William Sleator: A Tribute to an Oddball

Cloning, genetic engineering, black holes, dystopia. The fodder of science fiction and a few of the many themes writer William Sleator addressed in his 30 novels for adolescents.

Sleator, who died August 3 in Thailand, took topics from science and stretched them into the paranormal, creating tales that keep teen readers rapt and reading into the night.

I met Sleator in 1996 when he addressed a graduate “Adolescent in Literature” class at New Jersey City University and interviewed him for SIGNAL, the International Reading Association’s journal devoted to young adult literature.

Sleator’s novels leave readers uncertain about endings and uneasy about characters. Imagination, contended Sleator, allows the mind to escape from reality, and is a practical skill for dealing with everyday life.

His characters, often based on his family and friends, confront dangerous and evil situations that challenge them to use their wits to survive.  Teens in Others See Us read minds; in House of Stairs they respond to operant conditioning, in Interstellar Pig aliens disguised as humans must engage in a role-playing game that threatens their species.

Sleator attended Harvard, majored in English and then worked as a rehearsal pianist for the Boston Ballet Company.  Witnessing all the backstage drama prepared him to be a writer, he said.  A visit to Thailand in 1986 captivated him, enticing him to remain. With the 1995 publication of  Dangerous Wishes, his 22nd book,  Sleator achieved one of his own dreams- to write a book set in a foreign country. 

Sleator began writing early- his first novel, 17 words long,  called The Fat Cat he self-published at age 6. He began keeping a journal at age 13, and said he continued to do so “obsessively.” For him, the act of writing down his adolescent emotions preserved them in his head. He never forgot what it was like to be a teenager.

His autobiographical collection of stories, Oddballs, chronicles the antics of his own adolescence.  Car games, sibling threat games, lying games,  telephone games, making fun of others in junior high games–  the Sleators did it all.  Throughout, Sleator felt he was an outsider.  He wrote in Oddballs:  “I never had the right clothes, I was lousy at sports, I couldn’t catch on to the slang, and the tuft of hair on the back of my head wouldn’t lie flat. I was always an oddball, a nothing in the eyes of the ruling clique.”

As a writer he said he “constantly is trying to combat adolescent peer pressure and the notion that not being like everyone else isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

Want to turn a teen onto reading? Try some William Sleator.  My students and sons loved him.

The Angry Moon (1970) Picture book, Caldecott Medal Honor Book,
 Blackbriar (1972)
Run (1973)
House of Stairs (1974)
Among the Dolls (1975)
Into the Dream (1979)
Once, Said Darlene (1979)
The Green Futures of Tycho (1981)
That's Silly (1981)
Fingers (1983)
Interstellar Pig (1984)
Singularity (1985)
The Boy Who Reversed Himself (1986)
The Duplicate (1988)
Strange Attractors (1989)
The Spirit House (1991)
Others See Us (1993)
Oddballs (1993)
The Elevator (1993) story collection,
Dangerous Wishes (1995)
The Night the Heads Came (1996)
The Beasties (1997)
The Cupcake (1998)
The Boxes (1998)
Rewind (1999)
Boltzmon! (1999)
Marco's Millions (2001)
Parasite Pig (2002)
The Boy Who Couldn't Die (2004)
The Last Universe (2005)
The Boy Who Couldn't Die (2005)
Hell Phone (2006)
Test (2008)
Monster (2009)
The Phantom Limb (2011)
This entry was posted in Books, Education, interviews, postaweek2011, Reading, teaching, teenagers, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to William Sleator: A Tribute to an Oddball

  1. “loved him,” especially in regards to Oddballs is an understatement.

    Oddballs was the funniest book I’d ever read. I remember nearly asphyxiating from laughter.


  2. Benita says:

    I have yet to read any of his books. His style of writing is not my first choice in reading materials, but will try to read one in the near future.


  3. Leah says:

    Interesting … hadn’t heard of him or his books before. But always love to learn about other writers.


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