Novel conversations

Author Nic Stone held six student discussions and a special lunch meeting for her book “Dear Martin” on Tuesday, Sept. 18 as the first meeting of West’s diversity book club.

A recent rise in minority authors has kickstarted a literary movement that tackles issues like racism and police brutality through young adult fiction. Books like “Dear Martin” provide a way to bring students together through understanding each other’s backgrounds.

The 2017-18 climate survey revealed that minority students at West felt unsafe, unwelcome or targeted by both students and teachers. The administration had to step back and use these results to find ways to create a unified community.

Librarian Jill Hofmockel was surprised by the results of the survey and wanted to create an environment where students would feel welcome.

Maddi Shinall
Nic Stone discusses her book “Dear Martin” to students in the library on Sept. 19, 2018.

“Even though maybe we think that we are creating an atmosphere that is supportive of all students, we need to do better in showing students that we care about them and that their representation matters,” said Hofmockel.

She and fellow librarian Beth Belding took action by creating a school-wide diversity book group. Each month, interested students will meet to read and discuss books written by minority authors that focus on central characters from the same background.

This month, students read “Dear Martin.” Students listened to author Nic Stone speak during small group discussions throughout the day Sept. 18. Jo Dixon ‘19 read the book and attended one of the author visits.

“I’ve never really read a book where they hit the facts like this, so blatantly,” said Dixon. “Other books, they’re kind of low key about it but this book is just hitting it head-on and I really like that.”

Author Nic Stone drew on her own childhood experiences and on being a mother to two African American boys for the book. She was also inspired by the story of Jordan Davis, an African American teenager from Jacksonville, Florida who was shot and killed at age 17 because he was playing loud music.

Stone writes books to create characters that other minority readers can connect to and to shine light on the racism and police brutality that is happening in America today. She hopes that the more these topics are written about, the more attention it will get, and hopes that literature will be a way to minimize racial profiling.

As long as my book is in print I hope that it will serve as a shield against evil in highlighting some of the terrible things that have happened to black boys.

— Nic Stone

“Elie Wiesel was a holocaust survivor and he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986,” said Stone. “Something he said in his speech was ‘It is the memory of evil that will serve as a shield against evil,’ so as long as my book is in print I hope that it will serve as a shield against evil in highlighting some of the terrible things that have happened to black boys over the course of the past six years or so.”

Books like “Dear Martin,” “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas and “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds have created a movement that breaks molds of what historically has been whitewashed literature for young adults. Hofmockel chose “Dear Martin” for students to read because of its new take on topics like racism and police brutality.

“She’s written this book that I think just blows stereotypes out of the water and she’s unafraid to talk about how it makes people uncomfortable sometimes,” said Hofmockel. “I think that it’s healthy to use literature to experience something that maybe you wouldn’t experience and to then use that to grow. Anytime you can use literature to broaden your perspective I think is a benefit.”

Anytime you can use literature to broaden your perspective I think is a benefit.

— Jill Hofmockel

The diversity book group named “These Books Are Lit” will meet once a month. The first few meetings will be organized by the librarians, but after that will be run by any students that want to attend. All books will have diverse characters from minority backgrounds. Meetings will try to build understanding between students of all backgrounds and start a discussion about current events.

“People are going through these things everyday and we really need to sit down and think about what they really have to deal with on a daily basis and figure out a way to change,” said Dixon.

The diversity book group will read “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas next month.