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Award-Winning Authors Inspire Community

Tommy Orange and Jarrett J. Krosoczka joined the Convent & Stuart Hall community this November for workshops and talks that coincided with the school's annual Book Fair.

One of the hallmarks of Convent & Stuart Hall’s Great Texts Philosophy and culture of reading is the school’s visiting author series. In a triumphant return to in-person programming, award-winning authors Tommy Orange and Jarrett J. Krosoczka arrived on campus in mid-November for separate daylong visits with students and the adult community.

On November 9, Tommy Orange engaged with the high school student body at a morning assembly, led a small class with students who elected to participate and joined adults and students for an evening talk, reception and book signing. Mr. Orange, winner of the PEN/Hemingway and American Book Award and a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, grew up in Oakland. Referring to what inspired him to base his first novel, There There, on his hometown, Mr. Orange told students that he didn’t see his “urban native experience” reflected in TV, movies or books and wanted to tell that story. “I had a very specific aim in mind about the community that I knew,” he said.

Visiting during Native American Heritage Month, Mr. Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, spoke at length about the rich ancestry and traditions of his cultural roots. Responding to questions at the assembly from a panel that included sophomore Emma Chongo, Mr. Orange spoke about topics ranging from how indigenous people prefer to be described to how to better understand the complex Native American experience. “Doing the work to understand this country's deep racist past is the work that they [students] should be doing for themselves,” he said.

“We felt that Tommy Orange's visit was incredibly expansive and all of us — both students and faculty — appreciated and learned so much from his gracious, accomplished and honest presence,” says Alyson Barrett, the Academic Department Chair for Libraries. “This was the perfect event to draw us back together in person so thoughtfully, and we remain grateful.”

On November 17, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, whose graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, gave two presentations in Syufy Theatre, speaking first to students in Grades 5–8, then followed by Grades 1–4. The talks centered on how he carved out a niche as both an illustrator and writer, as well as his creative process of taking an idea and turning it into a book or series. As a kid, Mr. Krosoczka explained, he loved sketching scenes from the Snoopy and Garfield comic strips. With those characters as inspirations, he started his creative life as an illustrator, eventually becoming a writer when he realized the benefit of creating books all by himself.

Mr. Krosoczka talked about returning to his old elementary school to read his first published book, Good Night, Monkey Boy, and described the process of developing Lunch Lady, his popular graphic novel series inspired by two women who worked in his school’s cafeteria. Then Mr. Krosoczka sat down to draw, his artwork projected on the screen as he took one question after another from students. Topics included how he might adapt his books for TV or film, the importance of close friendships, how to deal with rejection and, of course, his favorite — and least favorite — characters. Mr. Krosoczka’s visit concluded with an evening talk and reception for the greater community.

“It was amazing to see community members of all ages engage with Mr. Krosoczka and his work,” says Elementary Librarian Kathleen Esling. “From sharing why pugs are his favorite animal to discussing why persistence is key to talking about balancing work and parenting during a pandemic, Mr. Krosoczka’s presence on campus was an incredible gift.”

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