Videos from the 2020 First-Year Experience® Conference are now available

By Kayleigh Voss | April 7 2020 | College & University Reads

We’re pleased to share videos from the First-Year Experience® Conference held in Washington, D.C. this past February. Whether you weren’t able to join us at the conference or would simply like to hear the talks again, please take a moment to view the clips below.


Penguin Random House Author Dinner

Friday, February 21, 2020 | 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm


This event featured authors Kwame Onwuachi (NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF), Susan Fowler (WHISTLEBLOWER)  Adib Khorram (DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY), and Ibram X. Kendi (HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST).


View the video clips below:


By the time he was 27 years old, Kwame Onwuachi (Notes from a Young Black Chef) had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had sold drugs in New York and been shipped off to rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” He had launched his own catering company with $20,000 made from selling candy on the subway and starred on Top Chef. Through it all, Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant, even when he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the food world can be for people of color.



Susan Fowler (Whistleblower) was just 25 years old when her blog post describing the sexual harassment and retaliation she’d experienced at Uber riveted the nation. Her post would eventually lead to the ousting of Uber’s CEO, but its ripples extended far beyond that.



Adib Khorram (Darius the Great Is Not Okay) shares his winding route to becoming an author. At first, he says, he was writing stories a lot like the ones he’d read and heard his whole life—without much success. But when he started spending more time with his Iranian family, he realized what stories he was meant to tell: stories about kids that looked, felt, and loved like him.



Ibram X. Kendi (How to Be An Antiracist) explains that being “not racist” isn’t enough to bring us to a just and equitable society. What we need instead is to be antiracist: to work to oppose racism in our systems and in ourselves.


Penguin Random House Author Lunch

Saturday, February 22, 2020 | 12:15 pm – 1:45 pm


This event featured authors John Urschel (MIND AND MATTER), Diane Smith on behalf of her daughter, Mallory Smith (SALT IN MY SOUL), Nic Stone (DEAR MARTIN), and Jennifer L. Eberhardt (BIASED).


View the video clips below:


“A lot people think in terms of binaries… right or wrong, black or white, football player or mathematician.” But not John Urschel (Mind and Matter). While studying and playing football at Penn State, he convinced the football team to let him take graduate-level math classes, refusing to sacrifice one passion for the other. And as an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, he simultaneously pursued his PhD in mathematics at MIT.



When her daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3, Diane Smith had to prepare for what could be a bleak future. But Mallory defied all the odds: between many hospital visits and health crises, she competed in sports, graduated from Stanford, became a published writer and an advocate for the CF community. When Mallory passed away at age 25, Diane followed her instructions to publish her diaries—ten year’s worth of writing—to help the world understand what it means to live with chronic illness.



In 2014, a police officer shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri. As the Black Lives Matter movement took off in response, Nic Stone (Dear Martin) heard critics say things like, “Dr. King would never support a movement like this,” “Dr. King would be appalled.” This persistent critique inspired Stone to write a book about a 17-year-old black boy who addresses his journal entries to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,trying to figure out how Dr. King’s teachings can help him move forward after a traumatic experience with racial profiling.



Psychology professor Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Biased) explains how, when, and why race matters. She exposes racial bias at all levels of society—in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system. Yet she also offers us tools to address it. Eberhardt shows us how we can be vulnerable to bias but not doomed to live under its grip. As she says, “Understanding why can provide comfort. Science can soothe. Science can also offer some direction.”


Cocktails & Conversation

Saturday, February 22, 2020 | 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm


This event featured authors David Wallace-Wells (THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH) and Bina Venkataraman (THE OPTIMIST’S TELESCOPE).


View the video clips below:


David Wallace-Wells (The Uninhabitable Earth) doesn’t think of himself as an environmentalist—but his deep dive into climate change as a journalist completely changed the way he thought about humans and the environment. “It is inescapable,” he says, and the delusions we hold about climate change have blinded us to the reality of situation.



Journalist and former adviser in the Obama administration, Bina Venkataraman (The Optimist’s Telescope) learned firsthand why people don’t think ahead—and she knows what can be done to change it. With examples from ancient Pompeii to modern-day Fukushima, she dispels the myth that human nature is reckless and shares insights into how we can shape a better future.


Penguin Random House Author Lunch

Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm


This event featured authors Chris Wilson (THE MASTER PLAN),  Bren Smith (EAT LIKE A FISH), Brandon Hobson (WHERE THE DEAD SIT TALKING), and Carolyn Forché (WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE).


View the video clips below:


At just 18, Chris Wilson (The Master Plan) was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole. But what should have been the end of his story became the beginning. In prison, Chris embarked on a journey of self-improvement: reading, working out, learning languages, even starting a business. He worked his master plan every day for years, and in his mid-thirties he did the impossible. He convinced a judge to reduce his sentence and became a free man. Today Chris is a successful social entrepreneur, a mentor, and a public speaker.



Born and raised in Newfoundland, Bren Smith (Eat Like a Fish) left high school at the age of 14 to work on fishing boats from the Grand Banks to the Bering Sea. Smith interweaves vignettes from his own life—from sailing the high seas aboard commercial fishing trawlers to developing new forms of ocean farming to surfing the frontiers of the food movement—with actionable food policy and practical advice on ocean farming.



Brandon Hobson (Where the Dead Sit Talking) talks about how, as both an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma and a former social worker, he wanted to write a book for the kids who fall through the cracks of our broken system. His novel follows a Cherokee teenager as he is placed into foster care, where he must reckon with his traumatic past and uncertain future.



Carolyn Forché (What You Have Heard Is True) was 27 when a mysterious stranger appeared on her doorstep.  He had driven from El Salvador to invite Forché to visit and learn about his country. He needed a poet, he told her, to make Americans understand what was going on there. She accepted his invitation and became enmeshed in something beyond her comprehension.


Notes from a Young Black Chef
A Memoir
By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had sold drugs in New York and been shipped off to rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars made from selling candy on the subway and starred on Top Chef. Through it all, Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant, even when, as a young chef, he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the food world can be for people of color. In this inspirational memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age; a powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest account of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay
Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable novel is for anyone who's ever felt not good enough--then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.
Age 12 and up
Grade 7 & Up

Salt in My Soul
An Unfinished Life
The diaries of a remarkable young woman who was determined to live a meaningful and happy life despite her struggle with cystic fibrosis and a rare superbug—from age fifteen to her death at the age of twenty-five

Dear Martin
A #1 New York Times bestseller!"Raw and gripping." -Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling coauthor of All American Boys"A must-read!" -Angie Thomas, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U GiveRaw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.
Age 14 and up
Grade 9 & Up

Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do
"A fascinating new book... [Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt is] a genius."--Trevor Noah, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah"Poignant....important and illuminating."--The New York Times Book Review"Groundbreaking."--Bryan Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Just MercyFrom one of the world's leading experts on unconscious racial bias, a personal examination of one of the central controversies and culturally powerful issues of our time, and its influence on contemporary race relations and criminal justice.

The Master Plan
My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose
"The Master Plan is less of a road map and more of a philosophy that we should all take to heart: We are all better than our worst decision, our sense of justice should honor the redemptive possibilities inherent in every person, and our destinies are truly intertwined."--Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore

Eat Like a Fish
My Adventures Farming the Ocean to Fight Climate Change
In the face of apocalyptic climate change, a former fisherman shares a bold and hopeful new vision for saving the planet: farming the ocean. Here Bren Smith—pioneer of regenerative ocean agriculture—introduces the world to a groundbreaking solution to the global climate crisis.

Where the Dead Sit Talking
FINALIST FOR THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION. A spare, lyrical Native American coming of age story set in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s.

What You Have Heard Is True
A Memoir of Witness and Resistance
The powerful story of a young poet who becomes an activist through a trial by fire