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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Literary Lessons: Author Varian Johnson Speaks to Students

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  • Author Varian Johnson answers a question during the Q&A section of his visit. Johnson enjoys talking to young people and comparing their thoughts to his own. “[Young people are] the smartest people in the world,” Johnson said.

  • Author Varian Johnson discusses his journey to becoming an author. Johnson originally was a civil engineer before committing to writing.

  • Gesturing excitedly, Author Varian Johnson drives his point home. Johnson has been touring for years, and has become an expert in speaking to high schoolers. “I tried to be as honest as I can be, while keeping it entertaining,” Johnson said.

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Sometimes all it takes to inspire someone is a few words. Armed with only a slideshow presentation, a microphone, and his unique personal experiences, award-winning author Varian Johnson regaled an audience of attentive sophomores with his journey to literary success. 

On Monday, April 29, the library hosted three consecutive presentations from Johnson, the author of middle-grade and young adult novels including The Parker Inheritance, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. 

Johnson’s presentation centered on his journey to becoming an author. Starting off as a book-loving child, Johnson led a career as a civil engineer before becoming a full-time author. An experienced public speaker, Johnson made a point of presenting his story in a way that would impact high schoolers. 

“I do a lot of telling the story,” Johnson said. “I will say my journey, and try to relate to what a young person in high school might experience. No matter the age group, I try not to sugarcoat or lie [because] I think young people can tell when someone’s lying to you. So I tried to be as honest as I can be, while keeping it entertaining.”

High school is a period of transition for many students, as young people attempt to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Hearing about success stories from adults who may have had similar experiences has the power to inspire younger people. 

“The great thing about high school is you have all these ideas, and you’re becoming your own person that [is] getting ready to go out into the world,” Johnson said. “ I love just being a part of that in my own small way.”

Johnson wants to encourage students to think and consider various career options and life perspectives that may not be the traditional path most students are familiar with. 

“My job, as an author or presenter, is not to give answers,” Johnson said. “My job is to ask questions. My job is to create scenarios, to talk about something I’ve gone through, and with the hopes that if that person is in the same situation, or they know someone in that situation, they can bring their own thoughts into it as well, too. [Young people are] the smartest people in the world, so they’ll figure it out.”

Organizing an author visit is a process that librarians have to start thinking about nearly a year in advance. However, the extensive planning is worth it to the librarians for the opportunity author presentations give to students. 

“I sat in on his first presentation, and in a roomful of close to 100 kids, I saw maybe [only] three people on their phone,” Librarian Ms. Amy Woolsey said. “And that told me [that] they were all listening to him. And I thought, ‘You know what? He’s given them [the idea that] well, maybe I could [become an author] too’. And so, that’s what I think the benefit of it is, you don’t have to write the same kinds of stories. You just have to get somebody who’s done it to give you the idea that maybe [you] could do that.”

Ultimately, Johnson hopes that his presentation will spark students to question the world around them until they find their place in it. 

“I love talking to young people, and I love hearing what they have to say,” Johnson said. “I’m helping to facilitate that conversation, but I’m not leading that conversation. Hearing young people with their own ideas and thoughts and backgrounds, championing these things that are really important to them— I love that part of it.”

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About the Contributors
Mayla Montgomery
Mayla Montgomery, Reporter
Class of 2026
I have always had a passion for writing and telling stories, and I am so excited to be working on press this year! When I’m not writing, I love watching my favorite shows, watching all the horror movies in existence, reading books, listening to music, and spending time with my friends and family.
Katie Ring
Katie Ring, Reporter
Class of 2026 Hi! I'm super excited to be on Student Press this year, and I look forward to working with everyone. In my free time, I like reading, listening to music, hiking, theatre, and being with my friends.

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