Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ruta Sepetys' Keynote: You Can't Break The Broken: Writing Emotional Truth

Ruta speaking to over 1,200 rapt writers and illustrators

Ruta Sepetys is a dynamo.

And her book, Between Shades of Gray, is remarkable (that's why it's won that raft of awards!)

Ruta is sharing about how she knew only a little bit of her family's history - That her grandfather fled with their immediate family to escape Stalin's execution squad in Lithuania during World War Two.  They made it after years in refugee camps to America, and Ruta grew up here, in Freedom.

But on a trip back to Lithuania, Ruta discovered that when the Soviets came for her Grandfather and his family (Ruta's father) and they were gone, they instead took twelve members of their larger family, deported them to Siberia, and only one of the twelve survived.

That her own freedom in the United States came at the cost of the lives and freedom of their family back in Lithuania.

This secret of history became Ruta's story.  The story she had to tell.

She's asking us to consider,

In writing the truth, what's the price of admission?

How much are you willing to expose of your deepest feelings?

What is the novel that only you can write?

What is the piece of art the only you can create?

You can reveal that to yourself by answering these questions:
What are you longing for?

What do you hide?

What scares you the most?

What causes you pain?

What do you wish would just go away?

If you expose the emotional truth behind these answers into your writing, into a character, you'll enter a creative and emotional partnership with the reader.

And you will write a book that will stay with them forever.

And now Ruta goes deep with us, sharing about her "savage self," telling us about how she went to a former Soviet gulag in Latvia for a 24 hour simulation experience.  For the book.  And how just seconds of the experience changed her.  Forever.

In an atmosphere of cruelty, what she learned about herself.

It is chilling to hear.

Tears flow on stage and around us.

And now we're laughing with her, tears from laughter.

And then her experience of kindness amidst cruelty, and how it changed her again, forever.

We're lifted up as Ruta shares that she learned that Lithuania is a small country but they can teach the world big lessons of love and courage.

That we, as writers and illustrators, can make books that readers won't just want, that they'll need.  Art that heals hearts, and heals history.
This what Ruta did with her book.  And she urges us to do it with ours.

We are swept to our feet in an ovation.


  1. Go Ruta! You're an amazing author. I only wish I could b=have been there in person to hear it!

  2. This was one of the most moving talks. Such a fan of Ruta the writer and Ruta the human being.