ODA Hosts Prominent Authors Dave Cullen and Stephen Kuusisto


Senja Levy, Staff Writer and Photographer

In September, ODA students and faculty had the opportunity to speak with renowned authors Dave Cullen and Stephen Kuusisto. Both authors wrote books that ODA teachers and students chose to read for their summer reading assignments. These authors gave a short overview of what occurred in their books, then dove into questions both students and faculty asked. Both Zoom calls were scheduled by Upper School English teachers; Ms. Betz planned the Dave Cullen call while the Stephen Kuusisto call was planned by Ms. Giraud.

DaveCullen, the author of Parkland and Columbine, has had first-hand experience of the aftermath of a school shooting. Parkland highlights what the victims experienced on Valentine’s Day in 2018 but; however, the majority of the book explains what happened after the school-shooting. For example, Parkland describes the survivors, the challenges they faced, and their passion for avid gun control. 

Discussion Topics and Questions

“In your time studying and reporting on this topic [school shootings] have you seen a change in America from Columbine to now, good or bad?” Elizabeth Karp Hauser ’21.

Cullen discusses the safety precautions schools have made to keep students safe such as a requirement for ID badges, lockdown drills, and required checks at the front office, instead of immediately walking on campus. Another example is for local police to have alarm codes and layouts of a school because when the Columbine shooting occurred, none of these procedures existed. Add transition sentences. He states how kids have changed and now understand the severity of saying things like, “I am going to shoot up Ms. Joneses classroom on Friday.”  Twenty-one years ago this assertion could have been seen as a joke. But now, the majority of students understand why it is not humorous, and that they should come forward if they hear anything.

“How do you keep your composure while interviewing and talking to so many people who are describing such horrific and life-defining moments such as surviving a school shooting?” Senja Levy ‘22

Cullen says that when you hear young kids talk about school shootings, composure is not the first emotion you feel—it is okay to cry and feel melancholy. As a writer, you should not turn off your emotions; instead, you should let your emotions flow, and write exactly how you feel and not solely what you think others would want your reaction to be. 

“How do you think the aftermath of Parkland would have been without the use of social media?” Amanda Colditz ‘21

Cullen said it changed the dynamics in comparison to Columbine because students at Parkland were able to communicate with other students during the school shooting. Students could spread their messages across the internet instantaneously so people from all over the world could view what they were saying. 

Stephen Kuusisto, the author of Have Dog Will Travel, writes about his personal experience as someone who was born legally blind. Growing up in the 1950s with a lack of resources for vision-impaired people, his parents compelled him to do typical things that sighted people experience. Kuusisto was able to complete activities such as: going to school, reading, and experiencing college all without the use of braille. Throughout his novel, he talks about his emotional evolution through being blind, and then the connection he had with his beloved guide dogs.

As stated by Dr. Zitani, “As a dog owner, my dog helped make many introductions with people I would have never met before.” 

Kuusisto talks about the pleasantries people gave to him just because of how adorable his dogs were. He discusses how people, such as hot dog cart vendors and random strangers, would walk up towards him and offer him free food or dog walks. 

“How are the connections between you and your service dogs different from each dog you have had?” Anonymous 

Kuusisto discusses how people evolve each time they get a new pet, and the connection with each pet differs. He reiterates that each dog has different personalities and attitudes or energy towards himself and his wife.

“What made you want to become an author?” Lexi LaGasse ’24

Ever since Kuusisto was young he began to write stories and found it very appealing. In college, he discovered that creative writers could be on the faculty. The idea that one could take a class from a novelist, poet, or short story writer captivated him greatly. Then he discovered graduate school and looked forward to the opportunity to further his writing capabilities. His advice to young people who have an interest in writing is to write small pieces every day so that your abilities improve. He recommends frequently writing in a journal and simply record small snippets of daily occurrences. Kuusisto states, “Writing down anything makes you a writer.”

“Is it rude to pet guide dogs in public?” Aubrey Robbins ’24

He responds, generally, when a dog is working it is not supposed to be petted. Definitely ask the owner, who may say yes, no, or give a snarky response back to the person asking to pet the guide dog. He personally allows people to pet his dogs if they ask.

“How many guide dogs have you had?” Jenna Sanford ’24

He has had 4 dogs in total, and even when those dogs get too old to be a guide dog, he keeps them as pets and continues to keep them until they pass away. 

“When your guide dogs get older and have a hard time walking, do you get another dog at the same time?” Dr. Zitani 

Kuusisto states that he keeps the older dogs as pets while having the future guide dog receive training. He talked about how the older dog would get slightly jealous but quickly realized that it is nice to solely be a pet.

The entire discussion of the Have Dogs Will Travel book made numerous references to Kuusisto’s cute dogs, humorous accents, and experiences that occurred as a blind man.

The Parkland Zoom call contained an abundance of emotions, discussed the evolution of School Shootings in the United States, and discussed the improvements made in twenty years. Both calls enlightened students and left them excited to read more pieces by each author.

Thank you, Mr. Cullen and Mr. Kuusisto for taking the time out of your busy schedules to answer questions from young readers that had a great interest in your books!