shouldn’t surround themselves with bullies and negative people because that seeps into their own lives.

“Empty your personal suitcase,” she said several times. “Who packed it, anyway?”

She said that teacher who told the girls in the classroom they didn’t need to learn math was in her suitcase when she unpacked it, along with others who shouldn’t have been allowed there.

“Why did I carry him and others for so long? Why did I allow him and others to make me feel small,” she asked. “Surround yourselves with folks who are cool and positive. Then, repack your suitcase.”

She finished by telling students that “trauma is trauma,” no matter how big or small, and that there are most likely students at the high school who have experienced trauma. She said if it affects them, it’s trauma, and they should find an adult to talk with about it. Then, she reminded them that she is where she is today because of what she had in her suitcase.

The visit was a result of a collaboration between Greenfield High School Librarian Jessica Pollock and Greenfield Public Library Teen Librarian Francesca Passiglia, who received a Greenfield Local Cultural Council Grant, as well as funding from Greenfield Public Schools and the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library.

The day started at 8:15 with King’s presentation, “On Being a Superhero: An Exploration of Your Personal Suitcase.” King stayed the day for other activities in classrooms and for a book-signing.

During the 60-minute all-school assembly, King, who lives in Pennsylvania, asked students to consider their past experiences and how they can shape their future and learn from mistakes, rather than be defined by them.

King, who was called “One of the best (young adult) writers working today” by the New York Times Book Review, writes young adult fiction, exploring ongoing themes of teens learning to deal with and process trauma.

According to Pollock, students at the high school voted by grade on which of King’s books they’d like to read, and each grade participated in workshops in advance of her visit, where they explored the books they read and did writing exercises and art related to those books.

“We hope that by bringing authors to the school, we can instill a love of reading and an appreciation of the writing process in the students,” Passiglia said.

Toward the end of the presentation, King took questions from students, who asked everything from what her astrological sign is (Pisces) to whether she likes basketball and video games to details about some of her favorite characters and who they are based on.

Last year, Sara Farizan, author of “Here to Stay” spoke and Pollock and Passiglia said they have invited Jarrett Krosoczka, author of “Hey Kiddo,” to speak in fall 2020.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.




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