In this episode, we sit down with the executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council, Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup. The Vermont Humanities Council runs Vermont Reads (not to be confused with Vermont *ed* Reads), in which they choose a book for our whole state to read, ponder and talk about. This year, that book is Angie Thomas’ powerful The Hate U Give.
and that is the book Christopher and I mull over on this episode of the show. What can this popular YA novel about police violence against Black bodies teach a largely white state?
I’m Jeanie Phillips, and this is #vted Reads: books by, for, and with Vermont educators. Let’s chat.
Jeanie: Thanks for joining me Christopher.
Christopher: Thank you so much for having me Jeanie. It’s really great to be here.
Jeanie: Do you want to tell us before you read a little excerpt, a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Christopher: Sure. I’m the Executive Director of Vermont Humanities. We’re the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and we’ve been around since 1974. And our mission is to really make sure that all Vermonters have the opportunity to read and learn throughout life. We do a lot of different programs, but one of the programs that many Vermonters are very, very fond of is Vermont Reads, where we pick one novel each year and work with that novel in communities throughout the state for the entire year.
Jeanie: Excellent! I love Vermont Reads and I’ve been reading your selections for many years and I’m so excited to have you on the show. You indicated that you’d love to start with a little bit of a reading from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. So I’m just going to turn it over to you.
Christopher: Yeah. So this is an interesting book for these times because it addresses police brutality against African-Americans. And so I’m going to start with a short excerpt from the book. It starts with the main character, Starr, who’s a 17-year-old girl, talking to members of her family the day after she has witnessed the shooting of one of her childhood friends by a policeman.
“I borrowed your hoody, Seven,” I mumble. It’s random, but it’s better than nothing. “The blue one. Momma had to throw it away. Khalil’s blood…” I swallow. “His blood got on it.”
That’s all anybody says for a minute.
Mama turns around to the skillet. “Don’t make any sense. That baby–” she says thickly. “He was just a baby.”
Daddy shakes his head. “That boy never heard anybody. He didn’t deserve that shit.”
“Why did they shoot him?” Seven asks. “Was he a threat or something?”
“No,” I say quietly
I stare at the table, I can feel all of them watching me again.
“He didn’t do anything,” I say. “We didn’t do anything. Khalil didn’t even have a gun.”
Daddy releases a slow breath. “Folks around here gon’ lose their minds when they find that out.”
“People from the neighborhood are already talking about it on Twitter,” Seven says. “I saw it last night.”
“Did they mention your sister?” Momma asks.
“No. Just RIP Khalil messages, fuck the police, stuff like that. I don’t think they know details.”
“What’s going to happen to me when the details do come out?” I ask.
“What do you mean, baby?” my mom asks.
“Besides the cop, I’m the only person who was there. And you’ve seen stuff like this. It ends up on national news. People get death threats, cops target them, all kinds of stuff.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Daddy says. “None of us will.” He looks at Momma and Seven. “We’re not telling anybody that Starr was there.”
Jeanie: That’s really powerful. Oof, there’s a lot going on there and I wonder if we might use it as a segue to ask: why did the Vermont Humanities Council choose The Hate U Give for Vermont Reads?
Christopher: It’s a tough book and it’s very relevant at this moment, of course. We really chose it because last year our Vermont Reads Book was March by John Lewis. That book is also a really powerful book with a fair amount of violence in it. You know, it’s the story of John Lewis growing up and joining the nonviolent civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it goes through a number of different events in the congressman’s life.
It goes through crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the beatings that happened there. It goes through the lunch counter sit-ins and the violence that happened there. And it goes through a lot of the jail time that John Lewis and his fellow organizers went through. But one of the things that we thought about as we worked with that book was that for many people it feels like far away history, even though it was only about 60 years ago. For many people — especially young people — that feels like it was very, very long ago.
And we felt like it was important to recognize that the civil rights movement that John Lewis started is not over.
You know, as we watched the congressman in his final weeks visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington D.C., that was very much the message that he wanted to give to young people today. This movement is not in the past, this movement is now. And that’s really why we felt like it was important to continue the conversation with a book that really dives deep into some of the work that the Black Lives Matter movement is doing today.
