Ruta Sepetys, historical fiction author, is a firm believer that everyone has a story worth telling.
"If you have a story to tell, tell it," Sepetys said at the Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature lecture Tuesday night.
Sepetys' story is told in her best-selling novel "Between Shades of Gray" about her family's experience of the Soviet Union.
During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Sepetys' family found themselves on Stalin's execution list.
Thanks to a favor from a family friend, they were able to escape and flee to a refugee camp.
Nine years later, Sepetys' father left Europe and arrived in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"That's what I thought my family's story was," Sepetys said.
However, this was only the partial truth.
Before she began her writing career, Sepetys spent 20 years working in the music industry.
She said she realized – through a conversation with a client – she had spent years helping musicians tell their story, but she had never really thought much about her own.
Sepetys soon went on a journey to Lithuania to uncover the truth about her family's history. She soon learned the majority of her father's close relatives had been deported to Siberia, where only one survived.
Sepetys said she wanted to share this story with the world, and decided to do so through historical fiction.
Thus, "Between Shades of Gray" was born.
The novel's plot centers around the story of a fictional Lithuanian girl who is transported with her family to a refugee camp in Siberia.
"The story is shedding much needed light on this part of history," said Miranda Clark, director of the Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature.
The novel, which was extremely successful and was published in 46 countries, was translated into 26 languages and placed on The New York Times best-seller list.
Sepetys was praised for her eye-opening story of courage, identity and love.
She was asked to give a speech in front of the European Parliament and was knighted with the Lithuanian Cross of the Knight of the Order.
While interviewing immigrants that came to America in the 1950s, Sepetys got the idea for her second novel, "Out of the Easy."
It tells the story of a young girl in the 1950s whose story is far from the typical 'Happy Days' usually associated with the decade.
But Sepetys' success did not come without its challenges.
In the beginning, publishers were wary of publishing the book for young adults, which is what the author originally wanted.
However, Sepetys had written the book with too much brutality, and was told to rewrite it 16 times. She also faced publishers who thought the story was not important enough to be told.
Despite these setbacks, Sepetys persevered and her story was finally published.
"She didn't let the fact that the publishers turned her book down for so long distract her and discourage her from continuing to try to get it published," said Kayla Curbow, sophomore in child and family studies.
Sepetys stressed the importance of storytelling.
She talked about a letter her grandfather wrote to a priest when Sepetys was just a girl in pigtails. At the end of the letter, Sepetys' grandfather expressed his hope that a writer would share his story.
Sepetys asked: "What are the chances that that writer was me?"