Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? David Levithan on his New York Times bestselling novel Every Day

9780307931894By David Levithan, author of Every Day (Ember, September 2013).

When I was writing Every Day, I was guided by a set of questions. These questions also happen to be the ones I find that readers ask themselves most after reading the book.

Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? If you had no set gender or race or parentage or clique, if you were purely your inner self, who could you become? How would you define yourself?

I will admit to you: I had no idea how Every Day would work as an FYE book. Luckily this past fall I got to go to Northern Arizona University and see firsthand how it went.

I am often asked what my favorite part of being a writer is. The conversations I had with the students at NAU—both the peer leaders and the first-years—are perhaps the best answer I could give to that question.

The premise of Every Day is simple: the main character, A, wakes up every day in a different body and a different life. But the implications of this premise are far from simple. The NAU students were deeply, meaningfully engaged by that. We talked about how we define ourselves, versus how others define us. We talked about how stereotypes confine us, and how assumptions about other people are convenient but often overlook the more individual truth. We talked about how language—by dividing us into pronouns like “he” and “she”—can often separate us. We talked about the importance of kindness and morality in a world where the temptations of meanness and divisiveness were great. We talked about how sometimes you need to transcend your body in order to be the person you want to be, and transcend the way other people see you in order to find the right path. Many students told me they’d never really had conversations like this before. I certainly had a sense they were going to continue to have them after I left.

I didn’t plan out or outline Every Day—I just plunged right in. And when I did, I made an assumption about my main character that proved to be false.  I thought that by living in so many bodies and so many lives, A would be obsessed with the differences among us. But I quickly learned that, no, in fact A is much more attuned to our common humanity: If we can see past our bodies and see each other instead as selves, we discover how alike we are in the ways that matter, and how our identities are oftentimes too lost in easy categorization. At a time when you are being exposed to so many new people and so many new ideas, I think the notion that you should be in control of your own definition is hugely important. And from what I saw because of NAU’s excellent FYE program, it is also a notion that’s profoundly welcome. I was and am sincerely honored to have my book used to start such conversations and encourage such thoughts.

David Levithan is a children’s book editor in New York City, and the author of several books for young adults, including Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (co-authored with Rachel Cohn); Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-authored with John Green); and Every You, Every Me (with photographs from Jonathan Farmer). He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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