A conversation with author Hanna Pylvainen

Junior Natalie describes a visit from Hanna Pylvainien, author of We Sinners, a novel that Peddie juniors read over the summer.

The junior class summer reading for AP English this year was We Sinners, a novel by Hanna Pylvainen. We Sinners is broken up into a collection of stories about a family from the Laestadian church. Some of the children struggle to accept their strict religion and turn away from the faith, as Hanna herself did. Last Thursday the juniors had the privilege of meeting with Hanna during DMX, and some students were even able to spend some time with her during class. 

During my English class with Mr. Hedges, we were encouraged to ask Hanna questions not just about her book, but also about the writing process and her beginnings as a writer. She offered lots of advice on how to blur the lines between memoir and fiction, which will certainly come in handy when we juniors write our autobiographies this winter! She spoke about exploring the ways in which we sometimes fail to live up to our own high standards and thereby become the agents of our own destruction.

The DMX talk with Hanna was set up differently from most guest speaker presentations. Leading the conversation with Hanna were five students including Marissa Michaels, JT Piesco, Trevor Russo, Peter Le, and myself. We each took turns asking Hanna questions pertaining to We Sinners. Then we opened up the floor to audience questions, generating even more discussion.

Hanna told us that even the things that seem insignificant to us about our lives can be interesting to other people and can make good stories. She talked a lot about blurring the lines between memoir and fiction, as she did in We Sinners. One of the things that stuck with me was her story of how she started writing about the church. Basically, in college, her professor was sitting down with her and discussing her writing. The church was something that Hanna originally stayed away from writing about, but her professor essentially asked her, "Why aren't you writing about this?" And since then she has written several pieces about her experience and is working on her second novel which is centered around the same theme. I just thought that it was really interesting how the things that are hardest, and most personal, to write about can end up being the best stories.

 I also had the pleasure of joining Hanna at a student dinner at Fernando’s Grill where Hanna gave us more advice and some insight on her upcoming novel. I hope to see Hanna again at Peddie in the future.