Ithaca, N.Y. — Megan Shull is an Ithaca native and beloved local author about to launch a national book tour.
Mayor Svante Myrick is the head of the city of Ithaca’s government.
What would they advise each other if they woke up tomorrow in each other’s bodies?
That was one question posed by well-known advice columnist and NPR personality Amy Dickinson at an event at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre on Tuesday night.
The event promoted Shull’s book, “The Swap,” which was published in August. Shull’s book has been described as “Freaky Friday” with a twist. It features a boy and girl who trade bodies on the first day of middle school.
Laughs bounced around the intimate theater, filled with nearly 300 people, throughout the evening.
Participants described the hour-long talk as a quintessentially Ithaca affair, sprinkled as it was with audience participation, anecdotes of Wegmans run-ins, and — naturally — references to kale.
Perhaps its most characteristically Ithaca feature, however, was Shull herself. Even as the author’s recent string of acclaim has catapulted her onto the national stage, she took pains to highlight her gratitude to the city of gorges.
“I leave Tompkins County and that is hard for me,” said Shull, an Ithaca High School and Cornell graduate. “We all live in this small town — anyone who knows me knows I love Ithaca.”
An Ithaca story
Shull introduced members of the crowd to the stage and referenced many more throughout the talk as crucial to the book’s creation. At one point, star Cornell wrestler and Lansing native Kyle Dake was brought to the front.
Before bed, Dake has a habit of writing out his goals. Shull revealed that Dake is thus the inspiration for one of the book’s characters.
“Nothing I thought of was original” in the book, Shull joked to full-bellied laughs from the crowd.
Cries of “We love you, Megan!” interrupted Shull at a couple points in the evening. Shull returned the love and emphasized that, as with Dake, many Ithacans’ stories ended up in much of the book.
“It doesn’t take place in Ithaca … but so much of the love I feel for Ithaca is in this book,” she said.
Looking into the crowd, Shull said, “I see people I grew up with; I see people I went to high school with; I see people I just met …”
“I hope you all feel a part of this book.”
In exchange, Mayor Myrick, Dickinson and several members of the audience praised Shull’s outgoing nature and commitment to the local community.
Myrick said that as a tutor at Cornell he did a Google search for Ithaca authors that turned up Shull’s name. Myrick said he didn’t expect Shull — a “legit” author — to possibly accept the offer.
“She said, ‘I’ll meet you at Gimme! Coffee,’” Myrick recalled.
At the event, about 10 people helping to steer the crowd wore purple t-shirts with the phrase, “You got this,” emblazoned on the front.
But it wasn’t clear immediately who they were: Ushers? Theater staff?
“We’re just big Megan supporters,” said one of them, Safira Amsili.
Amsili said Shull had asked for their support for the event. They’d given it readily, Amsili said.
“Everybody knows each other, and that’s quintessential of Ithaca and also of Megan,” Amsili said. “She really has a big presence in this town.”
Dana Paul, a neighbor of Shull’s, said that the local author feels like “part of our family … and she is.”
“She comes to my house almost every day,” Paul said. “It would be difficult for me to leave Ithaca because of events like this and people like Megan.”
One memorable moment in the evening came when Dickinson asked Myrick and Shull to imagine switching places.
The question was a riff on the premise of Shull’s book, which revolves around a boy and girl who switch bodies on the first day of middle school.
Dickinson introduced the idea of Myrick and Shull “swapping” to laughter and then said, “you two swap. Bam.”
Some of the quotes from the ensuing exchange:
Shull: How do you feel about kale?
Myrick: (Pauses) … “Is this a campaign question? … No, I did not inhale (kale).”
Myrick: “…You’re going to wake up as the mayor of Ithaca. My best advice? Don’t get out of bed … you want to stay exactly where you are.”
The event wrapped up with cake from a Wegman’s chef. A little before the crowds poured out from their seats and toward the mayor and author, Shull once again thanked her hometown.
“We are a little small town and I know with all my heart that we can help each other,” Shull said. “Call me corny. I don’t care.”