The Glass Castle – A Visit to Hear Jeanette Walls Speak

November 20th, 2008

On Tuesday evening, I had the wonderful opportunity to go and hear author Jeannette Walls, speak in Lawrence at the University of Kansas.




Jeannette wrote the best selling, heart-wrenching memoir, The Glass Castle.

The Glass Castle tells the story of Jeannette’s childhood. She was raised along with three siblings, by an alcoholic father with a huge capacity for firing his children’s imaginations with tales of the CIA being on their tail… and a mother… who when faced with the choice of painting a picture or feeding her kids… invariably chose to paint.The family roamed the country from Arizona to West Virginia, often homeless, usually on the run from bill collectors and gambling debts. The children were occasionally left with derelict relatives. If the family did have a home, they rarely had indoor plumbing, heat or electricity. All the while the children reveled in the fantasies of their father, who insisted it was all a big adventure.  The miraculous part of Jeannette’s book is that she manages to tell the story of her appalling childhood without an ounce of guile. 

Fast forward twenty odd years… Jeannette is a successful journalist and celebrity gossip columnist living on Park Avenue in New York City. Even though she had attained every symbol of success a young career woman could ever hope to achieve, she still lives with a cloud of fear and shame hovering over her, thinking that one day her past will be discovered and she will once again become an object of ridicule. But this time, instead of high school classmates taunting her dirty clothes and ramshackle home, it would be co- workers and friends shunning her because her parents still lived on the streets and Jeanette was powerless to change them.

A series of strange and chance circumstances eventually force Jeannette to face her past and she decides the only way she can “face down her demons” is to write her story.

Jeannette attempted several versions of the book before deciding to tell the story from the perspective of herself as a little girl. Through the eyes of a young Jeanette, the reader experiences the chaos, the hunger, the embarrassment, the filth, but ALSO the way her parents created magic out of nothing, gave their kids the gift of optimism, survival, resilience, strength and did I say optimism? Because Jeannette Walls has a truly unique and unsurpassed ability to put a positive spin on the most dire of circumstances.

As hard as it is to think of a child growing up the way Jeannette did, it is truly amazing to listen to her not only conquer her dismal past, but also walk away from it with glowing trophies gathered from the smoking ruins.


And her mother lives with her now… out back… behind her estate… in a “vinyl cottage”. She takes care of Jeannette’s horses… horses Jeanette bought because she knew they might be the only thing that would tempt her mother at 74 years of age away from living on the streets in New York City. Jeannette’s father is deceased.

Jeannette said, “my mother is a very fun, charming, up beat, optimistic person… as long as you are not depending on her to take care of you…”.

Look! Here is Jeannette autographing a copy of her book, The Glass Castle!





This is what her autograph looks like. See how optimistic it is?!?!






It was a courageous act for Jeanette to comb through her past and deliver this jewel of a book.  






I am so glad she did.