Best­selling au­thor vis­its Henderson High School

New York Times best­selling writer vis­its Henderson High School

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Staff Re­port

Sara Shep­ard, an au­thor with lo­cal roots, sur­prised a Henderson stu­dent who won a writ­ing con­test.

WEST CHESTER >> A New York Times best­selling au­thor trav­eled hun­dreds of miles to sur­prise a Henderson high school stu­dent dur­ing her math class and pre­sent her with a signed copy of her brand new book.

Priyanka Chun­duru, a se­nior, was in her cal­cu­lus class when “Pretty Lit­tle Liars” au­thor Sara Shep­ard ap­peared in the door­way and an­nounced she was the win­ner of a school­wide “Ask the Au­thor” con­test.

“At first I was shocked,” said Chun­duru. “I don’t typ­i­cally ex­pect visi­tors to class, so when I went up to greet her, I was very ner­vous and shak­ing at first. But af­ter talk­ing to her, I felt hon­ored to meet her, and I even felt a lit­tle spe­cial in class.”

The con­test was open to all Henderson stu­dents and was co­or­di­nated by the school’s English Depart­ment and the West Chester Pub­lic Li­brary (WCPL). To par­tic­i­pate in the con­test, stu­dents were pre­sented with a hypothetical sit­u­a­tion: if you could ask Sara Shep­ard one ques­tion, what would it be and why?

Stu­dents were told the win­ner would re­ceive a signed copy of Shep­ard’s lat­est novel, “The Am­a­teurs” – teach­ers left out the part about the con­test also in­clud­ing the au­thor per­son­ally de­liv­er­ing and then sign­ing the book for them in class.

Shep­ard per­son­ally se­lected Chun­duru’s ques­tion from a num­ber of en­tries sub­mit­ted by stu­dents. Chun­duru’s win­ning ques­tion ex­pressed her in­ter­est in learn­ing about what Shep­ard’s piv­otal mo­ment was in her high school ca­reer that in­spired her to ex­plore young adult writ­ing ver­sus non-fic­tion or adult fic­tion.

“In re­sponse, Sara told me about her ‘flam­boy­ant’ 11thgrade English teacher who was im­pressed with her writ­ing, so much so, that she told her to write a novel rather than com­plete her es­say as­sign­ments,” said Chun­duru. “As for choos­ing young adult, she said when she first started she al­ways en­joyed writ­ing about peo­ple her own age, and ever since has con­tin­ued to write about teens.”

“The Am­a­teurs” was re­leased on Nov. 1 and Shep­ard was in town as part of the kick­off to her book tour. Af­ter vis­it­ing Chun­duru and sign­ing a copy of her lat­est novel in front of her and her class­mates, Shep­ard served as the guest speaker at a pro­gram held later that evening at Henderson High School.

Dur­ing the pro­gram, which was co­or­di­nated by the WCPL,

Shep­ard spoke to more than 100 at­ten­dees about her books and life ex­pe­ri­ences, and then an­swered a num­ber of ques­tions sub­mit­ted by mem­bers of the au­di­ence. Af­ter the pro­gram ended, Shep­ard stayed to meet ev­ery guest in at­ten­dance, take pho­tos, and sign copies of her book be­fore head­ing to New York City to con­tinue her tour.

Chun­duru and her par­ents at­tended Shep­ard’s evening pro­gram, as tick­ets to the event were the other half of the prize pack­age for win­ning the con­test. Also in at­ten­dance at the event was the chair of Henderson High School’s English Depart­ment, Charles Clay, who teaches Chun­duru in his Ad­vanced Place­ment English class.

“I am proud of Priyanka for win­ning the con­test be­cause she works hard, and she de­served to win,” said Clay. “Her work ethic is im­pec­ca­ble; she’s in­quis­i­tive, she’s con­sid­er­ate, and she’s sin­cerely in­ter­ested in what writ­ers do to cre­ate, to en­gage, and to en­ter­tain their au­di­ences. Priyanka is dis­ci­plined and re­spon­si­ble, and yet she’s still ex­cited about tak­ing on the next as­sign­ment or project. She’s awe­some!”

The au­thor grad­u­ated in 1995 from what is now Down­ing­town West High School. The set­ting for “Pretty Lit­tle Liars” was loosely based on West Chester, and she of­ten ref­er­enced lo­cales across the Philadel­phia re­gion in the se­ries. Many of those ref­er­ences were also in­cluded in the “Pretty Lit­tle Liars” tele­vi­sion se­ries, which de­buted on ABC Fam­ily in 2010 and is based on Shep­ard’s mys­tery nov­els.

The sec­ond half of the fi­nal sea­son of the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries will air be­gin­ning in April 2017. Talks are al­ready in the works about “The Am­a­teurs” be­com­ing a new tele­vi­sion se­ries.

“I started read­ing ‘The Am­a­teurs’ as soon as I got home from school,” added Chun­duru. “I’ve al­ways loved mys­ter­ies, so I’m ex­cited to read about all of the sur­prises and twists in the story. If it’s any­thing like ‘Pretty Lit­tle Liars,’ this is the start of an­other suc­cess­ful se­ries.”


Priyanka Chun­duru, left, had the op­por­tu­nity to meet with Sara Shep­ard, right, af­ter win­ning the school’s “Ask the Au­thor” con­test.


Priyanka Chun­duru, right, hug­ging Sara Shep­ard.

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