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In My Book Club, I Discovered the Power of Talking Back

Q: Your high school has book clubs for students. Why?

It was an idea that our teachers had for our first Winter Opportunity Academy. WOA was a three-week term that gave us a break from our regular classes in the fall. Every student chose a book club to join, as well as two seminar classes. There were so many book clubs — basically every teacher had formed one. They were so excited to share with us a book that they loved reading.

Q: Tell us about the book club you joined.

I had a hard time choosing because there were so many interesting titles. But my first choice was the club reading Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. The book discusses class and education, violence in relationships, race, and feminism — all issues that I wanted to learn more about. I was eager to learn how to talk back about these issues when all my life I’ve heard that talking back is disrespectful.

Q: Tell us how the book pushed your thinking.

I learned about the power of talking back. I don’t mean in the sense of being rude and talking back to a teacher, but the author, a woman who uses the pen name bell hooks, writes that talking back is about finding and using your voice to take charge of your identity and change the status quo. She writes that for too long, women and other oppressed groups have been silenced by fear. In our book club, we discussed her ideas and practiced what it would look like for us to talk back in situations that call for it. Reading this book helped me understand that talking back can be a legitimate form of expression. It’s like art.

Q: How was your book club different from a literature class?

It is sometimes difficult for me to open up in big groups. But I was very comfortable expressing my ideas in book club, perhaps because it was small and more intimate. It was made up of our teachers, Ms. Mignott and Ms. Ashwood, and ten girls. There were no boys. We were all interested in the topics discussed in the book. Every morning, we sat around a table and discussed our personal experiences and connection to the book. It was very stimulating.

Q: What did you learned about yourself and the girls in the club?

I really enjoyed interacting with the other girls. Even though we were from different grades — I was a freshman in a class with eighth graders and sophomores — we all got along well. Each girl was unique and had very interesting ideas. They pushed me to think more critically and see things from different perspectives. That’s why I joined this book club in the first place, because I knew it would challenge me while still letting me express my own ideas.

Note: In the featured image, scholars in Ms. Kim’s book club discuss The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Every scholar at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts joined a book club — they had from over 30 book clubs to choose from — during Winter Opportunity Academy.

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