Saturday, June 23, 2007

Interview with Hurt Go Happy author Ginny Rorby

From her website (, you will learn that author Ginny Rorby was a flight attendant and later became a writer of young adult books including, Dolphin Sky and Hurt Go Happy. She wasn’t always a great student. She was a poor student in high school and even dropped out of college. By the time that she turned 33, she understood the importance of education and returned to college.

The story includes thirteen-year-old Joey Willis who is deaf. Her mother forbids her to use sign language and insists that she read lips. Needless to say, Joey is often left out of conversations. That is until she meets Dr. Charles Mansell whose parents were deaf. Joey secretly begins to learn to sign. “Hurt Go, Happy” is American Sign Language for “the pain has ended.”

Hurt Go Happy is inspired by the true story of Lucy, a chimpanzee raised as a human child, and the culmination of ten years of research that includes one girl's determination to save the life of a fellow creature-one who shares ninety-eight percent of our DNA.

SPW: How did you get involved with writing a book about a deaf character? Have you met any people before who use sign language?

GR: For years I'd been reading about Koko, the sign-language using gorilla, and about Washoe, the first chimp to use sign, and was intrigued. In 1988, I read the Houston Chronicle article, mentioned in Hurt Go Happy about Lucy. At the time I was just entering grad school to work on an MFA in Creative Writing and had just started writing Dolphin Sky, my first novel, which has a similar plot. Anyway, I couldn't get that newspaper article out of my head. and shortly thereafter, I went to an author reading at Books and Books in Coral Gables, FL (where I was living.) The author was Ruth Sidransky, the book, In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World. The whole plot idea for HGH came to me right then and there. I started taking sign-language classes and read everything I could find on deafness and the deaf community. I knew no deaf people then and know only two or three now. When I read at Books and Books this past January, lots of people from Miami's deaf community came. They were very kind to me and my feeble attempts to sign. The highlight of the evening was my friend Mary Ellen Tracy, who interpreted for me. The hearing loved seeing what I read signed, and the staff at Books and Books had a little epiphany of their own. Deaf people can attend readings. Duh!

SPW: I read that the memory of the child Belinda who was abused was part of the inspiration for the novel. What was your inspiration for Joey Willis, the deaf character who goes against her mother’s wishes and learns sign language?

GR: As I said, I'd been reading a lot about deafness and was soon aware of the oralist vs. signing controversy. Personally, I believe in opening every door of opportunity. The more options a child has, the better his/her chance of success. I think parents who opt for the oral-only education are trying to ensure their child has all the doors open. As hearing people with a deaf child, they perhaps fail to see how much it means to all of us to know that they aren't --hearing or deaf. I adopted this struggle for Joey. There was no one I knew who was my inspiration for her and yet nearly everyone I know could be. We all overcome some disability, physical, mental, or emotional. Who isn't Joey on some level? How she became deaf was Belinda's legacy.

SPW: What kind of research did you do in order to make Joey’s character appear like a real deaf child?

GR: Tons! And I'm so grateful for your phrasing. I was terrified that as a hearing person I would get some aspect wrong. I'm still scared-silly that I did. There are 12 books in my library by deaf and/or hearing on the subject. I read them all once or twice. I continued to take sign, though shortly after I moved to Fort Bragg, it became impossible since the woman who taught it moved away. I made numerous trips to the California School for the Deaf and had an early manuscript vetted by a teacher there. It was also vetted by an English professor at Gallaudet. You probably know her. Tonya Stremlau.

SPW: In many ways it is probably difficult to tell this story since it includes abuse and neglect. What do you hope young people learn from this story?

GR: Responsibility. Animal and child abuse are our problems. I want them to recognize it when they see it and to see it when it's there. I want them to become sensitive to the suffering of others. I've received the most astonishing letters from kids who GOT IT. (The most poignant is on my website.) They have expressed interest in learning to sign, and want to help protect animals from research abuses. Their letters are my reward.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

GR: [Read] with an open heart, but that will sound dorky. There are some horrible things going on in the world. They are overwhelming sometimes, but if we just do the right thing in our own little corner, our school, with our friends, then that is where fixing what's wrong starts. I hope HGH empowers them. Read it knowing that you have the power.

SPW: Is there anything that you would like to add?

GR: I write back to anyone who writes me. is my preferred address for mail from kids. Thank you for selecting Hurt Go Happy for inclusion.

For more information about Ginny Rorby and her inspirations for this story, visit:

No comments: