Bestselling author visits Henderson High School
New York Times bestselling writer visits Henderson High School
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.