Seeing a homeless person while driving through any city across the country is less than remarkable. Driving through your city on the way to a party and realizing the homeless woman rooting through the dumpster is your mother is a different story.
New York Times Best-Selling Author Jeannette Walls (best known for her eye-opening memoir The Glass Castle) smiles as she talks about her unconventional, nomadic upbringing, drawing laughter and reflection from the audience as she shares anecdotes and pearls of wisdom from her life, at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo on Sunday afternoon.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF DORA MOUNTAIN
- STARSTRUCK : From left, New Times Marketing and Events Coordinator Dora Mountain, the amazing author Jeannette Walls, New Times Arts Editor Ryah Cooley (that’s me!), and New Times Human Resources Manager Cindy Rucker pause for a photo-op at the Performing Arts Center in SLO on Sunday.
New Times Marketing and Events Coordinator Dora Mountain, New Times Human Resources Manger Cindy Rucker, and I arrived an hour before Walls’ talk Sunday afternoon to partake in a fancy schmancy reception/meet-and-greet before hand. It’s bright and sunny outside, but the three of us are taken downstairs to a new-to-me room. It’s dark, with bright neon palm trees and suns being lit against the walls. We grab some complimentary wine (“yes, I really am 21”) and quickly hop in line and wait for our turn to meet Walls.
The line moves at a bit of a crawl because Walls is as excited to meet each of her readers as they are to see her. Dora and I eye the cocktail shrimp, the centerpiece of a spread of delectable yumminess that includes pastries, bacon-wrapped dates, caprese salad kabobs, and more.
At last our moment has come! Walls is warm and friendly as the four of us briefly chat about everything from crazy parents to the author’s time in SLO. We take a group picture (next to the ultra tall Walls and Mountain, I’m sure I must look like a garden gnome) and then it’s on to the next reader for Walls and on to the cocktail shrimp for us.
With bellies full of wine and shrimp, we make our way to the main stage with just minutes till show time. We scurry to our seats, where a few more New Times’ staffers are waiting.
A nearly packed room of readers sits in eager anticipation. Walls’ story is nothing short of remarkable. She didn’t have an ideal or even semi-typical upbringing. Her parents, Rose Mary and Rex, despised conformity and embraced a lifestyle of sometimes chosen and sometimes forced homelessness. They moved the family like nomads from the desert to the mountains to a dismal West Virginia mining town finally settling in a house with no heat. Money set aside for groceries could end up being spent on booze by her father or art supplies by her mother. In spite of everything, Walls managed to go to college, have a career in journalism, and write four books.
Still, the whole time Walls is talking on the stage at PAC, she’s smiling and laughing even when the hard things come up. An audience member mentions how some of her siblings didn’t fare as well as she did. Why does Walls think that is? The tall redhead pauses for a moment before answering.
“I think it comes down to self-worth and a love of education,” Walls said. “You have to believe that you’re worth it. I think we’re all stronger than we realize.”
The talk ends with a standing ovation for Walls. Everyone disperses to the lobby where Walls is signing copies of The Glass Castle. Here is where our group splits up, some to get their book signed, others to sleep the weekend away, some to write their own stories, and a few to soak in the wisdom of Walls’ words and reflect on our own lives over a beer while the last of the sun’s rays still remain.
Ryah Cooley is reading on a rainbow at firstname.lastname@example.org.