By MELISSA PILEIRO
“I used to be ashamed of my story,” Walls admitted to a packed audience at the Fine and Performing Arts Center on March 2nd. Her story—a childhood of poverty, homelessness, dysfunction and alcoholism—is CCC’s One Book, One College selection for this academic year, The Glass Castle. Those who have read the book will know that Ms. Walls struggled for many years to hide her abnormal past behind a successful, wealthy career in journalism.
In writing The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls hoped to reach not only those who grew up poor, but the wealthy as well. Regarding poor young people, she hoped that someone would read the book and think, “’If she made it, maybe I can, too.’ A dream, and a hope for the future, is a more valuable gift than a fancy place to live.” There is usually at least some division between the rich and poor, and Walls sought to bridge that gap. “Maybe a rich kid would read it and have sympathy for someone who grew up on the other side of the tracks,” she said.
In her childhood, it was rare for Jeannette and her three siblings to have a roof over their head for long, or even a hot meal. In hindsight, though, she says that the lessons she learned from her experiences were overwhelmingly positive. “We might not have had food and we might not have had coal, but my parents never laughed at my dreams and ambitions.” Beyond that, her parents always taught her to make the best out of every bad situation. “Every bad experience has a incredibly valuable gift wrapped up inside, as long as we open ourselves up to learn from it.”
Above all, Walls’ rise to success is an inspirational story for anyone, regardless of financial or social status. After high school, Jeannette left her parents and two siblings to follow her older sister to New York. Her perseverance landed her small jobs at newspapers around the city, and eventually led to a position with MSNBC.
Since then, Jeannette has left journalism in order to focus her attention on promoting The Glass Castle. During her presentation here at Cumberland, she announced that casting is in progress for a movie adaptation of the book, but she wouldn’t reveal any considerations for parts. “I will tell you that the person they’re considering to play me really looks nothing like me,” she joked. Walls recently handed in the manuscript for a second book called Half-Broke Horses, a fictional first-person account of her grandmother’s life.
Walls shared her advice for students, particularly those in journalism and communications, during a conversation after the event: “Always persevere. Be willing to take whatever little jobs you can find and do the legwork to work your way up. Just do what my mama always told me: always tell the truth.”