University of Iowa
Return to top

One Community, One Book 2018 -- Michelle Kuo

Sunday, November 4, 2018, 2:00pm to 3:00pm
University of Iowa Main Library , Shambaugh Auditorium
125 West Washington Street, Iowa City, IA 52242

The UI Center for Human Rights proudly presents a reading with Michelle Kuo, author of the One Community, One Book 2018 selection, Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship. Following her reading, join us for a conversation with Michelle Kuo and Nate M., a recently returned citizen to the Iowa City area. They will discuss their firsthand accounts of engaging in humanities programs behind bars.



In READING WITH PATRICK (Random House Trade Paperback) Michelle Kuo’s Taiwanese parents cannot understand why, after graduating from Harvard University, she decides to become a teacher in the Mississippi Delta town of Helena, Arkansas. Kuo—drawn to the Delta because of its role in the Civil Rights Movement—quickly realizes that its legacy is nowhere in sight. In this poor and segregated area, the public school deals with students by sending them to jail, and half its teachers are permanent substitutes. Yet students still manage to flourish. One of these is Patrick, sixteen and in the 8th grade. He is inquisitive, quiet and, with Kuo’s attention, wins a school wide award for “Most Improved.” Kuo promises Patrick that she will stay to see him graduate from high school. But under pressure from her immigrant parents, and feeling that life in this remote, rural town is too hard, she breaks her word and leaves.



Three years later, she learns that Patrick is in prison for murder. Plagued by questions—Had it been stupid to think she could make a difference? Should she have stayed in the Delta longer?—Kuo puts her life on hold and moves back to the Delta to continue his education. In the Phillips County Jail, she and Patrick spend seven months poring over classic novels, poems, and historical narratives by Frederick Douglass, C.S. Lewis, Marilynne Robinson, James Baldwin, W.S. Merwin and more. Patrick becomes a serious reader and exquisite writer, and in doing so, discovers new worlds both inside and outside of himself.



In this powerful memoir that “avoids the education-as-savior cliché,” as James Forman Jr. and Arthur Evenchik write, Kuo is herself transformed as she contends with the questions of what we owe each other, how to live a good life, and how to undo the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that underpin the education and criminal justice systems. She wonders what kind of connection two people can make when there is such dramatic inequality between them. Can we still create spaces where truth and beauty connect us, can words and stories sustain us and do they matter if the inequality remains?



About the Author



MICHELLE KUO taught English at an alternative school in the Arkansas Delta. After teaching, she attended Harvard Law School and worked as a lawyer for undocumented immigrants in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, with a focus on tenants’ and workers’ rights. She teaches courses on race, law, and society at the American University of Paris and has taught at the Prison University Project at San Quentin Prison.



This event is free and open to the public. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation, please email kathrina-litchfield@uiowa.edu.


Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa–sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Kathrina Litchfield in advance at 319-321-4997 or kathrina-litchfield@uiowa.edu.