SWIC Library joins with the campus community in celebrating diversity!
Bea's Book club is DEI intentional. Book selections and supplemental materials celebrate, recognize and inform readers about the culture, traditions, histories and contributions of historically marginalized communities. Challenge yourself and others to read books that inspire, educate and increase empathy and cultural awareness.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, you need to know better to do better.
Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present. Ninety brilliant writers, eighty of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span with ten lyrical interludes from poets. This is a history that illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future, written by the most vital and essential voices of our present. more info… Published 2021.
Washington Post's Best Nonfiction of 2021, Amazon's Best Books of 2021, Apple's Best Books of 2021, 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards nominee, 2022 Audie Awards Finalist, 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal Finalist, #1 New York Times Bestseller.
SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.
A CONVERSATION WITH
Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
Blain: In 2015, there was a campus protest at the University of Missouri. At that time, I was editing the blog Black Perspectives, and I wanted to bring in a scholar to contextualize protest in the long history of Black student activism. So I reached out to Ibram. Before long, we were co-editing Black Perspectives and collaborating on op-eds.
Kendi: Yes, and in 2018, the idea for “Four Hundred Souls” came. I wanted to commemorate the symbolic birthday of Black Americans and what later came to be known as the United States. But I didn’t think that writing another single-authored history book would be celebratory or innovative enough. And I realized: “What if we brought together 80 different writers to write five years of African-American history each? What if we brought together 10 poets who could write poetry based on 40 years of African-American history each? What if this community of 90 writers would end up writing the history of a community?” When that idea came to me, I knew the project was going to be massive, and that there was only one person who could help me pull it off: Keisha Blain.
Q. Once you teamed up, how did you go about selecting the writers who contributed? What challenges did the team face?
Blain: We drafted a long list of gifted writers who we thought could evoke the complexities of Black history from different disciplinary perspectives. We knew their work, and through specific, detailed prompts, we were able to ask them to write about topics that would reveal their style and expertise.
Kendi: And assembling the group wasn’t easy. These 90 writers are all extremely busy, and most have written entire books on the topics we asked them to address — the trans-Atlantic slave trade, intersectional feminism, queer sexuality, voter suppression, Black immigration, policing and incarceration, and much more. Almost every stage in our editing process was daunting. But we always saw the light. We knew how beautiful this book could be, and that’s what we focused on as we worked.
Q. Professor Kendi, in your introduction, you write about solidarity and antiracist praxis. As I read, I found myself reflecting on this in relation to fluctuating white interest in Black life. For instance: Last summer, during the global Black Lives Matter protests, Pew polls showed that support for BLM among white Americans was at around 67 percent. But come September, it dropped to about 45 percent. With numbers like this, as well as with what we’ve seen recently with COVID-19 statistics and the deadly coup attempt on Jan. 6, why do you think white interest in Black life has waned in recent months?
Kendi: Last summer, some of the most powerful figures in this country, including President Trump and many others, misled white people into believing that the big problems were not police violence and systemic racism, but rather activist violence and BLM. This was not based in fact. One study found that between late May and late August, there were close to 8,000 demonstrations, 93 percent of which were peaceful. But by the end of June, many white Americans had been tricked into believing that the majority of these demonstrations were violent, and that these BLM activists were not seeking redress from racism and police violence, but instead trying to destroy the country.
And so it didn’t surprise me that after the election, yet again, a number of white Americans were mass-manipulated into believing that the election had been stolen — to the point where their support for democracy itself waned, ultimately causing a group of mostly white folks to storm the Capitol. It all highlights how Americans broadly considered have been systematically misinformed about their reality and certainly about their history. And so “Four Hundred Souls” is trying to combat this by telling the truth. The truth about what the problems actually are, as well as who has been fighting those problems. Black people, that is, have been fighting for freedom since 1619.
Q. Thinking now about the release of “Four Hundred Souls”: The book is hitting shelves at the start of Black History Month. Professor Blain, what are your thoughts on this timing, and how do you think projects like this relate to broad and deep coalition building across differently racialized communities, including among Latinx, Asian-American, and Native peoples — coalitions necessary to defeat white supremacy?
Blain: The fact that this book is coming out during Black History Month is key. This is a time where we as a nation come together to reflect on the historical contributions of Black people and the hard facts of US history. And through the stories told in “Four Hundred Souls,” it’s clear that while the book centers the ideas and experiences of people of African descent, those ideas and experiences are linked to those of other people of color in the United States.