Jeanie: I love March and John Lewis is a hero of mine. I watched Barack Obama’s eulogy (video) and was really touched by him saying, “Be more like John Lewis.”
John Lewis, I know, centered love in his work, and thought of his activism as an act of love, and the civil rights movement as something that embodied love. That justice is a form of love.
And so I carry that, and Barack Obama’s words about John Lewis, in my heart. And I think a lot about how could I be more like John.
So I’m so grateful that you bring him into this conversation, and bring this book into continuity with last year’s Vermont Reads book. And with his life really.
I’m also wondering: you say that John Lewis says that the civil rights movement isn’t just ancient history, it isn’t just in the past, but it’s also something that I think a lot of folks associate with the South. And here we are in Vermont. I think that bringing this book here is also a way of asking us to deal with our own racism here, when we think of ourselves as not a very racist state.
Christopher: Yeah. You know, I think that’s very clear. We see that especially in the last six months or so. That there have been so many really intense examples of the work that we need to do in this state. That we continue to see threats made against Black organizers. We continue to see Black organizers actually leave their communities because they and their family don’t feel safe. In a way that’s actually part of the story in The Hate U Give.
There’s a big, there’s a big debate that runs throughout the book between Starr’s parents, about whether they should stay in the community that they live in. Whether or not it’s safe for their children. And I think that’s very much true for folks of color, for organizers all over the place. It’s not something that disappears when you cross the border into Vermont. We like to think that we have a very safe state but that is that is not many people’s experiences.
Jeanie: Right. And the statistics also don’t bear out that we’re a non-racist state. Right? Because people of color are way more likely to be stopped by police officers, right? As just one statistic. Or people of color who live in Vermont are way more likely to be incarcerated, right? And so our statistics show racism in action.
Christopher: You know too, just one statistic that came up yesterday again is that Vermont incarcerates Black men at the highest rate in the nation. We are number one and there’s some very systemic problems there.
Jeanie: This is our issue too, right? When you talked a little bit about the debate within Starr’s family, about whether to leave, I had marked a piece of the text on page 52. Starr’s father, Maverick, is really loyal to his neighborhood; the neighborhood is really important to him. He runs a business in the neighborhood. Starr’s mother, on the other hand, his wife, is really interested in moving out to the suburbs, to a place where she feels like her kids will be safer and where her brother Carlos lives. And Uncle Carlos is also a police officer.
So I’m just going to read a section of this because I think it’s really relevant to what we’re talking about here in Vermont as well:
So there’s something about this for me that’s like how timeless this book is even though it was it came out of a very specific time because of how little movement or progress we’ve made in this area and then also a way in which it brings it home for us, even if we think we don’t live in a place that has this kind of incidents happen.
Christopher: You know, I think it’s true we keep seeing this story over and over and over again. In this fictional treatment, we see these dynamics happening that you just see in community after community all across the country. And you see them here in Vermont as well.
But I also want to turn it a little bit and say there’s some really crazy stuff that happens in this book. There is some really deep systemic racism; there’s some really deep pain. They’re telling a deep story, they’re in pain — but there’s also a lot of joy in this book. And each time I read it, that comes out to me more and more. That there is a community in Garden Heights that is really looking out for each other.
Garden Heights is the name of the neighborhood that the fictional neighborhood that Starr in her family live in. And they know everyone: they know all the neighbors, all of the parents’ generation are taking care of everybody’s kids, the grandparent’s generation knows everything that’s happening in the community. They talk a lot about being outside in the streets, talking with one another.
The scenes where they are gathering, or in a celebratory space, are really wonderful examples of community culture. That I think is just beautiful. And it’s also really relatable in many ways. When we think about our own neighborhoods here in Vermont, there’s some really crappy racist stuff that happens here; we have deeply embedded systemic racism. But we also care about each other and these communities as well.
We also have some of the same issues that exist in Garden Heights, so that’s another thing that that came up for me. Particularly thinking about how much they struggle with systemic racism and economics. How much they struggle with systemic racism and the drug culture and the gang culture. Like, that is not stuff that only exists in an inner city neighborhood, right? The opioid epidemic. And as prevalent in Barre or Montpelier or Winooski or Brattleboro or Rutland as it is in the fictitious Garden Heights — or anywhere else in the United States. There’s an important message there too, right? That this is not a community that’s at a distance. We can relate to this. These are things that happen in our communities as well.
