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Author Sharon Draper talks books, writing and life during presentation at Barberton Middle School

By Courtney Kerrigan correspondent

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Author Sharon Draper talks to seventh and eighth grade students at Barberton Middle School about the controversial issues in her novels. (Courtney Kerrigan/

BARBERTON: Adult literature author Sharon Draper’s presentation Tuesday at Barberton Middle School mirrored what many of her books leave with teens: wanting more.

Bouncing from her journey to writing, to reading excerpts from her novels and wrangling students from the audience, Draper had 600 students laughing, dancing and sometimes gasping at the controversial issues her books delve into.

“People ask, why so much bad stuff in your books?” Draper said. “Because you like it! The books where nothing bad happens, no one reads them.”

But the teacher-turned-author doesn’t focus on adolescent issues like relationships, drugs, parties, guns and abuse just because teens like it. They face these issues daily, and Draper, unintentionally, teaches life lessons through her writing.

“I purposely try not to put a lesson in my books because you guys are too old and sophisticated to teach,” Draper said. “Whatever you get is what’s there.”

When eighth grade student Jeremy Struckel read “Tears of a Tiger,” he discovered how underage drinking and driving affects people.

“In the book, they thought it was a good idea to go to a party and drink and it ended up killing one of their best friends,” he explained. “And toward the end the main character kills himself because he’s so depressed. It shows that things aren’t always what they seem and anything could happen.”

Struckel said he enjoyed how Draper explained that her characters shape the story. Even if she starts out with a plan, it never goes accordingly. Her characters take over.

“I do not kill characters,” she said. “They die because they do stupid stuff. It’s not my fault.”

Eighth-grader Macy Debevec said reading Draper’s books made her more aware of her surroundings, adding that people shouldn’t always trust what they see.

The author encouraged students to be writers, but for the right reasons. Don’t do it for the money, but rather “be a writer because you’re passionate about it.”

Eighth grade student Quayain Jones enjoyed how interactive Draper was with students and said before reading her books he wasn’t much of a reader at all.

“I never liked to read, to be honest,” Jones said, who has read “Tears of a Tiger,” “The Battle of Jericho” and “Copper Sun,” among others. “I thought “Tears of a Tiger” was going to be an action book where people were fighting for their lives, but I got caught on and kept reading her books.”

Draper also touched on her transition from teacher to writer.

She said she was perfectly content teaching subjects like grammar, writing, reading and literature, until a student challenged her to enter a writing contest. The Cincinnati native wrote a three-page story based on an unsettling encounter in the grocery store, mailed it and forgot about it.

Several months later Draper received a congratulatory call, $5,000 and her first piece of writing, “One Small Torch,” published.

Nothing changed in her life after that story was published, she said, but Draper went on to write more than 20 books and win the Coretta Scott King Literary Award five times. Her book “Out of Mind” has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for seven months.

Draper has a new book called “Panic” coming out March 12 for eighth grade students and older that tells the story of a young girl who willingly gets in a car with a stranger.

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