One essay that addresses this directly is Kyle T. Mays’s “Blackness and Indigeneity.” “The dispossession of millions of Native Americans and the simultaneous genocide and enslavement of Indigenous Africans,” he writes, “remain two intertwining and parallel events that have fundamentally shaped the United States” and “continue today in the form of rampant anti-Black racism and anti-indigenous erasure from the national consciousness.” What happens, then, when we see these histories as interconnected?
As “Four Hundred Souls” charts the history of Black America, it weaves in related narratives that are part of this broader story. So I hope that everyone who picks up the book and engages with this Black history, including people of color broadly, will find the ways their experiences in the US are connected to those of the Black people documented.
Q. Looking ahead: What’s emerged from this collaboration that you’ll each carry forward into future work?
Blain: A deepened sense of community. Community was important to Ibram and me long before we created this book, but as editors, having this remarkable experience of collaborating with so many writers in and beyond academia — that’s something I’m certainly carrying forward.
Kendi: I would say the same. We’re living in an incredible time for Black creators, and I’m constantly imagining ways to bring them together and showcase their brilliance. That’s what I appreciate most about “Four Hundred Souls”: People can read in one book a sampling of today’s Black creative greatness and contextualize it across 400 years of struggle.
B i o g r a p h y
But when she arrived at Binghamton University, Blain was a first-generation college student with vague ideas about going to law school. “I was very nervous and, quite frankly, a bit terrified at the weather,” she says. “I had no plans to become a historian.”
Everything changed one day in a class on U.S. immigration history taught by Thomas Dublin. “He started lecturing, and I was just completely pulled in,” Blain says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is powerful. I didn’t know any of this.’”
Blain, who was born in the Caribbean, grew up in Brooklyn. She saw many connections between her own experience and what she learned in Dublin’s class. By the end of that first year, Blain knew she wanted to major in history. She went on to take classes with Michael West, then on the faculty in the Sociology Department, and historians Anne Bailey, Jonathan Karp and Kathryn “Kitty” Sklar.
Later West persuaded first Blain and then her mother that Blain needed to go on for her doctorate. “He sat down with her and made a case for me to support my decision to apply,” she says. “It’s a testament to how amazing the professors at Binghamton were.”
Blain was accepted to Princeton University, where she did her doctoral work with historians such as Tera Hunter, whose books she had read as an undergraduate. Blain went on to a post-doctoral fellowship at Penn State before joining the history faculty at the University of Iowa and then the University of Pittsburgh. This summer, she will begin a new position in Africana studies and history at Brown University.
“The professors at Binghamton provided the model for the way that I mentor students,” she says. “Everyone’s office was always open. You could stop by, you could email and someone would respond. They wanted you to succeed. I credit my time at Binghamton for shaping my career.”
Blain met her husband and her best friend at Binghamton, where she was active in the Gospel Choir and Chi Alpha Christian fellowship. Now 36, she remains connected to her mentors on campus and recently agreed to serve as a member of the board for the new Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity at Binghamton.
“Keisha Blain was a terrific student and now a wonderful scholar,” Bailey says. “I am so proud that she was a student at Binghamton and that I and other faculty members, notably Dr. Michael West and Dr. Jon Karp, had the pleasure to call her one of our own.”
Much as Blain can remember the moment when she set her sights on becoming a historian, she can trace her life as a public intellectual back to its starting point: a 2014 blog post for the African American Intellectual History Society. The piece, a reaction to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah, was well received and helped Blain begin to build a following on Twitter.
Blain eventually became the editor of the blog. When a man murdered nine worshippers at a Charleston church in 2015, she felt a new sense of urgency about her writing.
“I was devastated,” she says. “And I was really frustrated when I heard people making bizarre statements like ‘This is the first time this has happened in American history.’ I thought,
‘People really don’t know American history. And they really don’t understand how this incident is connected to a long history of white supremacy and racist violence.’”
When historian Chad Williams tweeted that there needed to be a “Charleston Syllabus,” Blain went to work. Using her position as a blog editor, she published a crowdsourced syllabus with input from several other historians and librarians.
“I felt that it was necessary to use my skills as a historian, a writer and thinker to help inform people,” she says. “That’s the moment when I thought, ‘OK, I cannot continue the traditional path.’ I would become the kind of historian who would do all I could to shape public discourse, especially on matters of race and politics.” Read more..
