Author Thanhha Lai discusses her novel

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Thanhha Lai discusses her book with English honors students. Ms. Lai used prose poem as the style of writing in her novel and taught a workshop on the technique. She also participated in a Q & A session.

Caroline Katz and Adi Levin

Author Thanhha Lai visited Schreiber on Oct. 8 to discuss her book, Inside Out and Back Again. Throughout the day, she delivered lectures, ran workshops, and made an hour-long presentation to ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade English honors students.
At the lecture, Ms. Lai discussed how the main character of her novel, ten-year-old Hà, reacted to her sudden move from Saigon to Alabama. Inspired by her past experiences, she wove her own memories into the fabric of Hà’s fictional story. Inside Out and Back Again is written in the first person and present tense, helping readers stay in the moment and relate not only to Hà, but also to Ms. Lai.
“Your experiences shape your personality and choices: I’m a writer because things happened to me,” said Ms. Lai.
Thanhha Lai chose to write Inside Out and Back Again as prose poem, a style similar to books like Out of the Dust. During fifth period, she led a workshop on the technique. She also participated in a Q & A sessions with tenth-grade Composition students, honors project students, and members of the tenth-grade STEPS alternative program. She connected and met with Schreiber ESL students to talk about her novel and her experiences with English, which she referred to as the “sneaky language.”
“I wanted students to meet me and realize that reading and writing go hand in hand,” said Ms. Lai. “For those of you who have writing aspirations, go read some more!”
This notion was evidenced in her lecture, in which she discussed how being an active reader gave her excellent ideas. Ms. Lai advised students at the lecture to annotate everything they read and react to it immediately. That way, students find an author whose style they want to emulate in their own writing.
“Her workshop was very beneficial for those who attended,” said Aaron Siff-Scherr. “I learned a lot about writing style.”
Ms. Lai’s visit to Schreiber was made possible by Dr. Sara Brock, who applied for a grant from Port Washington HEARTS.
“I wrote the grant proposal partly because I thought it would be interesting to see how an in-person conversation with an author might enliven our classroom conversations about reading,” said Dr. Brock. “Students are often curious about the connections between an author’s life and work. Since Thanhha’s character is so autobiographical, I knew that she would be able to address their questions about making real experiences the seeds of a novel.”
When she left Schreiber at the end of the day, Ms. Lai was impressed by the students’ eagerness to read and learn.
“It was a pleasure to get feedback from readers who had read and dissected my novel,” said Ms. Lai. “The students read seriously and the teachers wholeheartedly try to reach students at all levels and interests. It was lovely to witness.”