We’re pleased to announce a new interview series here at The Write Teacher, “School Time Author Q&A”. Every month, we will post one interview with one of our favorite authors. Our first author in this series is Liz Murray. We have praised the work of Liz Murray before, and we are so blessed to have been able to do this interview with her. Her memoir, Breaking Night, is nothing short of outstanding.
Breaking Night tells the incredible story of how Liz was a homeless teenager on the streets, who ended up graduating from Harvard. She is a fighter, a scholar, a mother, a teacher, a writer…she is, without a doubt, an inspiration to us all. Check out our exclusive Q&A with her below, and be sure to follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.
TWT: What’s it like writing a memoir? Did you ever have to step away from the book because it was too hard going down memory lane?
LM: My memoir took me 7 years to complete. It was an emotional roller coaster ride. It was joyful and painful. There were moments around my parents and my childhood that was extremely difficult to revisit. At the same time when I revisited some of the crazy things my friends and I did, it brought me so much joy.
TWT: Many of our students feel that high school is pointless, and college is just beyond their grasp. What words of wisdom would you give them?
LM: I’ve met so many people from the US and all over the world, and the one advantage that we have in the United States is that children are offered an education and with this education in hand you can use it as a launching pad for your life. Education gives you opportunities. I always imagine it to be like a ladder someone lowers into your life, you can use it to climb upwards and onwards, you just need to do the climbing. I know students can sometimes feel hopeless because the journey seems to long, but then I think of what Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.¨ It may seem unattainable, but if you just do the next right thing, step by step you will carve out a new platform, a new life for yourself.
TWT: What was it like to see your story also turned in to a movie?
LM: It was surreal. It was so far from my wildest dreams to think that a movie or anything else for that matter would be based around me. I remember going to the set and being in disbelief, and then the premiere that was held back in my high school. Even that was surreal, going back to my high school after I graduated and thinking back on when I first walked in there, hiding the fact that I was homeless so that they would accept me, then coming back for the premiere of the movie. It was just insane.
TWT: Do you still keep in contact with your friends from the street, and from your old neighborhoods?
LM: Definitely, but as time goes by we naturally took our own path. We got married, became parents, started our careers, moved to different neighborhoods, some of them even to different states. We meet for our birthdays and our kids birthdays. They are and will always be my family.
TWT: Any advice for parents of troubled teens?
LM: Try to understand why your child is troubled. If they are troubled it’s probably because they are carrying a lot of hurt and pain inside of them. I think one key thing is that pain is relative. Be sensitive to that. Don’t compare your childhood with your child’s childhood or your problems with their problems. Your pain with their pain. What’s nothing to you could be everything to them. It takes compassion to connect with them. Work hard not just so that you feel you listened, but work hard so that they feel heard.
TWT: If you could say one thing to your parents right now, what would that be?
LM: I would want them to know that I love them and that their grandson is beautiful. I see parts of both my parents in him. I wish so much for them to meet my son, Liam and for all of us to be together.
TWT: Who is/was your greatest teacher?
LM: I’ve been blessed to have a series of wonderful teachers in my life. One that stands out is my high school English teacher, Perry. What I love so much about Perry’s style of connecting is that he is genuinely moved and affected by what his student’s share. Before I met him, I had never really experienced an adult authority figure who would stop to listen to their students. Someone who deeply considered what they had to say. Perry would never really give me the “answers,” he took the time to pose thoughtful questions, questions that made me look deeply inside myself and reexamine the way I relate to the world around me. Whenever I was done speaking with Perry I always felt I’d learned something meaningful and it made me want to do better things with life, be a better person. I just love his teaching, just love him as a person.
Liz, we cannot thank you enough for participating. To our readers: be sure to get your copy of Breaking Night TODAY! (You know we’ve never steered you wrong!)
Be sure to check in next month for our next School Time Author Q&A!
Photograph Credit: Steve Hart