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Youth Programs

WITS Writers Recommend Reads for High School Students

By: Karina Briski

As an avid reader, books have become my preferred way to keep track of time: What was I reading the summer before starting college, the eve of the millennia? Dates are tough to recall, but I can usually remember what I was reading.

When I began as the Youth Programs intern earlier this month, I could not have imagined how much time would change, or how quickly. While we settle into our new realities at home, our ability to access new worlds through books feels even more important.

Writers in the Schools (WITS) has offered creative writing residencies in Portland, and more recently, east Multnomah County, high schools since 1996. During this time, students across the state are finding themselves at home. To stay connected with our high school student community, we reached out to five WITS writers and asked them to share a bit about the creative writing residencies they recently began or completed, as well as their top three book recommendations, perfect for youth (or adults) with long days at home. Each blurb is written by the WITS writer and, best of all, most recommendations can be found in ebook or audiobook format through the Multnomah County Library. For those who prefer to own their copies, you can shop your local bookstores and/or consider using this link, which contributes 7.5% of all sales to their worker relief fund, to purchase books at Powell’s.

Rajesh Reddy, Fall 2019 WITS writer at Madison High School

“I taught in the fall and what I took away most from my residency is just how equipped all of my students were to appreciate the elements that make good stories, personal essays, and poems. We weren’t just talking about literature but collectively adding to it.”

Rajesh recommends:

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
ebook // audiobook

“The power of Roy’s novel lies in its conveying a simple story through non-chronological fragments that inform and complicate one another, leading to a compelling end.”

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

“This is a favorite of mine for how it crafts a world featuring dysmorphic characters and challenges the reader to consider how we in society would exploit them, as well as how they would exploit us.”

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
ebook // audiobook

“Barnes’s novel reads like a prose poem, with so many passages that leap off the page. Aided by its elegant writing, Nightwood challenges the reader to reconsider how social boundaries and structures are created, maintained, and even how they might be dismantled.”

april joseph, Spring 2020 WITS writer at Roosevelt High School 

“My residency is with Amy Ambrosio’s Multicultural Literature classes at Roosevelt H.S. For the first half of my residency I’ve been encouraging a class collaboration that co-creates a safe space to engage in mindfulness, contemplative writing experiments. Students are invited to feel their feet, notice their breath and engage all their senses when writing their stories. Starting in May, I’ll also be teaching a donation-based, online creative writing class through collective.aporia.”

april recommends: 

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob 

“As a daughter of an interracial family, I LOVE this honest and heart-rending graphic memoir which captures the light and darkness of colorism and the complexity of growing up in the U.S. as a person of color.” 

Circe by Madeline Miller
ebook // audiobook 

“I love learning about Circe, Witch of Aiaia! Wonderful crash course of ancient Greece through the eyes of Circe–a self determined goddess whose legendary tales must be told!”

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib 

“I just gave this book to my best friend. This book is remarkable. Abdurraqib’s essays are gripping and haunting–an essential popular culture must-read that examines American culture through a musical lens.” 

Tenzin Sangpo, Spring 2020 WITS apprentice at Franklin High School

“I am presently an apprentice to WITS resident Matt Smith at Franklin High School. I have sadly only attended two sessions but you can tell everyone in the classroom is very passionate about honing their craft and good writing. I often participated in the writing exercises with the students and found myself really enjoying the tasks. Lest I forget, their instructor Bryan has done an amazing job with the course curriculum and his teaching. I am eager to join them again as soon as this outbreak subsides.”

Tenzin recommends: 

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu

“The finest account of the great detective’s adventures in Tibet following his eventful confrontation with the infamous Prof. Moriarty at Reichenbach! Will Sherlock’s intellectual prowess prevail against the dark arts?”      

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
ebook // audiobook

“The ‘Booker of Bookers’ Prize recipient, a challenging yet absolutely worthy read for American readers unfamiliar with India. A recommended reading for a 400+ level English literature course at certain universities.”   

The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra 
ebook // audiobook 

“A more cerebral subject of the parallels between Modern Physics— relativity and quantum mechanics— and Eastern spirituality, written by a particle physicist. The author achieves the tremendous task of elucidating the difficult aspects of both Western physics and Eastern philosophy.”  

Jennifer Perrine, Spring 2020 WITS writer at Gresham High School

Jennifer’s residency hadn’t yet started when schools closed earlier this month. However, they were slatted to begin what was sure to be a wonderful creative writing residency at Gresham High School.

Jennifer recently shared three writing prompts on our blog, so check those out for more inspiration!

Jennifer recommends:

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik 
ebook // audiobook

“If you enjoy fantasy, fairy tales, powerful women protagonists, multiple points of view, plot twists, and lots of ice!” 

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan 

“If you’re looking for that fantasy/fairy tale feel but want it with a side of shapeshifting and sea creatures.”

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 
ebook // audiobook

“If you’re into fan fiction, complicated families, introverts, snarky characters, and all the feels. This one’s especially good as an audiobook.”

Matt Smith, Spring 2020 WITS writer at Franklin High School

Matt Smith became involved with Literary Arts as an apprentice for Writers in the Schools over the 2017-18  school year where he observed and co-taught residencies with WITS writer Mark Pomeroy. Matt returned to WITS as a writer-in-the-school and has taught with the program since 2018. Matt, a speculative fiction and fiction writer with a passion for comics, is currently teaching in two Science Fiction classrooms with apprentice Tenzin Sangpo. 

Matt recommends:

The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende
ebook // audiobook

“This book is essential to anyone interested in magical realism and/or Latin American literature. The reader comes to know and love the Trueba family and all the charming, supernatural, and at times terrifying events of their lives.”

Faces At the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell

“This is a collection of speculative fiction unlike anything I’d every encountered before. Some of the stories are outright science-fiction. Others are grounded in the Pacific Northwest of the late 80s. Bell, a former law professor, wrestles with the stagnated progress of the civil-rights movement in 1980s America.”

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
ebook // audiobook

“More than ever we need to embrace our best radical thinkers. In this science-fiction novel, LeGuin creates a roadmap for a classless society where all men, women, and children are equal and free. The story takes the reader on a planet-hopping journey through the eyes of a scientist born and raised on an anarchist communist planet to its neighboring moon, an Earth-like planet, as he explores the possibility of debuting a light speed drive that could alter the destinies of both worlds.”

Learn more about Writers in the Schools here.

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