to school to discuss award winning novel
On October 26, 2012, Massena Class of 1979 graduate and award winning author Shirley Vernick, returned to school to discuss her book The Blood Lie and to share insights into the writing process.
Ms. Vernick began her visit to Elaine Whitcomb’s English class with a brief history of her journey as a writer. She laughed saying her first published work came in elementary school when her Readers’ Digest magazine printed her one-line submission. Her quip, “Is a belly dancer a waist of energy?” earned her $35.
In high school, as one of Massena’s few Jewish residents, she decided to write of her experience and impressions of attending a Christmas Eve mass. Her high school English teacher Mr. Baines read it and suggested she submit it to a major publication saying it was one of the funniest things he had ever read.
“He popped my bubble,” said Ms. Vernick, because she had written it as a serious reflection of her first experience in church.
After Massena, Ms. Vernick graduated from Cornell University where she earned the university’s Fleischman Scholarship for writing achievement. She went on to a successful career in public relations and freelance writing before tackling her first step into fiction, The Blood Lie.
The novel, set in 1928 Massena, tells the story of a Jewish family falsely accused of murdering a Christian girl. It challenges the reader to wrestle with prejudice and anti-Semitism that most Americans only associate with the horrors of Nazi Germany. Sadly, her fictional work is based on the real-life events that plagued her father’s family who were Jewish shopkeepers in Massena. The book earned her the 2012 Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon a World Children's Book Award for promoting tolerance, diversity, human understanding and social justice.
She went on to share her ideas, influences and decisions in the writing process. After a brief discussion of the book, she encouraged the students to craft their own resolution to the story or to rewrite an event in the novel as seen from a different character’s perspective.
For ten minutes, they busily dove into the assignment. At the end of the time, students voluntarily read their rough drafts to classmates who snapped their fingers in approval.
“She is an inspiration. She followed her passion and was successful. She writes purely because she wants to express herself and that’s why we are so excited she came,” said Mrs. Elaine Whitcomb.
The students were equally enthusiastic.
“I realized that people from Massena can go away, can be successful, and can return to make a difference. It is a refreshing story to learn of a kind person in our town who succeeds,” said sophomore Nick Prescott.
“Being able to work with a Massena writer who has been published was a really nice experience for us all. She really listened as we read her our own work,” said senior Elizabeth Peets.
“It was an amazing experience to meet someone so down to earth and who is also such an inspiration for me and my writing. She is a great author who gave insightful advice. I would recommend her writing to any reader or writer,” said junior Lela Kerley.
Later that day, Ms. Vernick spoke to a group of high school students and junior high school students. In the assemblies she spoke about her book and how it mirrored reality. One of her goals in writing the book was to help put an end to the prejudice and hatred that still exists today.
This is an especially important message as schools work to implement the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). DASA broadens schools' responsibility to provide every student with a safe learning environment free of bullying and harassment.
On November 5, 2012, one class of English sophomores at Massena Central High School will participate in a video conference with New York City and Los Angeles students in a multi-school video discussion Ms. Vernick.