Category Archives: Author Essay

Breaking Racial Barriers During WWI: A Visual Narrative

9780307464972By Max Brooks, author of The Harlem Hellfighers (Broadway Books, April 2014).

I first learned of the Harlem Hellfighters from an Anglo-Rhodesian named Michael Furmanovsky when I was 11. Michael was working for my parents while getting his MFA in history from UCLA. He taught me about the British Empire, the Falklands War, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and a host of other topics not covered in my fifth-grade western civilization class. Of all his after-school lessons, the one that left the deepest impression was the story of a unit of American soldiers who weren’t allowed to fight for their country because of the color of their skin. To a white, privileged kid growing up on the west side of L.A. in the 1980s, that kind of prejudice was just inconceivable. When I confessed that I didn’t know about them, he assured me that I wasn’t alone. Continue reading

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Coming Of Age With Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep

978-0-8129-7235-1By Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep: A Novel (Random House Trade Paperbacks, November 2005).

When Prep was published, I was thrilled that it resonated with so many people. Countless readers sought me out to tell me that it captured their own feelings of awkwardness, insecurity, and excitement when they left home for the first time. What I hadn’t anticipated was that, in most cases, they were referring to their experiences not at boarding school but in college. Although my protagonist, Lee, is fourteen when she travels to Massachusetts to enroll in the elite Ault School, her adventures and misadventures actually reflect those of many college freshmen: her exposure to other students whose intelligence and sophistication impress and intimidate her and whose families are either far wealthier or far poorer than hers; her shifting relationship with her own family at home; the intimacy of dorm life, where she might find herself brushing her teeth next to someone she’s never spoken to; and the confusion and joy of early sexual experimentation. Continue reading

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A Message on Kindness from George Saunders

978-0-8129-9627-2By George Saunders, author of Congratulations, by the way (Random House, February 2014).

About a year ago I was asked to give a convocation speech for Syracuse University.  A graduation speech is always a risky gig.  Nobody’s sitting out there thinking, “I’m so excited to be graduating, because I get to hear the speaker!”  So I thought I’d better (1) be brief and (2) tell the truth.  In considering what advice I could give to a roomful of beautiful, well-educated young men and women, I realized that the only thing I had that they didn’t was that additional 35 years of being alive.  More specifically, I started thinking about regret-looking back over those years, what did I really wish I had done differently?  The answer was: I regretted almost nothing except my failures of kindness. Continue reading

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My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School

9780345511010By Carlotta Walls Lanier, on why she wrote A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (One World, July 2010).

I started this book in earnest in January of 2006. I had in mind the upcoming 50th anniversary of our entry into Little Rock’s Central High School. This September 2007 event might have been the impetus, but it wasn’t the reason. (Besides, I sort of missed that deadline by a couple of years!)

As I say in the book, I didn’t talk much about my experiences until the late 1980s, after our 30th anniversary, when the nine of us were all together again in Little Rock and Bill Clinton was governor of the state. In the years that followed, Melba told her story in Warriors Don’t Cry. Ernie had a movie about his experience, The Ernie Green Story. Mrs. Huckaby, the assistant principal, told her story, which was made into a movie called Crisis at Little Rock. Back in the 1960s, Mrs. Bates had told her story in The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Continue reading

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What Happens When Disaster Strikes? A Message from Sheri Fink

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????By Sheri Fink, author of Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown, September 2013).

Memorial Medical was surrounded by floodwaters after the levees failed in New Orleans in 2005, drowning one of America’s great cities. Within hours, all power would fail. The heat rose. Rescue helicopters began arriving. They transported one or two patients at a time, but there were around 250 patients and 2,000 staff and family members. Who should be rescued first? Continue reading

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A Life Lesson for Every Student

THINK with borderBy Guy P. Harrison, author of Think: Why You Should Question Everything (Prometheus Books, 2013).

