Category Archives: Author Essay

Being Both : Reflections on Interfaith Relationships and the Spiritual Selves of Students

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith FamilyBy Susan Katz Miller, author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (Beacon Press, October 2014.)

Arriving at college, students plunge into interfaith and intercultural engagement, tagging along with new friends to mass or Hillel or a Holi celebration. Sometimes these friendships transcend invisible boundaries to become deeper interfaith relationships. And sometimes, whether or not institutions and family approve, those relationships include dating, and love.

And so it was that last fall, a Muslim student dating a Christian went to a college chaplain for guidance. The chaplain realized that she had no real training in pastoral counseling for interfaith relationships. So she invited me to campus for a Brown Bag on interfaith dating, and an evening conversation on interfaith families. In an extraordinary collaboration, the campus Hillel (Jewish students), Newman Association (Catholic students), Muslim Students Association, religious studies department, and library all co-sponsored the visit.

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Human Nature During War: An Essay by Anthony Marra

9780770436421By Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth 2014)

My interest in Chechnya began when I was in college. I spent a semester of my junior year in St. Petersburg, where I lived down the street from a Russian military academy. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-old cadets, dressed in sky-blue uniforms, marched in formation around the neighborhood each afternoon. Several blocks away, outside a metro station, men a few years older than the cadets gathered to panhandle at rush hour. These men also wore military uniforms, though theirs weren’t as clean or so neatly pressed. A number had lost their legs and wore hemmed trousers. These men were Russian veterans of the Chechen conflict that the cadets might one day join. When the cadets marched passed, they stared at the veterans as if peering into their own uncertain futures, while the veterans looked back with pity. Continue reading

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A Letter from Senator and Author Kristen Gillibrand

978-0-8041-7907-2By Kirsten Gillibrand, author of Off the Sidelines (Ballantine Books, September 2014)

Dear Educators,

From my mother and grandmother to Hillary Clinton and countless others, incredible role models have shaped me into the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am without their patience, wisdom and guidance.

That is why I am so excited to announce that I have written a book about my own life and the lessons I’ve learned in order to encourage more women and girls to power past life’s obstacles and make a difference in the world around them. Continue reading

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Building Green Across America by Daniel Wallach

GreenTown USAby Daniel Wallach, foreword contributor of Green Town U.S.A.: The Handbook for America’s Sustainable Future (Hatherleigh Press, July 2013) and Executive Director and Founder of Greensburg GreenTown.

You may have heard of Greensburg, Kansas, the little town only 1.5 miles wide that was 95% destroyed by a tornado in 2007. What you may not know is that Greensburg chose to transform tragedy into opportunity by deciding to rebuild “green.” Since we made this decision, we have received quite a bit of exciting recognition. President Barack Obama mentioned it in his address to a joint session of Congress on February 24, 2009 and Leonardo DiCaprio, working with the Discovery Channel, produced a documentary. We were also featured on the Weather Channel during a segment entitled “When Weather Changed History.”

But the story of Greensburg, Kansas does not begin and end there. In fact, our decision to rebuild green is, in a way, the prelude to a new chapter for every town and city in our country, especially in light of the recent and ongoing disaster in the Gulf. Individuals across America can look to Greensburg, a.k.a. “GreenTown”, as an example of how we can change the course of history and change the way we live with the environment in mind, and how young people can be instrumental in this change.

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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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