Jodi Picoult Explores Gay Rights in Memorial Church

Alice H Shen

Jodi Picoult speaks with Sarah Chandonnet, Campus Organizer of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, regarding what it means to be gay in the world today, the central theme of her new book Sing You Home, at an event hosted in Memorial Church on Thursday evening.

Esteemed author Jodi L. Picoult advocated greater reproductive rights for gay couples, a theme explored in her latest novel, in an appearance Thursday at Memorial Church.

“To me, it’s one of the last civil rights that we haven’t granted in this country,” Picoult said of gay rights.

She said she has long been interested in writing a novel about homosexuality and religion.

Her 18 novels, including bestsellers like “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Nineteen Minutes,” frequently probe ethical issues through tear-jerking or thrilling narratives.

Her latest book, “Sing You Home,” depicts a lesbian woman who wishes to conceive a child using frozen embryos from her earlier attempts to have a child with her ex-husband.

Gay rights hit close to home for Picoult. Her son came out to her and her husband in his college application essay.

The program on Thursday night, which was organized by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, began with a performance by singer-songwriter John Grant. Grant performed several songs from his album, “Queen of Denmark,” which is about his experience growing up gay in the Midwest and moving to Colorado.

“It had already been imparted to me that [being gay] wasn’t okay,” Grant said of his childhood. “I hoped that it wouldn’t follow me to Colorado. But I’m glad that it did.”

Beyond the discussion of gay rights, Picoult shared aspects of her creative process in a question and answer session. The complex moral themes about which she writes, Picoult said, come from questions which she feels she cannot answer when she starts writing.

By the time she finishes a book, she feels she has made better sense of the topic, she said.

Picoult said that in preparation for “Sing You Home” she interviewed a woman who strongly opposes homosexual relationships. Picoult used portions of the interview verbatim as dialogue in the novel.

The hardest moment of the six-hour conversation, Picoult said, was when she asked the woman about the bullying of gay and lesbian children. Her interviewee responded, “Thank goodness that’s never happened.”

She said that she hopes her novels spur similar tough conversations among her readers.

“I don’t want to be the kind of writer who says, ‘You should believe this.’ I want to be the kind of writer who says, ‘How come you believe that, and have you thought about what the other side has to say?’” Picoult said. “You may never agree, but that’s the beginning of the conversation.”