About writing "After the Fire"
love telling stories about people, but none more than that of Shawn
Simons and Alvaro Llanos, the inner city kids and Seton Hall University
roommates whose grit and determination helped them survive one
of the worst dormitory fires in U.S. history.
Theirs is the story of my first book, "After the Fire." The
January 2000 arson in the freshman dormitory claimed the lives of
three promising college
students and 58 others were injured. Shawn and Alvaro almost lost their lives
that day and both sustained life-altering injuries. They will always have scars
to remind them of that terrible winter night.
But it is their lives "After the Fire" that make this story extraordinary.
Their loyalty to each other, and their resolve to live their best lives, despite
the tragedy, has touched many people. No one more than me.
I am proud to say that Shawn, Alvaro and I continue to have a close relationship
all these years after I was first assigned to write their story for my newspaper,
The Newark Star-Ledger. The story was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize
for feature writing and won the Pulitzer for photography. It is the basis
of the book.
But I think what makes me most proud is not something tangible. It is the love
I share, a 56-year old woman from the suburbs, with two young men from the
inner city. It is a love that was planted during the months I spent with
Shawn and Alvaro in a hospital burn unit, their lives hanging in the balance.
It is that love that inspired me to write the book. And it is a love that
endures endures to this day.
There have been other stories for me since Shawn's and Alvaro's first appeared
in the newspaper in September of 2000. One of those was also a Pulizer Prize
finalist, in 2005. And I hope there will be more books in my future.
But there will never be another Shawn and Alvaro for me. If you're lucky, people
like that come around once in a lifetime. I'm glad they came into mine.