Jeanie: I think what I’m hearing from you is that Angie Thomas takes this real strengths-based approach, this real asset-based approach, as she’s writing this family, this community, and this story.
So even though this terrible, awful thing has happened to Khalil, and Starr’s a witness to it and it really rips apart the community, there’s also this sense of Angie seeing all of their gifts and their love for each other. The place that that struck me most acutely is the really beautiful relationship between Maverick and Lisa. Between Starr’s parents. The way that they’re able to hold the tension of this challenging moment and still love each other, and love their three children.
And I think that’s really important. I think that a lot of books about race have been about conflict, or about pain. So Angie Thomas’ book is about that, but it’s also about strength and about wholeness.
Christopher: Yeah. There’s so much beauty in that, and also a lot of humor, you know? I think one of the things about Maverick and Lisa’s relationship is that they do have a lot of conflict about this tension between the suburbs and the neighborhood, but they do hold each other very much in a loving space. They have that argument and they embarrass the crap out of their kids all the time with the way that they love each other, and how public they are about the love that they have for each other.
That is, I expect, so relatable to anybody who is a teenager watching their parents interact with each other. Or anybody who’s a parent trying to push the buttons on their kids to make them react. There’s a lot of humor in that and it’s so strength-based. It’s all about assets. And there are so many assets in the community that Angie Thomas has written.
Jeanie: It’s redemptive, right? Because Maverick hasn’t lived an ideal or perfect life. He spent time in jail and he’s come out the other side of it as a business owner, as a family man, as a pillar of the community, really. And there’s something about that redemption that feels really hopeful to me.
Christopher: Yeah, and his relationship with Uncle Carlos, Lisa’s brother, who raised Mav’s kids during the time he was in jail is a really interesting and complex relationship. Because Uncle Carlos is a cop. He’s serving in the same precinct as the cop who murdered Khalil. So there’s a really interesting tension between the two characters and their approach to community-building. Mav has this kind of incredible sense of organizing in the community, and Carlos comes at it from a more traditional policing perspective, but they’re often coming at each other in ways where they have to look beyond the stereotypes of cops or gangbangers. I find that an interesting piece of this book as well.
Jeanie: The part of the story where we get this contrast between Uncle Carlos and Maverick reminded me of the Jason Reynolds book called All-American Boys. Have you read that one? It’s a white perspective and a Black perspective; two perspectives on an act of police violence. I think what Angie Thomas is really getting at is the plurality of ways that we can think about these issues.
You know, the book starts with this big arc, if you will: an act of racism where a police officer acts with excessive force and ends up killing a young Black man. But there are also the smaller acts of racism that happen at the private school that Starr attends. I’m particularly thinking about her interactions with Haley and Maya. I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that sort of quieter kind of racism that that gets spotlighted in this book.
Christopher: Yeah you know could I read another short passage from the book actually that gets right at that.
It starts on page 71. In the on-going battle between Lisa and Mav, one of the compromises that was made is that the three kids are sent to a private school in the suburbs, close to where Uncle Carlos lives. It’s called Williamson High School. Connie and Seven and Starr are all students there, and it’s an almost entirely white school. Starr has two girlfriends: Haley and Maya. Haley is very, very white. Maya is from a Chinese-American immigrant family, but this little passage is as Starr is getting out of the car to go to walk into the school in the morning. She says:
Jeanie: Yeah. That passage really highlights for me what it must feel like and be like to code-switch as a regular part of your school day.
Christopher: A lot of people might not know what code-switching is. Code-switching is what Starr is talking about in that passage where you really have to become another personality in certain situations.
I first learned about code-switching not in the context of racism, but in the context of Queerness. And feeling like you behave in one way in a certain group of people, and you behave in a different way among another group of people. And although I know that code-switching as a concept originated in communities of color, it does apply to other kinds of difference. Where you really have to hide in many ways.
And what Starr is doing is, is pretty classic.
She doesn’t tell people what her life is like in her neighborhood. Not because she’s not proud of her community; I think she is proud of her community. But to have to compete with some of the other private school kids.