~ Keisha N. Blain is making history by Rachel Coker
B i o g r a p h y
Dr. Kendi is the author of The Black Campus Movement, which won the W.E.B. Du Bois Book Prize, and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016. At 34 years old, Dr. Kendi was the youngest ever winner of the NBA for Nonfiction. He grew up dreaming about playing in the NBA (National Basketball Association), and ironically, he ended up joining the other NBA.
Dr. Kendi also has produced five #1 New York Times bestsellers. How to Be an Antiracist, an international bestseller that has been translated in several languages. It made several Best Books of 2019 lists and was described in the New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored with Jason Reynolds, is a young adult remix of Stamped from the Beginning. Stamped Jr.—as we call it—won the GoodReads Choice Award and was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Book of the Year, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, and a NAACP Image Award. Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, was published as a board book and picture book. Most recently, Dr. Kendi edited with Dr. Keisha N. Blain, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. And, Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul adapted Stamped Jr. into Stamped for Kids, a book for middle graders that Kirkus found to be "exhilarating, excellent, necessary." Dr. Kendi’s two latest books, published in June 2022, were instant New York Times bestsellers: How to Raise an Antiracist and Goodnight Racism, a picture book illustrated by Cbabi Bayoc.
Dr. Kendi has published fourteen academic essays in books and academic journals, including The Journal of African American History, Journal of Social History, Journal of Black Studies, Journal of African American Studies, and The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. He co-edits the Black Power Series at NYU Press with historian Ashley Farmer.
Dr. Kendi has published op-eds in numerous periodicals, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, London Review, Time, Salon, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Paris Review, Black Perspectives, Time, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He commented on a series of international, national, and local media outlets, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, PBS, BBC, Democracy Now, OWN, BET, and Sirius XM. A sought after public speaker, Dr. Kendi has delivered thousands of addresses over the years at colleges and universities, bookstores, festivals, conferences, libraries, churches, museums, and other institutions in the United States and around the world.
Dr. Kendi strives to be a hardcore antiracist and softcore vegan. He enjoys joking it up with friends and family, partaking in African American culture, weight-lifting, reading provocative books, discussing the issues of the day with open-minded people, and hoping and pressing for the day the New York Knicks will win an NBA championship and for the day this nation and world will be ruled by the best of humanity.
In 2013, he changed his middle name from Henry to Xolani (meaning "Peace" in Zulu) and surname from Rogers to Kendi when he wed Dr. Sadiqa Kendi, a pediatric emergency physician from Albany, Georgia. They chose their new name together and unveiled “Kendi,” meaning "loved one" in Meru, to their family and friends at their wedding. Their wedding photos were featured in Essence Magazine, including the bride’s stunningly beautiful gold dress.
Dr. Kendi was born in 1982 to parents who came of age during the Black power movement in New York City. They were activist Christians inspired by Black liberation theology. While Dr. Kendi was in high school, his family moved from Jamaica, Queens, to Manassas, Virginia. He traveled further south and attended Florida A&M University, where he majored in journalism. He initially aspired for a career in sports journalism, freelancing for several Florida newspapers, and interning at USA Today Sports Weekly, as well as in the sports sections of the Mobile Register and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. By the end of his tenure at FAMU, he had become alienated from sports journalism and increasingly became interested in engaging in racial justice work. He picked up a second major in African American Studies and graduated in 2004. Read more..
1 | Drs. Kendi and Blain formatted the book to honor the diverse voices of Black Americans and to celebrate the importance of the communal approach to the spirit of Black History. How did the book’s structure shape your reading experience?
2 | As Dr. Kendi writes in the Introduction, the writing community includes Black people who identify or are identified as women and men, cisgender and transgender, younger and older, straight and queer, dark-skinned and light-skinned, immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Africa and the African diaspora, and descendants of enslaved people in the United States. How did you see yourself reflected in the book?
3 | The story of Black History Month is one of communal history. Carter G. Woodson founded what was originally called Negro History Week in 1926 to teach the general public about Black History. With Four Hundred Souls, Drs. Kendi and Blain wanted not only to reflect on history but to make history. What do you think future generations will be able to understand about our present time?
4 | The rich history of African America is often left out of mainstream narratives. After reading, how does understanding this history shape your understanding of America today?
5 | Four Hundred Souls covers history that will be familiar to many readers; what moments or figures were new to you?
6 | The book’s narratives reveal the historical roots of some of today’s most entrenched racist systems. How does looking back help us in building a different, better future?
