Interview with Jerry Spinelli, Author of Stargirl
by Alexie Basil
Dare to be different, no matter the consequences.
That’s one of the central messages from the New York Times–bestselling, award-winning, classroom-favorite, modern-classic novel by Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl. If you’re as obsessed with Leo and Stargirl’s unique and evolving friendship as we are, you will absolutely love this behind-the-scenes interview from Random House with none other than the Newbery Medal author himself. This interview originally appeared on Teens@Random.
Read on with your students to learn more about who inspired the character of Stargirl, discover what made Jerry want to be a writer, and even get Jerry’s number-one piece of advice to aspiring authors!
Q: What was your inspiration for creating the character Stargirl? Did you draw from people you knew or from your imagination?
Jerry Spinelli: I drew the aspects of Stargirl from many sources in memory, literature, and hopeful imagination. The one real-life person who embodies more of those aspects than anyone else I know is my wife and fellow author, Eileen.
Q: Do you believe that people like Stargirl really exist, or is she a fantasy character?
JS: Short answer: Eileen Spinelli exists.
Long answer: Stargirl is as real as hope, as real as possibility, as real as the best in human nature. Outrageous? I hope so. Thank goodness for the outrageous among us. I wish I were more outrageous, less predictable, more unrealistic. I understand that the story carries a whiff of fantasy, of the tall tale. The story, and in particular the character, are intended to raise dust in the corners of credibility, to challenge our routine ways of seeing ourselves. When Archie says to Leo, “She is us more than we are us,” he refers to both her essential humanity and to our own often-unrealized potential. Leo himself almost accuses her of being too good to be true, then later notes, “That was no saint kissing me.”
What does it say about us if we believe such a person to be impossible? The message of the story is precisely the opposite: such a person is possible, and to the extent that Stargirl is us (Archie: “She’s an earthling if ever there was one.”), so are we.
Q: If you were to characterize your high school experience, how would you describe it?
JS: Learning to be imperfect and happy at the same time, scratching around for what and who I wanted to be.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
JS: Eleventh grade, around the time a poem of mine about a football game was published in the local newspaper. I guess it was largely a matter of timing. I was 16. My dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player was fading. The imperative to find my course in life was upon me. I was shopping around for who I wanted to be. And here this writing thing seemed to reach down and pluck me out of the crowd. I mean, it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t planned. Nobody assigned me to write a poem after the game. I didn’t try to get it published. I didn’t seek the resulting notoriety. All this pretty much just happened to me.
What I did was just apply a little common sense: I like to write, I seem to be pretty good at it, people seem to like what I write (admittedly a lot to conclude from a single poem)—ergo, I’ll be a writer. Simple!
Q: How did you start writing Stargirl? What parts of the story came together first?
JS: I have notes going all the way back to 1966 for the book that ultimately became Stargirl. At first it was going to be about a boy. It went through many titles, including Moonshadow and Under the Bomb. Many things I read over the years influenced the story, notably the play Ondine by Giraudoux. In its final form, the story finds its most specific inspiration in my wife, Eileen, some of whose good deeds and such I happily confiscated.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers?
JS: For me, there are many little rules, all superseded by one golden rule: Write what you care about.
Have you ever met a Stargirl in your own life? Or, maybe you’ve been a Stargirl yourself! Tell us your story on social media using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.
Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal, and Stargirl, a New York Times bestseller and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. Jerry made his picture book debut with My Daddy and Me, a loving tribute to fathers and sons.
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