With Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time hitting shelves in less than two weeks, Glamour.com took a moment to catch up with author Tanya Lee Stone.
We loved their conversation so much that we have decided to re-post their piece in its entirety:
When the documentary Girl Rising was released in 2013, we at Glamour fell in love with it immediately. The film tells the stories of nine young girls in impoverished countries who are fighting to get an education, and is voiced by powerhouse actors including Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, and Anne Hathaway. It served as a powerful reminder of the hardships and extreme sexism girls face around the world, and of the power of education.
And now Girl Rising is becoming a book.
Tanya Lee Stone, an acclaimed author of nonfiction books for kids and young adults, partnered with the filmmakers to adapt the film for print, taking advantage of the hours upon hours of taped interviews they collected during the reporting process. She added to that her own research on education, and wove it all together to tell the story of how educating girls can change lives, shape economies, and lift entire communities out of poverty.
The result is a powerful book with much of the same spirit that the movie had, plus facts and figures to further bolster the (already pretty convincing, to be honest) argument for educating girls. Plus, there are action items for people who are inspired to get involved.
Oh, and get this: To promote the book, Random House Children’s Books is launching a social media campaign to highlight girls and women who are making a difference in their community. For every post about an inspiring woman on Twitter or Instagram that is tagged #MyGirlRising, Random House Kids will donate $5 to the Girl Rising nonprofit to help send more girls to school. Pretty. Darn. Cool.
Needless to say, we love this book. So we called up Stone at her home in Vermont to talk about it.
Glamour: How did you decide to do this book?
Tanya Lee Stone: When the Girl Rising film first came out, in the spring of 2013, it was showing at the local independent theater in Burlington, Vermont. I went with my two teenagers—they were 16-ish and 12 at the time—plus some of their friends. I was blown away by the film. I thought it was so incredibly powerful emotionally and just such an important topic. And afterward the kids and I had a great conversation about it. They were really moved and inspired by the girls' stories.
But what I found was that a couple of weeks later, when I wanted to talk to them about the film again because I was still thinking about it, they couldn’t really remember the content. They remembered the girls and the emotions and that their lives were bad, and they knew that their lives became better because of education, but they couldn’t remember the details.
And then my book brain just kind of kicked in. I realized that what the Girl Rising team had done was absolutely great for the film medium, but it would also be good to explain to young people what was happening with more detail, with more stories in a book. With a book you could break down what the obstacles in education are and include as many girls as possible so readers have a stronger sense that this is happening to a lot of girls all over the world. It’s not possible to do all that in a movie, but it is possible to do it with a book.
Glamour: Why target kids? Why not make a book for adults?
TLS: I think there are so many reasons for that. I think one reason is to get Western kids to expand their bubble so that they’re not thinking that these problems affect other people in other places.
The other reason is that young people are the future of activism. And this is an impassioned generation. This group of young people, as we’ve seen in our politics, they’ve got it going on. They want to make the world a better place—it sounds clichéd, but it’s true.
And I think giving them a real problem that they can sort of sink their teeth into and see the cause and effect, it’s a good outlet for young activists. That’s why education is perfect, because it’s so clear when you start looking at how education can change girls' lives, and through education girls can change the world.
Glamour: This is heavy stuff. What was it like for you personally to spend so much time immersed in this material?
TLS: It was brutal. I would sort of go down the rabbit hole for a few days and immerse myself in it. I would be transcribing raw footage for my notes and writing passages and just weeping. No joke. And then I would come out of it and binge-watch Glee and Mad Men to kind of reset myself, and then I would jump back into the material for a few days. That was how I got through.
And also I kept telling myself, like, You are sitting in your warm house with nice food and a free society and free public education for your children, so suck it up.
Glamour: After working on this book, how do you feel about the future for these girls and girls like them?
TLS: I definitely see and feel a momentum building on this issue, and it does make me feel hopeful. A lot of the stories in the book make me feel hopeful too. Like Sokha [a Cambodian orphan who, in the film, is seen picking through garbage to survive] just started college in Chicago. That’s mind-blowing. Five years ago she was literally in a dump in Cambodia, and now she’s going to college in the United States. There couldn’t be more of a stark contrast.
But I do think one of the things that I took away from this experience is that, you know, sometimes we look at these issues, and we expect the end result of education to be that every one of the girls ends up being extraordinary, like Sokha, and then we can say, “See what schooling can do?” But girls are all different, and they’re all going to have different life paths. Some of them are going to get an education and go on to do flashy things, and some of them are going to get an education and then just go on to live healthier lives because of it. I think we have to get out of the mind-set that the only success stories are the extraordinary stories like Sokha’s.
I think another thing that made an impression on me is that our perception of how other people live is usually wrong. We might look at somebody’s situation and feel bad for them, but that’s from our perspective. Even though a lot of these people that I’m writing about have major challenges, and don’t have the material things that we’re used to, doesn’t mean that they aren’t strong, resilient, joyful people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.