I'm baa-aack (kind of). I thought this Jerry Spinelli interview was already on Life, Literature, Laughter, but it wasn't. I was thinking about it, since the movie Stargirl just started showing on Disney +
I loved talking with Mr. Spinelli and his adoration of his wife, Eileen (whose book, Naptime, Laptime, I just recommended to a friend for his mother-in-law's first Mother's Day as a grandma)
Soooooo, many, MANY years later, here's my interview with Mr. Jerry Spinelli (note, I went on the Google to see how long they've been married at this point, so that number is accurate for 2020)
INTERVIEW WITH JERRY SPINELLI
Newbery Award winning author Jerry Spinelli does not believe in sequels. “Let wherever it (the book) ends reverberate.” he says.
And so it was with Stargirl, his bestselling YA novel about 17 year old Stargirl Caraway.
That book, told from Leo’s (her boyfriend) point of view ends with Leo at 33 and neither he nor we knowing what has happened to Stargirl, although it is pretty clear that she is ready to reenter his life.
It was a perfect ending for a lyrical, magical book
So, what happened?
Spinelli has never written a sequel before and had no intention of writing one for Stargirl (which does make for some inconsistencies between the two books).
The idea came from the same place that many of his inspirations do, his beloved wife, author and poet, Eileen.
“Why don’t you put out a Stargirl journal?” she said on the way home from the movies one night. “You could also write a ‘giftie’ little holiday book related to Stargirl, something that might be at the register, rather than in the book section.”
Jerry Spinelli thought that was a wonderful idea, but that that since it was a Stargirl book, the holiday should be Solstice, not Christmas.
But, as for many writers, Stargirl had her own ideas. Much as he tried to “fulfill the assignment” his words kept gravitating toward a story. Love, Stargirl takes place a year after Stargirl and is told entirely from Stargirl’s point of view, and, yes, Solstice figures prominently in the story.
Let’s talk to Jerry Spinelli about Stargirl and his life
SL: Stargirl Changes her name, did you ever want to change yours?
JS: My nickname was ‘Spit’ and I didn’t like that. I tried to change it in college, announcing one day that I wanted to be called Weasel, it only lasted a week or two. Apparently you can’t give yourself a nickname, the world calls you what it wants to, as I showed in Maniac Magee.
SL: But doesn’t Stargirl choose her name?
JS: Yes, she is successful in naming herself. I guess I took both sides of that same issue in separate books.
SL: Will Stargirl change it again?
JS: I’m not sure, but I believe she likes this one. For Stargirl, it’s never been a matter of “It’s time to change my name.” she simply does it when the time is right.
Spinelli is quite defensive when asked about the criticism that Stargirl is not a realistic portrait of a teenage girl.
JS: Stargirl is very real. I know her, I married her” He continues, “What kind of a sad thing does it say about us that such a person seems out of reach? We’re reaching out to that flying hem of her long flowing skirt. We can reach her, we just have to run a little faster, be a little better.
SL: Would you have taken Stargirl’s side in high school?
JS: I was not courageous enough. Leo reflects my high school persona.
SL: What makes Eileen Stargirl?
JS: Stargirl’s ‘happy wagon’ (where she adds or subtracts stones based on her happiness level) is straight from Eileen’s life. One of the more prominent issues in Stargirl is a surprising lack of appreciation for Stargirl’s kindnesses. I have seen that over and over again with Eileen.
Eileen gives gifts for no reason, she connects with everyone even those she doesn’t know well. Once, when Eileen was younger, she worked as a maid in a hotel. She would sometimes leave a little drawing as a personal touch. She was told to do her job ‘as written’ but it went against her nature to do so. She continued to leave the drawings and was fired.
Spinelli’s adoration of his wife of forty three years (with whom he has six children and twenty one grandchildren) is palpable. No wonder Stargirl comes through so clearly in his books.
He is also thrilled that his books (so, in reality, Eileen) have inspired Stargirl societies. The first one was in Kent, Ohio. They meet every month and do ‘Stargirl things’. They throw spare change on the sidewalk, slip encouraging, anonymous notes into lockers at school, invite accomplished women to speak at their meetings and hold inner beauty contests.
“They’re an example of what can be done, “ says Spinelli, “this is a legacy of which I’m prouder than the book itself.”
So, does it work to have a sequel to Stargirl? Any time spent in Stargirl’s world is time well spent.
Will Leo and Stargirl end up together? One only has to look at Jerry Spinelli and his Stargirl to know the answer.