Best-selling author speaks to students

By Stephanie Banks

EHS – Author, human rights activist, and former child soldier Ishmael Beah had a message for Clyde A. Erwin High School students: celebrate and appreciate each moment.

“Every day when I wake up, I’m thankful,” he said. “I survived, so I must have a purpose. I take the best of what I can from life. I have the strength to overcome.”

Beah, born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, is the New York Times best-selling author of “A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” and “Radiance of Tomorrow, A Novel,” both published by Farrar Straus & Giroux. His memoir has been published in over 40 languages and was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author category for 2007. Time Magazine named the book as one of the Top 10 nonfiction books of 2007, ranking at number 3.

Students in Tiffany Wooten’s English classes chatted with Beah via Skype in the Erwin High Media Center on Dec. 18. They recently read his best-selling memoir, “A Long Way Gone,” a deep dive into his harrowing life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone – trauma and numbness, but also hope.

“It’s a very personal story,” he said. “It contains a real sense of loss but also an appreciation for what life is.”

Erwin students jumped at the chance to talk to Beah. They asked insightful questions, like “How do you feel about the memoir now as opposed to when you wrote it?,” “How hard was it to remember all the experiences you describe in the book?,” and “Are you still in contact with people who survived the war?”

“They were enthralled with his story, and I knew it would be an unforgettable experience for them to hear him talk,” Wooten said.

She spent weeks trying to contact Beah and work out a time when he could Skype with her classes. Her persistence paid off.

“I didn’t think when I decided to try and get him to talk to them that it would actually happen,” she said. “I admire him so much, and it was such a special experience to get to speak with him. I am hoping he will be willing to talk to my classes in the future.”


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