September 20, 2012
GLSEN Chats with Author and Film Director Stephen Chbosky
GLSEN’s Public Relations Manager Andy Marra recently spoke with author Stephen Chbosky who is behind the best-selling book and film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Stephen chats about what inspired him to write the book, how Ferris Bueller inspired a character, and why students need to read more LGBT literature in school.
Hi Stephen. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to speak with us. How are you?
It’s my pleasure. I love the work GLSEN does for LGBT youth. Right now my wife and newborn baby are sleeping. That means I can speak longer and without any interruptions.
What inspired you to write The Perks of Being a Wallflower?
There was a personal reason that led to me writing Perks. The book was inspired by a really rough time in my mid-twenties. I had a breakdown and the decision was to either write something or go crazy. So I decided to write. I sat down and in a month I wrote half the book. By the end, I had more of an answer for why good people are treated badly and how they react.
It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids.
Why did you choose to weave gay characters and themes into the story?
Of the thousands of books and movies about high school, the subject of sexual orientation is neglected. I don’t know how this issue can be frequently excluded. Discovering your identity is a part of growing up.
The character Patrick was originally inspired by my gay college friend. Such a great guy! He was the one who introduced me to the [gay] community and I was both fascinated and honored.
It’s funny. When I was a kid, my favorite fictional character was Ferris Bueller. Ferris was so confident, knew all of the angles and could get away with stuff. I kept on thinking about Ferris when I was casting the role of Patrick for the film. And I think the actor Ezra Miller has been an amazing fit for portraying Patrick.
What kinds of responses have you received from LGBT youth who read your book?
The response has been beautiful and humbling and inspiring. I cannot tell you how many letters I have received from LGBT youth. And I have met so many kids that I lost count. It inspires me all over again every time I meet a new person.
We cast an extra to be in the film who happens to be a young transgender guy. He befriended the cast including Emma Watson and Ezra Miler. He was so sweet and became a part of the Perks family. We flew him out for the premiere. And we were really happy to have him be a part of it all.
Look, I know the landscape is better, but I also know it’s still tough. And let’s face it: as much as some grown-ups like to believe that being who you are is beautiful, we’ve paid our dues. It’s not the easiest thing if you’re 12 and coming to terms with your identity. Especially in certain parts of the country. Perks has provided a little bit of an emotional life raft for people and it’s been incredibly gratifying.
7% of LGBT students are taught positive representations of LGBT issues in English classes. Why might a book like yours be important to read and learn about in class?
Perks treats the issue of sexual orientation in school with the same kind of respect and candor as it treats every other aspect found in the book. It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids. In my book, I talk about family going to church. I talk about what it’s like to have your first kiss and first crush. The issue of being gay is treated exactly the same. It’s very important to me that no young person feels victimized. Being gay should be treated with the same kind of humanity.
I also think it’s important for a teacher to send a message to students that LGBT youth deserve our respect and not ridicule. I remember speaking at one school and this young man asked me why I included a kiss between two guys in the book. I explained to him why but made sure to emphasize there’s nothing wrong with two guys kissing each other. The student’s reaction was respectful and I know that attitude partially came from his teacher. Adults have to be the ones that set an example.
How can English classes or school libraries better promote LGBT issues in writing among students?
I think English teachers should encourage students to write anonymously about what’s going on in their lives. Writing anonymously removes some of the inhibitions and allows people to speak from the heart. I bet teachers would be astonished by the level of honesty and emotional complexity their students regularly experience. And that goes for LGBT youth.
And this plea is specifically for the English teachers out there who have promising students: please encourage your students to write even if it’s not in the classroom setting. Any time you spend writing you’re one step closer to that book or screenplay. Whether a budding writer is gay or straight, we need more creative minds out there.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” comes out in theaters on Friday, September 21. Check out the trailer below!