Internationally acclaimed writer and educator Sharon Draper will speak to students and teachers alike May 31 at the Anniston Performing Arts Center.
Among other achievements, the young adult fiction writer is a National Teacher of the Year, five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Award and a New York Times bestselling author of such works as “We Beat the Street,” “Copper Sun” and “Out of my Mind.” She has spoken across the United States and in Ghana, Russia, Kenya, Guam, Togo and Ethiopia.
Kim Westbrooks, the head of public youth services at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County and coordinator the event, said she was excited to have such a high-profile educator visit Anniston.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Westbrooks said. “It shows Anniston and Calhoun County does care about its educators. We are such a diverse city in terms of economy and backgrounds, and it’s nice to see someone come in and say, ‘This literature can touch you.’”
Draper will talk about some of her books, including her latest work, “Panic.” She will also speak on the importance of education and the library’s summer reading program, as well as aspects of her own life as an educator and writer.
The day’s activities start with a special breakfast where educators from across the county will have the opportunity to pick Draper’s brain. She will give her talk at the Anniston Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. and move to the library at 4 p.m. for a book signing.
The event is part of an ongoing partnership between the library and the Eastman Chemical Company, which two years ago granted the library money for a new teen reading area. After finishing the room, Eastman approached Westbrooks about bringing in a guest speaker geared toward young readers.
“Sharon Draper was one of the first people that came to my mind,” Westbrooks said. “We actually went through Scholastic Publishing Company, and needed to have three authors on the list in order for them to consider our request. She was our first choice. She called us and said she’d be happy to come, and we were really surprised and happy.”
Westbrooks isn’t the only one excited about Draper’s visit. In preparation for the event, educators throughout the county have reintroduced Draper’s work into their curricula.
Anniston High School librarian Rebecca Brown helped Westbrooks reserve the space at the Performing Arts Center.
“It was exciting, very exciting news to hear she’d be coming to Anniston,” Brown said. “I think it is just a real astounding coup for a town of this size that she’s coming to speak here.”
Students at Anniston High School have been equally excited for the author’s visit, as her works are featured heavily in classrooms and in the library.
Darren Douthitt, superintendent for Anniston City Schools, plans to attend and says he hopes students will benefit from Draper’s wisdom.
“This is how writers are created,” Douthitt said. “This is how they’re inspired.”
Westbrooks is hoping for a large turnout, and elected to host the event at the Performing Arts Center because of the potential crowd.
“We’ve never done an event of this scale before,” she said. “But hopefully, if all goes well, it will be the first of many.”