When children’s author and two-time Newbery Medal-winning author Lois Lowry spoke at Bowdoin on Monday night, she opened by sharing an email correspondence initiated several years ago by a young girl named Megan. After a brief back-and-forth exchange, Megan swiftly concluded with an email bereft of punctuation, writing, “Okay I do not like this book and you do not have to take my advice but I absolutely hate this book oh and PS never ever send me anything ever again and not with love.”

Lowry, who was invited by The Quill, Bowdoin’s literary and arts magazine, shared these emails, along with stories about her childhood, career and the intersections between the two, with a crowded Kresge Auditorium. Megan’s emails detail what the young girl deemed to be inappropriate subject matter in Lowry’s book series “Anastasia”—namely, the protagonist having a crush on her female gym teacher. 

However, Lowry’s response was not one of hostility, or even disregard. She has kept this email as a sort of reminder of the significance of her craft and why she continues to write. 

“Certainly she was a little bit rude… but I don’t care. I love this kid,” Lowry said. “I love that she, at 10 years old, is reading a book and thinking about a book, worrying about a book, even objecting to a book. As she gets older those things that she has been taught about will not go away. Because kids at that age are often deeply affected by what they read.”

In a winding narrative of her life story, Lowry intertwined personal anecdotes, beginning with her childhood, with their parallels in the subject matter of her subsequent novels. She told of her first novel, “Autumn Street,” which was inspired by her life as a child in Pennsylvania. The self-proclaimed favorite of all her works, the story draws heavily from Lowry’s own experiences, such as her first day of school. 

“When I entered that first grade room very timidly, a teacher named Lois McDonald leaned down to greet me and told me to sit at a desk and look at some books,” Lowry said. “And I remember looking around the room that was filled with books and the feeling of being part of a book-filled life, as I’ve been ever since.” 

It was moments like these that became the driving force behind many of Lowry’s novels. She recalled an occasion from an early age in which her mother read to her “The Yearling,” a best-selling novel of the 1940s. 

“I remember that the last sentence of the chapter was, ‘He was filled with hate for all death, and pity for all aloneness.’ It was when she read the end of that chapter that my mother began to cry, and it wasn’t until I was grown that I realized she was weeping not so much for the boy, but for herself and for what the book said to her own situation. She was a woman with three small children, alone, with a husband on an island in the Pacific. But it was that awareness—I was a very literate child who had read everything that came my way, but this was the first time that a book struck me as very, very special.”

Gathering from observations from her youth, Lowry has developed a style that, at times, integrates harsh or uncomfortable realities with the familiar comfort of childhood. 
“I don’t think there’s any value in avoiding tough topics with kids who live in a tough world. Fiction is a way, oddly, of rehearsing life,” Lowry said. “One of my children was killed in an accident some years ago and I remember people asking me how I got through that. One of my answers was that all my life I had read, and each time I had read something about loss I had learned to deal with it. And I think that’s what we do… it’s valuable for readers to know that one can talk about such things and that such feelings are normal. Sometimes a book is a very comfortable way to think about such things.”

It was clear that for several readers, this was what they appreciated most about Lowry’s work. In her exploration of real issues, such as death and sexuality, Lowry’s stories make conventionally taboo topics accessible to young readers.

“When I read ‘The Giver,’ I respected the fact that even though it was geared toward a younger audience, she was able to discuss important things,” said Victoria Lowrie ’18, editor-in-chief of The Quill. “Often it feels like in young adult books they try to gloss over the more important issues. She’s not afraid to delve into them and make you feel like you have an opinion and you’re able to think.”

“She said, ‘Whatever form they take, all stories are about reconciliation in one form or another.’ I wrote that down when I got home and put it on my wall,” said Carly Berlin ’18. “Because I think what she means is not just that stories end in happy endings. Characters have to grapple with something—maybe it’s a past version of themselves, another relationship they have or a time period that they exist in. Stories are always encompassing that sort of tension. I want to keep thinking about that.”

Lowry concluded the talk with another email, this one sent by a more appreciative reader. The message, sent by an adolescent boy struggling with issues of sexuality and conformity in a conservative household, read, “Your book inspires me so much to be me, to be who I am and not what people want me to be, and I feel that’s a very strong message in your book—to not let everything be black and white, but to be colorful, to be different and to question everything, even if that means going against society’s norms. I know someone out there who I’ve never met cares about my well-being. Thank you.”

“It was a reminder, as all these emails are, of how profoundly affecting a book can be for a kid at a particular time in his or her life,” Lowry said.