Growing up, authors always seemed like distant people to me. All authors must live in some far away city, such as Los Angeles or New York City, and spend every minute writing. I thought of authors as part of a secret society, one where the only way to get in was to grace the shelves of Barnes and Noble with your books. Authors were busy people that did not interact with us lowly readers. Their books, however, were just the opposite.
Books gave me access to the entire world; they brought people that I had only heard about right into my hands. I could travel anywhere I wanted to, speak to whomever was in the book, and befriend the protagonist. Books gave me a VIP pass to all worlds and their citizens. All worlds except for the world of authors, that is.
The wall between the illusive authors and their works was shattered when I read Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby. About a deaf girl who befriends a chimpanzee through sign language, Hurt Go Happy quickly became my favorite book from my childhood. As I finished the book, I noticed the Author’s Note at the end of the book. There, printed only a few pages away from what was the best book I had read up to that point, was Ginny Rorby’s email. It did not appear to be the email to a publishing company but to the author itself. As 5th grade me crafted my email, I was doubtful she would actually reply. My parents told me I would only get a pre-written response from the publisher, if anything.
“Thank you for your email. Ms. Rorby is quite busy writing, but appreciates your thoughts” should be what I would receive, everyone told me. That was, if I did even get a response.
Instead, a few days later, I woke up to an email for Rorby herself thanking me from the kind remarks and wanting to know more about me. I frantically typed back, amazed to be in correspondence with an actual author. Over the next 7 years, Ginny and I emailed almost daily. She would send me an early manuscript of the novel she was working on; I would send her my poetry or pieces that I wrote for class assignments.
Since I was interested in leaning more about chimpanzees, Ginny was able to set up a visit for me to a local chimpanzee and orangutan sanctuary, the same one where she had done her research for the book.
Hurt Go Happy connected me with someone I thought was too good to be real-an author. Her email back showed me the true power of books, connecting people to not only the characters in the books, but the author as well. Having just spent a week this summer staying and writing with Ginny in her tiny Northern California house, I am finally convinced that authors are people just like me. They are people who have a story to tell and simply tell it through words.