7 | What did reading about the places, people, and events highlighted in Four Hundred Souls help you understand about resilience, agency, and hope in Black America?
8 | Dr. Blain explains in the conclusion that she is not quite certain that she is—as the popular saying goes—“living her ancestor’s wildest dreams.” In what ways does the saying ring true for you?
BOOKS by Amanda Gorman
Students, Faculty and Staff - Click the links below to view and/or Request a free copy today!
Sensational by Kim Todd
In the late nineteenth century, female journalists across the United States risked reputation and their own safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. These “girl stunt reporters” changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age. More info…
Published in 2021, this selection coincides with the NWHA 2023 Women's History Theme, "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories" .
SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.
A CONVERSATION WITH
~ From Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb
A b o u t K i m T o d d
As a writer, I focus on forgotten stories—uncovering events and people that, while overlooked, continue to shape our world.
My most recent book, Sensational: The Hidden History of America's "Girl Stunt Reporters," highlights female undercover journalists who exposed the rot at the heart of the Gilded Age. Based on an article that appeared in Smithsonian’s Secrets of American History issue, it was published by HarperCollins in April 2021. Earlier books include Sparrow; Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis; and Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America.
I love disappearing into large book projects, but I also write essays and articles on topics ranging from the nature of curiosity, to the developing science of reintroduction biology, to the evolving songs of urban sparrows, to lessons from the longest running predator-prey study in the world. The on-the-ground implications of the stories we tell about animals are a long-term interest. My work has appeared in Orion, Sierra Magazine, Smithsonian, High Country News, and Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies, among other places. I have given talks at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the New England Aquarium, the Getty Museum, the Commonwealth Club, Yale University, Bowdoin College, Wellesley College, the University of California (Davis), and many other venues.
Raised in California, educated in Montana, after moving from coast to coast and landing many places in between, I now live with my family in Minneapolis. Here in the Twin Cities I am a nonfiction faculty member at the MFA program at the University of Minnesota where I get to help some of the most exciting new writers in the country hone their craft; I am also a Fellow with the Institute on the Environment.
When not writing or teaching, I spend time hiking or kayaking whatever trails and rivers I can find.
1 | Opinions have changed about the ethics of undercover reporting since Nellie Bly went into the asylum in 1887, and some newspapers don’t permit it at all. What do you think? Were some of the stunt reporters’ actions “over the line?” In what circumstances might undercover journalism pe permissible (if any) and in what circumstances (if any) should it be forbidden?
2 | During the 1800s, women’s and men’s work was valued very differently, both in terms of pay and in terms of respectability. (As Nathaniel Hawthorne noted, “Fame does not increase the peculiar respect which men pay to female excellence.”) Is this an artifact of the past, or do you see men and women’s work still being held to a different standard today in literature or beyond?
3 | Each of the reporters featured in Sensational had her own way of approaching her subject matter and navigating her position as a woman in a male-dominated field. Is there one of the reporters in Sensational whose work resonates with you more than the others? Which one? Why?
4 | Ida B. Wells was an outlier in her topics, the way she wrote about them, and the venues where she published. At various times, she faced criticism from all sides, from those in her community and those outside it. What qualities of her personality or her life history enabled her to take the stands she did?
5 | Nellie Bly started out by revealing politicians who accepted bribes and conditions at employment agencies and orphanages. Several years later, though, she found herself training elephants while Kate Swan rode bareback on a circus horse. Do you think there is value in the kind of reporting featured in the World and Journal in 1896 or was it just a distortion of what had come before?
6 | Both Elizabeth Jordan and Kate Swan covered the Lizzie Borden trial and, at the time, indicated they thought she was innocent. What might have led them to this conclusion? Do you agree or disagree? Why does this crime continue to fascinate us, so many years later?
7 | One of the main questions at the heart of the debate about “girl stunt reporters” is whether they were adult women making informed choices about their careers, or whether they were inexperienced writers, new to the field, being taken advantage of by unscrupulous editors who put them in danger in order to sell newspapers. What do you think?
8 | A number of “stunt reporters,” –like Elizabeth Banks and Eva McDonald Valesh –ultimately renounced the kind of articles they wrote for Hearst and Pulitzer, though they continued writing. Why do you think they did that?
9 | Do you think “sensational” is a valid criticism of certain kinds of journalism? What does it mean to you? How do you know it when you read it?
