University of Wisconsin–Madison

Author Ruta Sepetys Visits Wisconsin

Internationally acclaimed Lithuanian-American author Ruta Sepetys visited Sun Prairie and Madison in January 2017 to discuss the role of historical fiction in fostering global understanding. Sepetys is the bestselling author of three works of historical fiction. Her latest novel, Salt to the Sea, follows the plight of refugees fleeing East Prussia at the end of World War II.

Sepetys with Patrick Marsh students
Patrick Marsh Middle School students with Sepetys. Photo credit: Nancy Heingartner

On the morning of January 11, 2017, Sepetys met with students at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She gave a short talk to 135 students who had read her book Between Shades of Gray, which relates the forcible relocation of Lithuanians after the Soviet annexation of their country in 1939. Sepetys then answered questions from students and signed their copies of the book.

“After her talk, students clustered around, eager to talk with her,” recalled Sandra Kowalczyk, a teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School. “She then stayed another hour signing books, many with personal messages. Many students walked away hugging their copies of her book. She left aspiring writers with the message, ‘Don’t be afraid to share your stories.’”

Sepetys signing books
Sepetys signing books at Patrick Marsh Middle School. Photo credit: Nancy Heingartner

That afternoon, Sepetys delivered a public lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the topic “History in Hiding: The Power of Historical Novels to Create Pathways for Global Dialogue and Reading Engagement.” At this talk, Sepetys shared stories about her beginnings as a writer and why she is passionate about writing historical fiction for young readers. As she explained, adolescents “have a sense of justice and demand honest answers.” Sepetys also charged her audience with conducting their own oral histories with family members and friends, asking them to seek out history’s “hidden” or forgotten stories and reminding her listeners, “When you go searching for a story, sometimes the universe responds with a story for you.”

Sepetys at UW
Sepetys speaking at UW-Madison. Photo credit: Kelly Iacobazzi

The lecture was sponsored by Madison Vilnius Sister Cities, Inc., CREECA, and the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). Leslie Liautaud, Honorary Consul in Wisconsin for the Republic of Lithuania, provided generous financial support for Sepetys’ appearance in Wisconsin, in addition to donating copies of Between Shades of Gray to Patrick Marsh Middle School.

Sepetys is currently working on a novel set in 1950s Spain during the reign of dictator Francisco Franco. For more about Ruta Sepetys, please visit rutasepetys.com