Author and former journalist Jeannette Walls visited JWU’s Providence campus last week to kick off the College of Arts & Sciences 2015-16 Cultural Life Series. Walls spoke to a packed Schneider Auditorium and received a standing ovation from the audience.
Walls elaborated on stories featured in her New York Times bestselling memoir “The Glass Castle,” and also shared additional memories from her childhood that did not make it into the book, as well as events that took place after her book had been published.
Walls explained that, while her childhood may have been unconventional, she wouldn’t have changed a thing. When she initially ran away from West Virginia to live in New York City with her older sister, she intended to become “a woman without a past,” Walls told the audience. But after seeing her homeless mother on the side of a New York City street while on her way to a party, Walls realized that this just wasn’t possible, and decided to share her story because “in telling our stories, we learn to accept ourselves.”
She shared the aspirations she had while writing “The Glass Castle”— that a “rich kid” would read her story and be kinder to those that they saw were struggling, and that someone with an upbringing similar to hers might read the story and think of themselves differently.
“It’s so easy to find yourself identifying only with your hardships,” Walls said. “It’s so easy to think that you must not be as good as the rich kids…. In telling our stories we learn to accept ourselves. Writing this book was my way of saying ‘this is my life and maybe you can learn something from it.’”
And learn something from it many have. From the woman Walls went to elementary school with who reached out to her upon the book’s publication, to the teacher who was able to grasp a better understanding of her student based on a conversation they had surrounding the book, or the multiple JWU students that contributed questions and comments during the 45 minute Q&A portion of Walls visit, all appear to have learned something different but incredibly valuable.
Some students, including freshman Athena Gowlis, were lucky enough to meet with Walls prior to the Cultural Life Series event. “The conversations that [we had] during our session gave me inspiration for my own writings,” Gowlis said. “I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to be part of such an intellectual event.”
Walls fielded questions from the audience about her family’s reactions to the memoir, what it was like to accurately portray her parents, and what it’s been like to have everyone from television hosts to book clubs analyze her childhood. “I won’t ever have to pay for a shrink, I’ll just come and talk to all of you,” she joked with the audience. “I find people’s thoughts about my book fascinating. I may not agree with everything they say, but they’re insights are just fascinating. Any interpretation of my story is worth considering.”
“Jeanette Walls was wonderfully engaging and incredibly humble,” Associate Professor of English Valerie Balkun said. “Her book was a huge success with our first-year students, as was her presentation.”
Walls stayed after the presentation to talk with students and sign books.
All photos provided by the College of Arts & Sciences.