10 | Is there a topic today that you think is ripe for the kind of investigation these women conducted in the 1890s? If so, what is it?
Want to be a better fact-checker? Play a game!
1. Bad News
In this game developed by DROG, a Netherlands-based organization aimed at fighting misinformation, users play the role of a fake news writer. The goal: Get as many followers as you can while building up bogus credibility. You lose if you tell “obvious lies or disappoint your supporters.” A recent study from the University of Cambridge found that playing Bad News increases “psychological resistance” to misinformation.
The BBC launched this game in 2018 in a bid to help children ages 11-18 identify misinformation online. The choose-your-own-adventure game puts users in the shoes of a BBC journalist who has to decide which social media posts, political claims and photos they can trust. Tips on how to spot online fakery are included.
Developed by a master’s student at Indiana University, Fakey is a game similar to iReporter. It simulates a social media news feed, where users are asked which posts they’d like to share, like or fact-check. Users score points by sharing content from credible news outlets and fact-checking questionable sources.
This online simulation from the Annenberg Public Policy Center and iCivics, an education nonprofit, aims to teach people how to evaluate sources online. Users pick their own avatar and are tasked with choosing which posts to curate on their website and which to investigate.
This game was developed by Google’s Be Internet Awesome Initiative, which aims to teach children the “fundamentals of digital citizenship,” and it shows. The top-notch graphics take users on a journey across a river guarded by a “phisher.” Users must answer questions about bogus phishing attempts to cross and win the game.
Having made a splash with its debut in 2018, this game, developed by American University, clocked about 1.6 million articles played in the first three days of its existence. What does that mean? In Factitious, users have to read short news stories and swipe right if they think they’re real and swipe left if they think they’re fake.
Finally, we’re partial to this role-playing card game developed by the IFCN for International Fact-Checking Day on April 2. It takes place in a fictional country where players have to operate a newsroom and verify 25 different news items that will inform editorials published on the day of an election.
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light. An incandescent memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts readers in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world. more info… Published 2021.
Named one of the best books of 2021 by The New York Times, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Newsweek, The Guardian and more.
SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.
A NOTE FROM AUTHOR
Qian Julie Wang
I am so very humbled that you’ve chosen my memoir for your book club. Your act of reading this book brings to life my childhood dreams.
When I first arrived in the United States in 1994, I threw myself into all the books I could find at the New York Public Library. I tore through picture books, abridged biographies, novels, and not least, series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins. The people that populated those volumes filled my heart with love and company at a time when I felt so lonely for my family and friends back in China.
But they also confused me: why were there no stories about kids like me—undocumented immigrants, Asian Americans, children who went to school every day in hunger—when those stories were all around me? Were we so dissimilar? Were we so unloveable? When I voiced these thoughts to my mother, she told me as many times as I needed to hear it that we were just as worthy as everyone else, and that one day, I would commit to paper the stories that deserved to be read.
It was that vision that got me to start writing this book, and to keep writing it on my daily subway commute to work. But there was also a grander dream that buoyed it: the idea that perhaps, through exchanging our stories, we might see that none of us are really that different. We might have different material circumstances, sure, and different color hair and skin, but when we peel back the layers to who we really are—our greatest dreams and our deepest shames—we are not all that different. I know it is a strange thing to say about a memoir, but Beautiful Country is not about me. Or at the very least, it’s not just about me. It’s about the universality of childhood, the early-life events and emotions that still very much have a hold on each of our adult selves.
I wrote this book not to be a message but to be an immersive experience for readers—if I’ve done my job, you might open the pages to find yourself walking alongside little me, seeing everything I saw, tasting everything I tasted. I hope that, as we embark on that special walk together, you might also begin to see glimmers of a third person next to us—your own childhood self. I believe that the human heart is meant to be shared, and you hold in your hands a piece of mine. Thank you for carrying it. May it allow you to reclaim a piece of yours.
Qian Julie Wang
B i o g r a p h y
Qian Julie was born in Shijiazhuang, China. At age 7, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, with her parents. For five years thereafter, the three lived in the shadows of undocumented life in New York City. Qian Julie's first book is a poignant literary memoir that follows the family through those years, as they held onto hope and joy while confronting poverty, manual labor, and the perpetual threat of deportation.