One of the things she talks about is they’re all saying where they’re going on their Christmas vacation. They’re going to the Bahamas, to the family home in the Bahamas, or they’re going to Taipei to visit their grandparents. Starr doesn’t have any of that and she can’t compete with those kids. It’s hard for her, as a teenager, to figure out that she can hold on to other things. It’s a complex piece of her story.
Jeanie: I think about Starr and other folks who have to code-switch in order to fit in to dominant culture dominant narratives, right? How much work that is. And how little credit it’s given, right? To read a situation and know which version of yourself to have ready. And then all the work! All the sophistication. The sort of literacy that it is to be able to do that.
To know how to speak to your community is both a strength and a tremendous burden, right? It’s a lot to ask a 16-year-old kid to do.
Christopher: And they’re doing it all the time, right? They’re learning it from a very young age.
I can say that from my own perspective, as a young person you learn very quickly what’s safe and what’s not safe in any given situation.
We recently did a training for librarians who were going to be working with this book and that’s one of the things the trainer talked about. Right away, to a room full of largely white librarians, she told a story about how as a Latino woman she spends much of the time scanning the horizon for “shit that’s about to go down”, I think is the term that she used.
And I think that’s true for anybody from a marginalized population. Constantly aware of your surroundings and what might be dangerous.
That’s very much what Starr is experiencing at Williamson.
Jeanie: I read this book in 2016, as a librarian. I was at a library conference and I got an advanced reader’s copy. And I saw the poster then (which is different than the poster now) and knew I needed a copy of this book. I read it right away.
What I remember in 2016, is that I had a 16-year-old son at home.
Same age as Starr, right.
And in this book, in chapter two, when they first get pulled over, Khalil and Starr, Starr immediately starts remembering the talk she had with her parents. One talk was about the birds and the bees. And then the other one she says, the other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.
Starr continues throughout this or deal with the police officer to keep remembering her father’s words.
And I remember reading this you know it’s on page 21, it’s the beginning of the book and realizing I had never once had a conversation with my son about what to do if you’re stopped by a police officer, never. And feeling both the privilege of that and the shock of that and the pain of what it must be like to have to have that conversation early and often. And so thinking about thinking about what you just said about how people of color have to navigate spaces and the difference when you are when you occupy an identity that is in that represents the dominant culture.
I guess I’m just still sitting with that. Remembering how much that hit me at that time.
Christopher: Another resource for folks would be Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me. It’s letter that Coates writes his son, which is that talk that Black parents have with their children. Those three lines:
- Keep your hands visible
- No sudden moves
- Only speak when spoken to.
They repeat this over and over and over again through the book.
I think that’s a piece of this that white folks do have a really hard time understanding. That the relationship we might have with the police in our community is very different from the relationship that other people might have to the police in their community.
I live in Montpelier, and in our schools there’s a big debate happening right now about the school resource officer, who is a cop, who is assigned to the school district and spends time in the schools. The officer wears a gun in the building. And there are a lot of parents who have expressed concern about having an armed police officer in the building. A lot of them are concerned because of the association of school resource officers with systemic racism and the potential for police violence, particularly against young men of color.
And we’re a very white community. There are lots of other parents who just cannot get that. Who just are not able to get that understanding of: keep your hands visible, no sudden moves, only speak when spoken to. That the relationship that we have to the police is not the same as other people’s relationship to the police. And that it’s traumatizing for some children because there’s generational trauma associated with that relationship.
With all due respect, many Vermont cops are wonderful, wonderful people. They’re not engaging in violence against young men of color or young people of color, but that does not change the fact that the generational trauma that is associated with police is still there. And it’s borne out by our statistics, that we put young men of color in jail at a higher rate than any other state.
Jeanie: I think that’s one of the reasons why this book and books by people of color are so important for students in mostly white schools to read.
I’m thinking about Rudine Sims Bishop, who in the 1990s, wrote a piece about windows, mirrors, and sliding doors (.pdf). And there’s a great graphic I’ve mentioned before, where if you are a white young person growing up in this culture because of the way you are represented in books and the media, it’s like you’re surrounded by mirrors.
Everything’s mirroring back your own experience, which makes it seem like your experience is the only one.
