Author visits Free State High School, makes donation to LGBT library
After young adult literature author Bill Konigsberg finished speaking to more than 100 Free State High School students on Monday, about a dozen students lingered. After one student thanked him for his visit and asked if she could give him a hug, several more did the same.
Konigsberg is the author of three books — “Out of the Pocket,” “Openly Straight” and “The Porcupine of Truth” — and visited the school to donate those and 50 other books to the school library’s newly established LGBT section.
As part of his visit, Konigsberg talked about his experience as a gay teenager of feeling confused, disconnected and withdrawn. He thought he had a shameful secret, and those feelings stemmed in part from not seeing LGBT people represented around him, he said.
“When I was a teen, there were no books in my school library that reflected people like me,” Konigsberg said.
“Out of the Pocket” won the Lambda Literary Award in the LGBT Children’s/Young Adult category in 2009 and “Openly Straight” was on the American Library Association’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults in 2014.
Free State teacher Nancy Hopkins initiated the effort to gather books for the school library’s collection by emailing authors, and she said was surprised by the positive response, especially Konigsberg’s offer to not only donate his books, but to deliver them in person. Hopkins said that she began sending emails to authors about a month ago, and now — including the 50 books from Konigsberg — the collection has about 250 books.
“It’s important for all kids to have characters they can relate to,” she said. “I’ve had an absolutely stunning response.”
Konigsberg, speaking candidly with students about his suicide attempt at 27, said that for LGBT youth, being able to see themselves represented can save lives. Konigsberg is in Kansas as part of a tour for The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth. Lesbian, gay or bisexual high school students are four times as likely to attempt suicide, according to a Center for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Konigsberg said Free State’s new library section is incredibly important, because books allow kids to reflect in a more powerful way than movies or TV shows allow.
“I had no frame of reference for a boy who liked sports and was gay,” he said, noting reading about characters similar to himself is an experience he wishes he’d had as a teenager.
Konigsberg, who previously worked as a sportswriter, also shared his personal experience of coming out to friends and family, and coming out publicly in 2001 with the publication of the piece “Sports world still a struggle for gays,” which he wrote while assistant editor for ESPN.com.
Konigsberg’s donation of books, as well as the 200 others Hopkins has received, are currently being catalogued, and Hopkins said once that process is complete, they will be displayed at the front of the library and available for checkout.