Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize • “In all of the literature addressing education, race, poverty, and criminal justice, there has been nothing quite like Reading with Patrick.”—The Atlantic
A memoir of the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta
Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.
Convinced she can make a difference in the lives of her teenaged students, Michelle Kuo puts her heart into her work, using quiet reading time and guided writing to foster a sense of self in students left behind by a broken school system. Though Michelle loses some students to truancy and even gun violence, she is inspired by some such as Patrick. Fifteen and in the eighth grade, Patrick begins to thrive under Michelle’s exacting attention. However, after two years of teaching, Michelle feels pressure from her parents and the draw of opportunities outside the Delta and leaves Arkansas to attend law school.
Then, on the eve of her law-school graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been jailed for murder. Feeling that she left the Delta prematurely and determined to fix her mistake, Michelle returns to Helena and resumes Patrick’s education—even as he sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. Every day for the next seven months they pore over classic novels, poems, and works of history. Little by little, Patrick grows into a confident, expressive writer and a dedicated reader galvanized by the works of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, and others. In her time reading with Patrick, Michelle is herself transformed, contending with the legacy of racism and the questions of what constitutes a “good” life and what the privileged owe to those with bleaker prospects.
“A powerful meditation on how one person can affect the life of another . . . One of the great strengths of Reading with Patrick is its portrayal of the risk inherent to teaching.”—The Seattle Times
“[A] tender memoir.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.68(d)|
About the Author
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Copyright © 2017 Michelle Kuo.
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Table of Contents
1 A Raisin in the Sun 3
2 The Free Write 13
3 The Fire Next Time 42
4 The Death of Ivan Ilyich 73
5 Crime and Punishment 115
6 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 134
7 He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven 165
8 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 180
9 I Have Read Everything on This Paper (The Guilty Plea) 209
10 To Paula in Late Spring 231
11 Easter Morning 261
Author's Note 283
A Reader's Guide 297
Reading Group Guide
1. What challenges do rural areas such as the Arkansas andMississippi Deltas face, and how are they different from urbanareas? Why do you think we hear so little about rural education,employment, and crime in the news? Why do they getunderresearched and underreported?
2. Can the classroom protect students from the deprivationoutside of it? Can it further that deprivation? How do Michelle’s experiences confirm or challenge your ideas about the transformative power of the classroom?
3. How is reading alone different from reading together? Considerexperiences you’ve had being read to or instances whereyou’ve read to others.
4. What does poetry do that other texts can’t? Consider the “I Am” poem in school and poetry in the county jail.
5. What changes do you see in Michelle as a teacher? How would you compare her individual lessons with Patrick to hertime as a formal teacher?
6. Patrick is a stranger when Michelle meets him, but overtime she begins to feel an ethical responsibility for his life.Why? Does she owe him anything? Why does she think shedoes, and how does he respond?
7. Michelle and Patrick ask each other their favorite lines fromliterature. Why does this act of sharing open up conversationbetween them? What are some of your favorite lines from thebook? (This can include lines from the poetry and books thatthey read together.)
8. Patrick does not blame his circumstances for his hard life.Michelle clearly does. What do you make of their disagreement? Would you have tried to convince him otherwise?
9. Among other histories, we witness passages on migration,rural organizing of Back-to-Africamovements, and violencein the Arkansas Delta. How do these historical scenes help usto make sense of the memoir’s present-daycircumstances andevents?
10. This book is as much an Asian American story as it is anAfrican American story. How does being Asian American helpexplain Michelle’s choices, including the decision to go to theDelta and the decision to leave?
11. Can two people who have a radical power difference everconnect through a genuine feeling of equality? Michelle questionsthis idea, except for in one instance: when they read together.Why would literature, or any kind of art, open up thatpossibility of experiencing equality with one another? Andwhy would she call that experience “fleeting”?
12. Michelle could have ended on the optimistic note of Part 3,where, after intensive daily work together, Patrick has becomea writer of exquisite sentences and a sophisticated reader. Butshe doesn’t. We are told that life after prison for Patrick—findinga job, feeling at home in the Delta—“was a new battle,excruciating, and, unlike incarceration, with no end date.”Why do you think Michelle includes this information? Does itchange the meaning of their seven months together if Patrickstill struggles after?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After she graduated from Harvard, Michelle Kuo decided to join Teach for America. this sent her to Helena, Arkansas. This part of the country is poor and still feels the effects of slavery. She finds one student, Patrick Browning, who she decides to mentor, in addition to her teaching. She discovers that this broken school has a truancy and gun violence history. Patrick is in the 8th grade at the age of 15, however, he is doing so well under Michelle tutelage. After two years, Michelle decides it is time to go to law school. After this grueling schedule, just as she is about to graduate, she finds that Patrick has been accused of murder. She feel responsible so she goes back to finish Patrick's schooling, while he is in prison. She can see his education is making a difference in this young man's life. What she wasn't expecting was the change it would make inn her life. As an educator, I knew exactly what Michelle was talking about. I often was amazed at how much one-on-one teaching could change the student and myself. I felt she was able to relate this so well, with such a beautiful writing style. Others who read this book could also see that this does not only speak to teachers but each one of us and the impact we can have on others. What an inspiration. I recommend this book highly. I am so glad that I was given this book by NetGalley and Random House in exchange for my honest review.
Michelle Kuo is the child of immigrant Chinese parents. Their expectations for their daughter are huge! Michelle, however, wants to accomplish something meaningful with her life and she’s not sure that fulfillment includes only a posh job with a similar salary and home with a well-known business firm. After graduating from Harvard University, Michelle puts decisions on hold and decides to become a Teach for America volunteer in Helena, Arkansas. This account is just as much about Michelle’s internal life as it is what happens in her new school where abilities are negligible and interest is phenomenally non-existent. Michelle describes the influences in her life that brought her to this moment. What is absent from the noble speeches of African-American leaders is the agonizing difficulty of working in areas where poverty, racism, and hopelessness are rampant. Here, however, is the magic within this nonfiction account. Little by little, Michelle manages to show the students she cares and they begin to change in incremental ways. The changes proceed so slowly one wonders what kind of future these students will have. A year later students who were illiterate are beginning to read simple books and learn. Michelle takes these students into junior high novels and autobiographies that enable students to consider not just on a reading level but also about self-worth and possibilities they couldn’t envision before meeting Michelle Kuo. Funding ends the program, and Michelle goes to law school. Upon graduating, she learns that one of her students, Patrick, has been arrested for murder. The rest of the account is about her taking up a teacher-student relationship with Patrick, teaching him to read, watching him change from a condemned prisoner to a free citizen who pursues hope on his own, all of it due to the patient, caring attention of Michelle. However, Michelle gives the credit for this transformation to the authors who penned the novels and nonfiction books she reads with Patrick. Readers fall in love with these authors anew as they observe how words and sentences casually read are perceived as life-changing revelations to be contemplated and venerated by the Patricks of this world. This is a magnificent story, invaluable because of its poignancy and limitless possibilities evident on almost every page. This story is must reading for pessimists and optimists regarding the future of American youth! Outstanding!