An Insight Into the Life of Sharon Draper

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At just 15 years old, Amari was forced to watch as her family and friends were massacred before her. She was forced to endure weeks of torture, walking miles and miles with heavy, rusty, unbreakable chains on her body. Amari is a slave. Amari is also the protagonist in the novel Copper Sun by Sharon Draper. Draper researched for over ten years trying to create an accurate depiction of the slave trade, and she was successful. Graphic mental images are formed while reading the novel. Images which, for once, do not sugarcoat the slave trade. What inspired Draper to write this novel? Why would she, or is she even qualified to write about such topics? A deeper look into her life answers these questions.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952, Draper was a self-proclaimed bookworm from a very young age. She achieved straight-A’s throughout school and became a National Merit Scholar. Draper attended Pepperdine University and graduated with a degree in English. Although she was offered a teaching position right away at Pepperdine, she declined it and returned to Ohio to get her master’s degree at the Miami University of Ohio. Draper began teaching at the Cincinnati Public Schools and was named Ohio Teacher of the Year. She was known for her rigorous classes and specifically an assignment that was eventually labeled “The Draper Paper”. Draper subsequently earned the U.S. Teacher of the Year award, which was given to her by President Bill Clinton. Not just a distinguished educator, Draper has had a prolific writing career. One of her books is the novel the tenth-graders at Obama are currently reading, Copper Sun.

Copper Sun focuses on the story of an enslaved African girl named Amari. While researching into Draper’s life, it becomes apparent that this novel was not one that was easily written. Draper has said of the novel “it is the book of my heart, the book of my spirit”. Draper spent over 10 years researching this novel, from reading books and listening to transcripts to speaking to descendants of slaves in Ghana. Draper was inspired to write Copper Sun by a trip she took to Ghana. Describing how she felt the spirits of the slaves who had come through the doors of the slave castles she visited, she said “I knew I had to tell the story of just one of those who had passed that way”. Copper Sun was awarded the Coretta Scott King award in 2007, along with many other awards and recognitions. Copper Sun is an eye-opening book into the horrors of slavery, and it is highly recommended read for all high schoolers.

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