If you’re a person of color, your mirrors get smaller and smaller to the point where if you’re Native American, the way you see yourself in media and culture is like the size of a compact, right? Teeny tiny.
And that’s harmful for people of color who don’t see themselves represented, but it’s also harmful because of the way that white folks are overrepresented in their own experience of media and books. Right? That they think that there’s only one way to experience the world.
For me, we can’t — in schools — read enough books by and about people of color, written by own voices. Stories of people of color and other marginalized voices.
Because we are so inundated, and we’ve been so inundated with our own stories, that we need to welcome in other version, so we have a more pluralistic and understanding view of the world.
Christopher: You know, that essay has come up over and over again for me in the last couple of weeks, so I’m glad you put it in the resources for folks. Listeners, you all should read it. It’s quite illuminating.
I mean, it’s arguably harmful, right, that we’re two white people talking about this book together. Right? We have biases and perspectives and misunderstandings that are pretty much ensuring that there are pieces of this work we don’t get. That we don’t understand. And we at Vermont Humanities have heard that critique, you know?
Why are you, as a historically white organization doing work with this book?
And it’s a painful critique to hear. That you can’t just read a book and get it, right? Because we’re smart people; a lot of us are English majors, we read a lot. You know about new criticisms, I went to Kenyon College. The reality is that there are places where I’m going to mess up often and I have to be very, very careful about that.
And so one of the things that we’ve decided to do which we haven’t typically done in the past in Vermont Reads is offer facilitated assistance to every community that wants to work with this book. To help them address some of the pitfalls some of the places where we could fall down, where we could make mistakes. Among the biggest of them of course, is that as white folks, we could assume that all young people are having the same experiences.
For many young people of color in Vermont, their lives here are radically different from the experience that Starr has in this book.
This is a novel, it’s fiction, it’s not based on somebody’s actual experience, although it draws a lot of elements of truth out of history and out of the current, current day. We have to be careful as teachers, as librarians, as organizers around this, to make sure that we’re recognizing the complete humanity of the people that are in the room with us when we’re having these conversations — and not make assumptions about what people’s experiences may or may not be.
And I hope that we’ll do a good job but I’m also sure that we’re screwing it up every day.
Jeanie: And the only thing worse than screwing it up would be not trying it all, right?
I can’t let the errors I’m going to make in my own whiteness stand in the way of me reading and talking about books by people of color, right? And I can’t expect people of color to do that work. So I totally hear you and couldn’t agree more.
Five years from now we’ll listen back to some of the conversations I have about reading, about books and be mortified, right? At how little I knew. Because I’m always driving to learn more and I won’t learn more if I don’t try, right? If I don’t lean in.
I really appreciate that you just said that and holding the tension of both of those truths. For me, fiction in particular gets that deep truth. Like, I learned so much about what I don’t know, the lived experience of others through fiction. Not because it’s factual but because it hits on what it must be like to have daily experiences of micro aggression in a way that I can’t walking around in my white skin.
Christopher: You know, I go back to another one of my favorite books, The Color Purple by Alice Walker. As a young person, this really meant a tremendous amount to me, right? Because there was a mirror there of a clear experience in a serious relationship with Shug, but it was also a book that got really, really challenged particularly when it was made into the movie by a white guy, by Steven Spielberg.
It was a book that was showing too much that white people wouldn’t understand. That there was too much violence in it. Particularly violence against women by Black men. And it was a book that was dangerous for white people to read. Yet, you know, looking back, I’ve probably read it 10 or 15 times now over the last 30 years, since it came out in the early 1980s. I guess almost 40 years ago now.
And I think about this book, The Hate U Give, and I think there’s some parallel qualities.
What does it mean to have that internal view of the community’s dynamics?
There is tremendous strength in the character of Seeley, in The Color Purple, for example, in her relationship with Shug. The women in that book particularly the women but some also some of the men, show tremendous strength. That is also exists in this book The Hate U Give: tremendous strength in community. I think we want to really hold onto that. What are the assets that this community has? What are the things that they are doing to support each other, to love each other, to hold each other up, even in the face of this tremendous violence? That’s really important.
Can I read another little piece?