A graduate of Yale Law School and Swarthmore College—where she juggled classes and extracurriculars with four part-time jobs—Qian Julie is now a litigator. She wrote Beautiful Country on her iPhone, during her subway commute to and from work at a national law firm, where she was elected to partnership within two years of joining the firm. She is now managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP, a firm dedicated to advocating for education and civil rights. Qian Julie believes that the first step to eroding systemic barriers is according underprivileged communities the type of legal representation typically reserved for wealthy interests.
Qian Julie’s writing has appeared in major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Cut. She regularly speaks on issues such as immigration, education, discrimination, and the power of literacy in the media and at conferences, universities, corporations, community centers, and houses of worship.
Qian Julie lives in Brooklyn with her husband Marc and their two rescue dogs, Salty and Peppers.
A CONVERSATION WITH
Qian Julie Wang
1 | Qian had expectations about the America before she arrived. What were they, and what surprised her the most? How do her expectations line up with your understanding of the U.S. and your day-to-day view of the country?
2 | How does Qian’s understanding of her race change when she comes to America? How does her understanding of other races change?
3 | How is Qian treated at school by her teachers? Why is she treated differently, even within her Chinatown school where most students are Chinese immigrants, and how does it affect her view of herself and her opportunities?
4 | We are shown a community of immigrants through Qian’s eyes—other people working at the sweatshops, family friends. How do their lives differ from the Wang family’s, and how are those differences discussed?
5 | How does the use of pinyin, phonetic Chinese, feature in and shift throughout the book?
6 | Qian seems to notice class for the first time when she arrives in the U.S. What are the designations of class that she pays the most attention to?
7 | Books make a huge impact on Qian. Did you read any of these same books when you were younger, or read them now with children? How did they affect you?
8 | Qian’s relationship with her mother changes significantly over the course of the book, from their time in China and then over time in America. How does the relationship evolve, and why do you think it changes the way that it does? Does this remind you of your own relationship with your mother in any way?
9 | Personal space is discussed often in the book, both as a need and as a signifier of class. Qian has her own room for the first time at Lin Ah Yi’s. Why is it so meaningful to her, and what does it allow her?
10 | One of the few connections Qian makes is with her cat, Marilyn. How does her special connection with this animal help her cope with her difficult family situation? What did your pets mean to you as a child, and how might this be different from your experience with pets as an adult?
11 | What do you make of the narrator’s voice and perspective? How does it change as Qian grows older over the course of the book?
12 | Has this book changed your understanding or opinion of what it means to be a citizen or to be undocumented?
13 | The family has a perpetual fear of being noticed for their immigration status at school, at work, and at the hospital. How does this affect their quality of life, and what would being noticed have meant for them? How does it affect Qian, specifically, as a young girl growing up? What did being noticed mean to you when you were younger?
14 | Why do you think Qian Julie chose to end the book (aside from the epilogue) at their departure from America? Did you expect the narrative to continue to the present day? What do you think is achieved by containing the narrative to those five years of undocumented life?
Qian Julie's Family Recipes!
Whip up some of her scrumptious family dishes to eat while you read
your copy of Beautiful Country—or serve them to your book club!
A note from Qian Julie:
My family is from north China, from a province called Hebei just outside of Beijing. Historically, most of the Chinese immigrants to America have been from the South, generally from the regions of Guangdong and Fujian province, although that has started to change in recent years. The cuisines of north and south China are very different, and I share here two 家常饭—favorite homecooked dishes that we would have at least once a week, if not more—that remind me most of my grandmother’s kitchen growing up. Dumplings are a feature at every family gathering and celebration, and the pork-and-chive filling is among the most common and traditional. As for the stir-fried tomatoes and egg dish—well that is one that every single northern Chinese person knows how to cook—and grows to crave as they move away from home.
Pork and Chive Dumpling
DIPPING SAUCE INGREDIENTS
DIPPING SAUCE PREPARATION
Stir-fried Tomatoes with Egg
The Spotify playlist can be found here.
Who can participate?
Bea's Book! is self-guided. You can participate individually, pair up with a friend, or form a group. It is open to Southwestern Illinois College students, faculty and staff as well as the community. Everyone is invited!
You can read as many as you like. One to three award-winning books are selected each semester. Descriptions of each book are found on this page.
How to participate?
Review the book descriptions and determine which book(s) you'd like to read! You can request a free copy through the library's loan system (see the 'How to Get Book' TAB on this page). Book Club TABS contain discussion questions, author information and much more to enhance your experience! Participate individually, with a friend, or better yet - gather a group and discuss your thoughts together!
Want more information?
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