Students in their first year of college are experiencing a pivotal time in their lives: for the first time they are on their own, making decisions with real implications and seeing their world expand exponentially. Unfortunately, most institutions do not teach courses devoted to critical thinking, and even fewer make them required of students to graduate, despite the fact that critical thinking and logic are applicable to every discipline and are skills that students can use for a lifetime. Our students need to be armed with excellent critical thinking skills, and Think is just the book to teach them. Continue reading

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Orange Is the New Black: Piper Kerman’s Journey from Book to Netflix Series to Common Read

orangeBy Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (Spiegel & Grau, 2010).

In the early 1990s, I was a graduate from an elite women’s college, a little lost and very much looking for adventure and finding it in an unlikely criminal underworld. In 2004, I was a successful professional standing at the gates of a federal women’s prison, about to start serving time for a ten-year-old drug offense. My book, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, details my plunge into the hidden world of America’s enormous prison system, the women and men I met there, and the profound effect that incarceration has on individuals and communities around the country. The book was adapted into the hit Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. Continue reading

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Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? David Levithan on his New York Times bestselling novel Every Day

9780307931894By David Levithan, author of Every Day (Ember, September 2013).

When I was writing Every Day, I was guided by a set of questions. These questions also happen to be the ones I find that readers ask themselves most after reading the book.

Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? If you had no set gender or race or parentage or clique, if you were purely your inner self, who could you become? How would you define yourself?

I will admit to you: I had no idea how Every Day would work as an FYE book. Luckily this past fall I got to go to Northern Arizona University and see firsthand how it went. Continue reading

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How Shared Reading of a “Post-9/11 Novel” and an Author Visit Helped One School Heal

Let the Great World Spin JacketNew York Times writer Joel Lovell has written a thoughtful piece on Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin (Random House), which won the National Book Award, and a new novel, Transatlantic (Random House, June 2013).  Titled “Colum McCann’s Radical Empathy,” the profile is set in the recent aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy as McCann travels to the afflicted school to speak to the high school students upon a teacher’s request.   It delves into the value of Let the Great World Spin (which was added to the Newtown high school curriculum) as a transcendent history that can ease the pains of tragedy, “a book that,” Newtown teacher Lee Keylock says, “might help their students begin to make sense of their terrible shock and grief.”  From there, the article moves into McCann’s own life, crossing briefly into McCann’s childhood in Ireland, to his desire as a writer to work in “the blurred spaces between fiction and nonfiction.” Granting insight into McCann’s humor, gravity, and ambition, the piece permits a glimpse into the life of the man who writes, while “‘in the cupboard,'” about the magnitude of the world.

Colum McCann will be speaking at the 2014 First-Year Experience® Conference in San Diego, California.

Click here to read the full New York Times article

Click here for more information about Colum McCann

Click here for information about the author’s speaking engagements

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From The Inner-City To The Operating Room: How College Success Impacted Sampson Davis

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By Sampson Davis, author of Living and Dying in Brick City (Spiegel & Grau, February 2013).  He will be speaking at the First-Year Experience® 2014 Conference in San Diego, California from February 14-18.

College—the beginning of a new frontier, at least it was for me. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, a school system with dropout rate at more than fifty percent, I knew the odds were stacked against me. Not only did I beat those odds and graduate college, but I also went on to complete a medical degree. While I certainly worked hard for my success, I could not have achieved what I did without the help of many educators along the way.

One of those individuals was Dr. Linda Hsu, my college genetics professor. I will never forget and will always be grateful to Dr. Hsu for her kind acts, but one stands out in particular. It was the eve before my first day of medical school, and I had yet to receive my loan funds to purchase books. The weather outside was horrible with downpours and flood warnings. The hazardous weather might have impeded the mail delivery, but it didn’t stop Dr. Hsu, who stood all of 4’11” with a powerful voice. She jumped into her two-door hatchback and drove to the dorm to deliver funds so that I could purchase my books the next morning. That act of kindness, and her belief in me, touched me deeply and cemented my view in paying it forward—“to whom much is given, much is required.” Continue reading

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