So this is where we started at the beginning of the conversation: Mav and Lisa had said to Starr nobody’s going to know, you’re not going to tell anybody, nobody needs to know. And they felt like that was that was their way of helping Starr to cope with this tremendous violence that has been visited upon her. That was their way to protect her and to protect the family from the consequences of being the witness.
But by the middle of the book they’ve all kind of changed their minds.
Starr has decided to testify in front of the grand jury about what happened in hopes of getting justice for her friend. I’m not going to read that piece, but I’m going to read the first time she goes to the police station to talk with the detectives about what happened.
It’s the beginning of chapter 6 page 93:
I’ll stop there.
Jeanie: That feels like a really important passage, do you want to say more about why you selected it?
Christopher: Again it goes back to this notion that I don’t get it. I don’t have the same relationship to the police that many of my friends and colleagues do. That I can walk into the police station and think that it’s a place where I can go to get help.
What Starr does when she walks into the police station is she sees all the guns that might kill her or her mother or her father. It’s a base experience that is entirely different for some people versus other people. And that’s so important as readers and as change-makers that we’re able to understand that experience.
Jeanie: That brings me back to when you were talking about the school resource officer and different perspectives on that, right? And thinking there are probably kids walking into schools even in Vermont for whom a gun on a school resource officer triggers trauma, right? Or brings up something that makes them feel uncomfortable, or makes them feel unsafe in some way. Maybe not because of an experience with a cop, but maybe because of an experience with a gun, right?
Maybe because of something that’s happened at home or in their communities. And this assumption that because it’s a cop everything’s okay, doesn’t apply. It doesn’t make it okay for all people who walk in. It doesn’t change the biology of what happens for them when they see that gun.
So I’m loving this conversation! I could talk about Starr and her family for the rest of the day, but I want to hear more about what’s happening around this book with Vermont Reads. You talked a little bit about offering facilitation, but how are you supporting communities as they talk about this book? What are some of the events that are happening?
Christopher: Well, some of the traditional ways that Vermont Reads works is that we pick a book, and we create a resource page around the book. We think about several different things when we’re picking the book:
- We think is this a book that can be widely read from middle school on up;
- Whether or not the book will lend itself to collaborative projects;
- Is it at a literacy level that a lot of people will be able to read it?
The Vermont Reads project is not meant to be a book group where you read the book and you talk about it. It’s meant to be project-based, where you read the book and you talk about it and then you do something.
We don’t want to choose a book that is already being widely read or widely taught. So for example, I was recently reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, thinking well that would be a really great book. It just so happened that that book came out just as I was graduating from college. So as I checked it out with several of my colleagues, I said, “Well that’s great, but now every eighth-grader in America reads that book.”
And I didn’t know that because it came out after I had already had my educational experience. So we wouldn’t choose a book like that that’s already being widely taught.
We picked this book because it really does lend itself as the follow on to March, but also because there’s so many opportunities in it for communities to do something later. We know, for example, that many communities that are doing work with this book are also engaging with the social justice action committee at their church, or the youth anti-racism organization at their school, or a Black Lives Matter chapter in their community.
That there are opportunities for people to read the book, learn from the book, and then take some sort of action.
We also are super aware that we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now.
And the pandemic really shut down Vermont Reads for quite a number of months, because we are pretty old fashioned and we rely on paper books. So we bought 4000 copies of The Hate U Give and for four and a half months, we couldn’t ship them anywhere because it wasn’t safe. It wasn’t considered safe to ship the boxes out.
So we’re just now starting to see projects happening. And there’s been tremendous demand (which is awesome) and actually a bit of a shift from when we started with the book at the beginning of the year. It was a bit of a slow start and some librarians actually said I’m not sure if this book is really going to work out for us, but then of course history cut up with white people and we had several more horrifically violent situations happen and suddenly The Hate U Give is pretty popular among white folks because they really want to learn.
So it’s our responsibility now, as it picks up, to make sure that we are being responsible with this book.
I mentioned earlier we’re providing trained facilitators who can help you with complicated conversations in your community. And we’re making a lot more suggestions about what kinds of things you might consider doing to follow up with this. I’m excited to see what people come up with and what kinds of things happen ,I’m also you know excited to think about what other books people might read, might they read between the world and me. Might they read White Fragility and some other books that then inspire people to take the next step in their journey?
