Author Interview: Adam Shepard

Author Adam Shepard Photo by Steven Brantley

Author Adam Shepard
Photo by Steven Brantley

Adam Shepard author of Scratch Beginnings, answered questions for Books In Common on his experiences and the impact of Community Reads programs.

What are some of the “teachable” moments in your book that make it work well for a Community/Campus Reads program?

Well, the value of Scratch Beginnings, as I’ve seen as I’ve worked my way across the country, is that everyone takes away something different from this book. I’ve learned just about as much in conversations about the book as I did while living the experience itself.

We all face adversity, and it is important that we both recognize the importance of working through tough times as well as establishing a level of empathy in our own lives for those who might need a helping hand themselves. Failure happens–and it will happen in your life, guaranteed, whether in your personal or professional life, on campus or off–and it’s more about how we react to those circumstances than the circumstances themselves. Attitude matters more than anything else, and if we are grounded in that reality, we will ultimately emerge triumphant.

Likewise, it’s clear that some have it tougher than others, and if we are able to develop a sense of compassion, we can all grow together rather than in our separate corners. We help each other rather than me just helping myself.

What do you think of the Community/Campus Reads structure as a literary event format?

It’s crucial.

Reading, writing and going to class to listen to professors teach are all important components to a complete education. Listen to our mentors, travel, watch the History Channel…there are so many ways to gather knowledge.

But it’s all for naught if we are not engaging in critical thinking. Reading in a group format, whether it’s a six-person book club or a Community-wide or Campus-wide Read allows us to absorb the material, agree or disagree with it, and establish our own opinion–whether favored or unpopular.

Community and Campus Reads are a vital outlet for us to allow for that critical thinking.

Would you share a notable experience you’ve had at a Common Reads event that you’ve participated in?

To punctuate my previous answer, I can tell you what happened two years ago when I was at a small school in Ohio:

I wrapped up my speech and opened up for questions. The crowd threw me a couple of softballs (“What do you do now?” “Do you still talk to the people you met during your journey?” “Are you single?”), and then this girl came to the microphone, assuredly if not rather bashfully. She composed herself and then, with both confidence and respect, she told me how she completely disagreed with my thoughts on matters of poverty and that, while she enjoyed the book, she felt that I looked down on those who have a rather tough lot in life.

I backtracked a little, called attention to the epilogue where I specifically mention seven ways that we can begin to appease the cycle of poverty, and explained to her that I just might not be the brute that she perceives me to be. We went back and forth, and in the end, she and I met in the middle. Later, the adviser who had hired me to speak said that she hadn’t heard more than three words out of that girl’s mouth throughout the entirety of orientation.

I have had great experiences and been well-received on campuses across the country. I’ve signed north of ten thousand books and been asked to take innumerable pictures. I’ve been praised by people with fancy titles. I’ve appeared on national television and radio shows and been featured in articles on all of the hip websites.

What I’m most proud of, though, are not just the conversations that get started because of this book, but those otherwise introverted students (from small schools in Ohio to larger schools in California) who use this book as a means to develop the courage to have their voice heard. To me, that girl in Ohio is a hero for standing up in front of her peers, and I feel that the rest of her college experience was better for having unfolded that courage.

Your memoir, Scratch Beginnings, is about your year starting with $25 in your pocket. How might some of the experiences you had during that year help you connect with and inspire an audience of students?

Every college student in America, First Year students, especially, are now embarking on their own journey of Scratch Beginnings. Maybe they have $25, maybe more, maybe less, but this is their blank canvas in front of them. By sharing the story of Scratch Beginnings, I am able to say, “Hey, let me tell you about this adventure I had, and let me tell you how it relates to what you have in front of you right now.”

Likewise, hearing people say, “Hey, cool story. Now, let me tell you one of my own,” means that they are relating their own lives–now, before, and in the future–to what I did in Scratch Beginnings. And that’s what has been most fascinating for me: hearing what a variety of different people have to say about my experience and their own. And being relatable to a younger audience allows me to follow that up with the theme: “Excellent! Now, how do you think you can capitalize on your experiences?”



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