Jeanette Walls Draws Huge Crowd: One Book, One Campus Continues to Be a Success

Photo Credit/ Laura Null ‘The Glass Castle’ is a New York Times best seller.

By Yaasmeen Piper

A&E Editor

“I thought I was going to be normal. I thought I could be the woman without a past,” said “The Glass Castle” author Jeannette Walls to the packed auditorium. “But the past has a funny way of catching up with you.”

Walls spoke into a full house last Thursday, Nov. 2. Students, faculty and staff as well as local library staff and book club members filled Abeloff Performing Arts Center, anxious to get a glimpse of the woman behind “The Glass Castle.”

Jeannette thought she could run from her past, working as a journalist, holding microphones in front of celebrities faces.

Until one night, while she was riding in the back of a limo she saw a woman digging through a dumpster. To her horror, that women was her mother.

“I asked my mother ‘what should I tell people who ask about you guys,” Jeannette said. “My mother just replied: ‘the truth.’” 

Instead of taking the stage and reading passages from her book, Jeannette gave a presentation on her life. 

“Dad gave me the gift of dreaming, Mom gave me the gift of optimism. Life gave me the gift of reality,” she said. “Put them together and something truly special happened.” 

According to Jeannette, the Walls family did not grow up poor, the grew up “po.”

“We couldn’t afford the extra ‘or,’” she joked. “We might not have had food or heat but we had hopes and dreams.”

The biggest supporter of her and her sibling’s dreams was their father, Rex Walls.

Despite his alcoholism and addiction to gambling, he kept his children’s imaginations running. 

“I loved him,” Jeannette said, “and I know he loved me in his own damaged way.”

Every night Jeannette reflects on one of the gifts her father gave her: Venus. For Christmas, Rex took each of his children (being Lori, Brian and Jeannette at the time) out into the desert night, pointed to the sky and told them to pick which ever star they wanted.

Jeannette chose the “biggest and brightest star” which happened to be Venus. 

“Every night I looked at the sky and said ‘that’s right,” Jeannette said with a dance.”’ I own Venus.’”

While filming with movie adaptation to “The Glass Castle,” Woody Harrelson who plays Rex, brought her to tears while she was watching backstage.

“Watching him perform—he was in pain while filming—it brought me to tears,” she said. “[After the scene] he came backstage and saw me. Still in my father’s voice he said ‘you had to do it honey. You had to do it or else none of us would be here.’” 

Despite the tears, Jeannette said the filmmaking process was fascinating and the end result was even better. 

“Everyone was so committed to authenticity and to making the story right and making it good and I just loved these people,” she said. 

When first talking to Harrelson, Jeannette went in ready to explain the depths of her father’s personality.

Instead, all Harrelson wanted to know was things like did her father look her in the eye when she talked, what did he do with his hands?

“[On scene] he became my father,” Jeannette said. “He said things my father said that I never told him. That’s how good they are.”

When talking to Brie Larson, who plays Jeannette in the film, Jeannette said Larson asked simple questions such as Jeannette explaining her mannerisms.

As the two dove deeper into conversation, Jeannette noticed a change in Larson. 

“As I’m talking to her, I’m noticing her body language is changing,” she said. “She was picking up on my body language! It’s not invasive, she’s just really getting it.” 

Even with “Glass Castle” releasing in 2005 and becoming a New York Times bestseller, Jeannette still seemed to be in awe of her success.

“I can buy anything at the grocery store and that never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “But I never take anything for granted.” 

Jeannette still seemed like the humble girl written in the pages of “The Glass Castle.”

She held an aura of elegance with a smile that never seemed to vanish.

Even speaking with an articulate and sophisticated vocabulary, there still was a slight southern twangy within her voice.

“I felt her opening up and making herself so vulnerable to her readers in ‘The Glass Castle’ as well as to the audience members at ESU.

It made her life story even more powerful,” said Andrea McClanahan, chair of the One Book, One Campus committee. “The fact that she stayed until after 10:30 p.m. to sign books because she remarked how wonderful the audience was and how warm she found our students was inspiring.”

Jeannette said she loved the diversity on campus. 

“There’s a lot of first generation students, and I think that that is so great,” she said. “I think education is the greatest equalizer, and I am just eager to share my story.”

Jeannette described how she especially loves sharing her story with college students.

“I love that kids get something from my story. I’ve already heard a number of stories and after hearing my story it helps them come to terms with their own story,” she said. “To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

After speaking, Jeannette opened the floor for questions.

The first question, which seemed to be on the tip of a lot of audience members tongues, was what happened to Maureen? 

The last time readers heard of the youngest member of the Walls family, she stabbed their mother and went to jail, then she was transferred to a mental hospital before taking a one-way bus trip to California. 

According to Jeannette, Maureen is still living on the West Coast.

She is currently trying to persuade Maureen to come live with her, their mother, her husband John, their horses and chickens in Virginia.

McClanahan explained why this year’s One Book, One Campus is going to be a tough one to top. 

“I think our hope is that we find a book that has a profound impact on the campus community in allowing us to have real discussions about real issues facing our students and our world,” she said.

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