I hope so but we’ve got a lot a long ways to go, right certainly for us and for my humanities this is not something that is one and done will be at this for a long time certainly for the rest of time that I am around, but I hope long after that and specifically on The Hate U Give we decided to extend it another six months because we did lose that chunk of time because of the pandemic and so we’ll be working encouraging communities new projects with this book all the way through June 30th of next year before we start the next book.
Jeanie: What do you hope schools will do with this book? What are your hopes for how it’ll don’t know spark change or conversation in public schools?
Christopher: Yeah you know I think there’s a few things that I would say, I hope that they’ll use it and indeed if they’re going to use our books they’re required to use it beyond the curriculum, right it’s not just a book where they could say, hey send me 25 copies and the ninth grade honors English class is going to read it. They’ve actually got to involve another community organization and I hope that it will spark a partnership with that community organization whether it’s a social justice group by the local church or a youth organized activism group in their school that will carry on and they’ll continue to build that partnership you’re over a year. I hope it will also encourage them to really get more get more involved in understanding what communities in Vermont are struggling with around these issues, I mentioned you know early on that the problems that Starr is experiencing in her neighborhood are not limited to communities like Starr’s, right.
That a big part of Khalil’s story is that his mom was an addict and that is a story that is relevant to thousands of Vermont children and if we can learn some empathy around that and some do some change making around that here at home, I think that would be a great outcome and of course you know one of our challenges here is to make sure that people understand that Khalil’s moms experience as an addict is not because she was black, it’s because of the racism that impacted her whole life and those kinds of forces that economic injustice that systemic economic injustice exists in a lot of places.
Jeanie: Absolutely, especially with as you mentioned the pandemic has changed your program and cause you to extend it, but the pandemic is also wreaking havoc on the economic lives of Vermonters, right. That we know that there’s a lot more food insecurity and income insecurity right now because of COVID-19 and that to me feels like another thread work some of our students conceive themselves in this book the struggles in this book.
Christopher: Lights or food, lights or food that’s a theme that comes up a lot and that’s the thing that very much at play in Vermont right now.
Jeanie: Yeah, well I have great hopes for how this is going to play out with the schools I work with and I’m really excited that more and more kids are going to get read the book and you were kind enough to drop off a beautiful copy to me I’m going to put a picture on the site in case you haven’t seen it, the Vermont Reads edition of The Hate U Give which is a lovely copy, thank you for that.
Christopher: You’re welcome.
Jeanie: I wanted to make sure that you had a chance to talk a little bit about Jason Broughten and the conversation he’s going to be having around this book.
Christopher: Yeah, so you know as you know Jason Broughten is our state librarian and I love that he always introduces himself that way. I’m Jason Broughten your state librarian and he is going to be having a conversation with our dear friend and colleague Dr. Laura Jiminez, she is a professor from middle grade novels young adult novels, studies the use of a young adult literature and anti-racism work specifically done research around The Hate U Give as well as a lot of other books. She has a great blog that will get you the link for the resource page. And they’re going to be having a conversation with school and public librarians on October 1st and we will be linking to the recording of that conversation after the fact and we’ll make sure that you get it for your resource page, it’s been exciting to partner with Jason over the last year and a half because for my humanities and that live really share strong interest in anti-racist organizing and using books and literature in anti-racist organizing. So it’s nice to have that partnership with him.
Jeanie: That’s really exciting I look forward to that and Jason has actually agreed to be on the podcast and to choose the book for us to have a conversation about, so I’m really excited about that as well.
Christopher: You know what book he’s going to read.
Jeanie: No he is holding me in suspense as of now, so I’m going to reach back out say have you, he said he had several in mind, so we’ll see when it comes up with. And I’ll be curious to know if it’s a young adult book because we do a lot of work around young adult or middle grades books. But we also talk about adult books that maybe help with professional development of teachers or give us a different lens on teaching.
Christopher: Can I actually maybe put in a plug for nominations for Vermont Reads.
