For the recently released Summer of ’69 (Candlewick), Todd Strasser mined his adolescent experience to bring the Woodstock era to life. Sarvenaz Tash, who wasn’t yet born when the festival was held, was surprised when researching 2015’s Three Day Summer (Simon & Schuster) at how challenging it was to find set lists from the event; this year’s anniversary reissues and commemorative titles for adults, she says, “would have been helpful to have at the time.” PW spoke with the authors about making Woodstock relevant to YA readers.
Why write about Woodstock so many decades later?
Sarvenaz Tash: When I was in middle school, for the 20th anniversary, I wound up watching all the VH1 specials about Woodstock. For the first time, I got to see footage and hear bands talk about it, and the image of that cool, idealistic age stayed with me. I remember wishing, “Wow, I wish I could go to Woodstock.” It took a while for me realize that the way to go to Woodstock was to write about it.
Todd Strasser: For many years, I wrote a lot of books about what I imagined were the relevant issues for teens. But after age 60 I began to look at my past to see what historical events YA might be interested in. The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War—that was Fallout. The next was the summer of 1969.
How did what you knew or experienced of Woodstock change when you began your research?
T.S.: We were the counterculture; we wore bell-bottoms and beads, we smoked pot and listened to rock and roll and thought we were this rebellious group of individuals. Fifty years later, I saw that we were all wearing the same clothes, believing the same things. That came as a surprise to me working on the book, but I still think all that antiwar and love and peace sentiment was important.
S.T.: I hadn’t realized how much Vietnam was a part of the experience. I looked at it through the lens of “everyone is so happy, look at the clothes!” But kids were getting drafted for a war most people seemed to think was pretty pointless. I found out my father-in-law decided to become a teacher to avoid being drafted; he talked to me about how scary that was. I still think it was an amazing weekend, but it came after a lot of political strife.
What do you hope kids learn about Woodstock from your books?
S.T.: My characters know they’re in the middle of something big but don’t know how big. Showing that was my main goal. I also wanted that joy of everything I read and saw and felt as a teen to come across.
T.S.: I want to show kids how different we were at that time. A phenomenal number of people went all the way to Woodstock barefoot. As each day passed, I kept seeing more and more people with bandages on their feet, because there was no plastic; everything was in glass bottles, and we brought food in cans. I also wanted to let kids know that not everybody was a hippie. Heads smoked pot and grew their hair long, but they were still going to college to be doctors and lawyers and fit right into society. I considered myself a freak; we were more political and wanted to change world. Hippies completely rejected society as we knew it.
What resonance do you see Woodstock having for today’s teens?
T.S.: Woodstock was the last time the country was as violently divided as it is now, but we sorted things out. A message for teens that comes through by the end of the book is that no matter how crappy your home situation may be, you can overcome and rise above it. One of the slogans of that era was “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life,” and at the end of the novel, that saying has a special resonance.
S.T.: The thing that sticks with me is how big social activism was at Woodstock, with its message of peace and hope and being young and having power. You have so much power when you’re young, even though you think you don’t. But your ideals as a teen stay with you. Woodstock’s ideals were so pure and good and are something to still strive for.