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Finding inspiration Lois Lowry talks about 'The Giver' during Buffalo visit

April 1st, affectionately dubbed April Fools' Day, is a date notorious for jokes and pranks. However, when two-time Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry delivered her keynote lecture at the Allendale Theater on Sunday, she wasn't fooling when she said that even taxicab drivers ask her "How do you get your ideas?"

Lowry addressed this question within the first five minutes of her lecture during a visit sponsored by the Buffalo Education Alliance. "Everything I have experienced or remembered or thought or dreamed or observed or wondered about becomes part of what eventually goes into my books." She was quick to add with a playful grin that she recently celebrated her 70th birthday, so she has lots of experiences to draw from.

Such was the tone of her entire address. Further developing the theme of how her experiences find their way into her books, Lowry turned to reflecting on what led her to write "The Giver." She chronicled a few intriguing tales from her childhood.

One of the most memorable stories she told took place when Lowry lived in Japan. (Her father, a military dentist, was stationed in Japan during the American occupation following World War II.) Although she lived in a largely American community walled within the city of Tokyo, Lowry told the audience that she used to ride her bright green bike out of her community and into the city of Tokyo regularly -- without her parents' knowledge.

Once in the city's center, she would stand and watch Japanese schoolchildren playing on a playground. Lowry recalls that her "fear and uncertainty," as well as her shy nature and "being different," were the reasons that she and the Japanese children never interacted.

More than 50 years later, Lois Lowry met Allen Say, a Japanese-American author-illustrator. Both were honored at a luncheon in which she won the Newbery for "The Giver" and he won the Caldecott. While they were talking, they came to realize that they both lived in the same region of Japan at the same time. Upon discovering this, Say paused and then asked Lowry, "Were you the girl with the green bike?" Lowry said this incident emphasized the importance of embracing differences between people instead of fearing diversity -- a central theme in "The Giver." She said she regrets that she and Say lost out on more than 50 years of friendship because of fear of differences.

The moment when Lowry was inspired to write "The Giver" came after visiting her aging parents in a nursing home. Lowry's mother, while telling stories, expressed deep grief about the loss of Lois' older sister, Helen, who died of cancer at 28. Lowry's father, who was losing his memory, did not remember his daughter and had to be reminded that she had died. As Lowry compared the encounters with each parent, she explained, "I began to think in the way that a writer always thinks -- which begins with the two word phrase: what if? I began to think, what if there were a way to control human memory? What if my mother could remember all those lovely stories of places and people and things that she had loved, but what if she didn't have to remember the day that her daughter died? What if she forgot that the way my dad had? What if I could give someone a shot and they would remember only happy things?" By the time she returned home from visiting her parents, Lowry had formed the premise of "The Giver" -- a society set in the future in which people "obliterate and manipulate human memory."

Once back home in Boston, Lowry looked out her window and compiled a list of all the everyday things that make her uncomfortable. She included things like pollution, car accidents, poverty, hunger, discrimination and housework. These aspects of life, among others, were all removed from the fictional community in "The Giver," creating a world which is safe to a fault and, in Lowry's words, "bland." Thus began the Newbery-winning novel that has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Following Lowry's keynote lecture, Theatre of Youth's final performance of "The Giver" played to a full house. During a "talkback" session afterward, the audience got to ask Lowry questions. One young theatergoer asked for her opinion of the play. Lowry said that she enjoyed the performance, which was "a very good adaptation." Another theatergoer asked Lowry a question that goes to the heart of "The Giver": "Would you give up colors and feelings for a safer world?" Lowry answered with a decisive and emphatic "No," as did all the members of the cast.

Lowry's current projects include helping to write the screenplay for "The Giver," which will soon be made into a movie, and the recent release of her 34th book, "Gossamer."

Kelsey Bradbury is a junior at Williamsville East

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Visit www.LoisLowry.com for more information about Lois Lowry and her books.

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