Christopher: So we are always looking for suggestions of excellent Vermont Reach choices and there is a nomination form on the Vermont Reach section of our website where you can put in your suggestion why you think it would be a great Vermont Reads book. I can tell you now that we will be starting the next book in July of 2021. We’re very interested particularly in books that might address issues of climate change and from my perspective I think it would be very interesting to have books that talk about climate change through a perspective of racial justice and what is climate change going to. How is climate change going to impact different communities around the globe over time? So if anybody has great ideas around that theme we would love to hear them, but other ideas are also always welcome around any theme. I’m looking at a book right now in my office that I have been loving, it’s called We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Hoekstra and it’s about two boys in love with Walt Whitman and with each other. And that is an amazing book, so maybe that will make of Vermont Reach appearance at some point, but please go on the website and nominate your favorities so that we can consider them.
Jeanie: Oh Christopher be careful what you wish for. Do I have to put my name on all my nominations?
Christopher: You can do whatever you want, you can put whatever name you want.
Jeanie: Because I already have one that hits your boxes, are you ready.
Christopher: Awesome. Yeah.
Jeanie: Are you ready. One of my favorite books of all time is a young adult book written by a First Nations author from Canada, Cherie Dimaline and it’s called The Marrow Thieves. And it’s a dystopic piece of fiction that is utterly gorgeous and it’s about some folks, young folks and older folks surviving in a post climate change world.
Christopher: This is crazy but we were sitting around eating lunch outside on our front lawn of Vermont humanities the other day with a couple of our new staff members and we went around the circle and I said what are you reading, and one of our folks said I’m reading this amazing book called The Marrow Thieves. I never heard it before.
Jeanie: It’s the best, it’s amazing, I feel like I need to loan you my copy because you know because you brought me The Hate U Give, usually at the beginning of the show, I ask people what’s what they’re reading, what’s on their bedside table and I feel like you’ve just given me we contain multitudes to add to my list. Is there any other book you’re reading a book you’ve recently read that you want to share with us?
Christopher: Well we contain multitudes definitely also a Canadian writer, although the book takes place in Minneapolis, which is a lot of fun because it also brings in Prince, which is quite…
Jeanie: I love Prince.
Christopher: Quite wonderful, so I would suggest that I am also wrapping up now MT Anderson’s amazing epic The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, which I have not read before. A lesser known work of his that I think everybody should read is Symphony for the City of the Dead.
Jeanie: I loved that book. He actually came to my library to talk to students about that book that’s a phenomenal book.
Christopher: Awesome, well I’m hoping I’m fingers crossed that I can talk from my youth orchestra into doing a partnership with us around that book at some point. Although the rest of my team tells me it’s too complicated and too depressing to talk about the Russian Revolution, but I think it’s a great book and too depressing that’s totally relative. There’s a lot of joy and Shostakovich as well is the hard stuff. And that you know on the more grown up side I’m reading a book about Adam and Eve by the fellow who wrote Swerve Stephen Green Block historian which has been really interesting especially as it feeds into the Adam and Eve narrative in the astonishing life of Octavia Nothing, that’s been cool. One final suggestion, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. A very popular TV show on HBO right now and the TV show is terrific, but the book is even better.
Jeanie: Nice. So I think your dog is telling us it’s time to wrap up, but…
Jeanie: I just want to thank you I’ve lived in Vermont now for 20 years, I’ve been aware of Vermont Reads for a number of years and one of the things I’m most grateful for about Vermont Reads is that you get folks reading YA. That you bring books that are meant for young adults or middle grades and get a large cross section of people to read them. And I think we live in a world where it’s easy to think that young adult or middle grades books or just for young people but they’re not. And I’m just so grateful when adults read books from young people’s perspective and when they realize how great YA is. So thank you. From on the bottom of my librarian heart for getting more people to read books like The Hate U Give and March.
Christopher: Yeah, we love YA and we love it for everybody. It’s really, it’s really a great opportunity for folks to learn about things they, they never thought they would learn about. And The Hate U Give is a great example.
Jeanie: Well I cannot wait, I’m going to be looking for projects that emerge from the way communities are using this book to spark conversations and make change. So I’m looking forward to those examples and I’ll make sure that pack the transcript with links to a lot of the things you mentioned and to your website. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to come on and talk about The Hate U Give and about Vermont Reads.
Christopher: Thank you so much for having us, we’ll come back any time.