Reflections from Malden Reads Enthusiasts
By Ose Schwab
A local church group will share perspectives of the life and history of the Lakota Sioux with a special video presentation at the Malden Public Library on Saturday, March 23.
The presentation is a “Pine Ridge Video Diary” from a week in August the group spent building a mud and straw house for a Lakota family living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
This event is part of the Malden Reads 2013 and is appropriate for all ages. It could be especially appealing for high school students.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is located on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota. It is a plot of land about the size of Connecticut. Like the 310 other reservations in the United States, it was born of controversial treaty negotiations between the U.S. Government and an Indian Nation, in this case the Sioux Nation.
The reservation is managed by the tribal governance under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Studies estimate that about 28,000 residents, mostly of the Oglala Sioux (or Lakota) Tribe, live on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
If you are like me, mention of Pine Ridge conjures up images of drunkenness, overcrowded living conditions, barren land, and extreme poverty. It is true. The people who live on Pine Ridge are poorer than any people in the Western Hemisphere except for Haiti. The life expectancy for women is 52 and for men 48. Few jobs are available for the 80 percent unemployed. Obesity, diabetes, tuberculosis, alcoholism, and domestic violence are rampant. Many teens drop out of high school. Teen pregnancy is a problem. The consistent increase in teen suicide is of grave concern to everyone.
These grim statistics stand in stark contrast to the lost era of life as nomadic warriors and hunters. Before birth of this reservation, the Lakota people freely roamed the Great Plains. They wove lives alongside the sacred bison, a source of food, clothing, toys, and spiritual connection. Known for their courage, for having becoming master equestrians, and for having a sacred relationship with the land, they prevailed as a strong and unified force - one of seven tribal governments or Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation.
Though the Lakota spirit may have waned through loss of land and the adjustment to reservation circumstances, it has not died. As you will discover in part two of this article and the March 23 presentation, the Lakota spirit is stirring.
Coming next week, this article will feature the youngest members of that church group sharing their perspectives of their encounters with the Lakota people. You will learn what the Lakota youth say they hope for, need, and are doing. You will also learn how teens outside the Pine Ridge Reservation view their role in the stirring and resurgence of the great Lakota spirit.
By Carmen Arnone
On the third Tuesday of the month, approximately 20 “seniors” gather in the library of The John and Christina Markey Malden Senior Community Center for a lively discussion of the latest selection for their Book Club.
This intelligent and articulate group of seniors most recently shared their insights about “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which is Malden Reads 2013 featured selection.
Some group members were dismayed by the struggles that the 14-year-old main character Junior, who is a Native American who travelled off a reservation to attend an “all-white” school in a neighboring community. Others were deeply inspired by his resiliency and coping strategies.
At one point in the novel, Junior tells a classmate, “They call me an apple because they think I’m red on the outside and white on the inside.” His friend replies, “Well, life is a constant struggle between being an individual and a member of a community.”
The book group discussion turned to the role adults played in the direction and eventual outcome of Junior’s life. A teacher apologized to him and suggested he pursue his education in the “all-white” school. His parents, though poor, alcoholic and unemployed, supported his efforts to follow his dream to become somebody special. His grandmother’s gift was to teach him tolerance.
By drawing cartoons and keeping a diary, Junior processed the adversarial circumstances that came with appearing to be different.
One book club member who faced racial prejudice as a 14-year-old himself shared his point of view by saying, “While young, children wouldn’t react to green, purple, black, brown or yellow skin. They learn prejudice from influential adults. If left to be on their own, they’re colorblind and see each other as a child of God.”
Anyone stepping through the doors of the Malden Senior Community Center immediately recognizes the diversity of Malden’s citizenry. Each of us can easily draw conclusions and pass judgments about someone we encounter based on what we “see” on the outside.
Book Group provides a venue for individuals to come together to listen respectfully to one another. As we share opinions, we grow in tolerance for others in our community who might seem to be apples, oranges, bananas or pineapples.
In the end, we make a delicious “fruit cocktail” open to fresh ideas and insightful reflections as we take a copy of our next reading selection and go about living our individual lives until our community of readers comes together next month.Carmen Arnone is a retired Malden educator who thrives on the many interests and friendships that promote "life long learning." She can be reached at email@example.com.
Are you a Malden Reads enthusiast? Do you follow Malden’s One City: One Book program as it seeks to promote reading, highlight Malden’s library and other city resources, and build community here in Malden?
The program is accepting donations from individuals, community groups, and businesses to support the program. Donations allow the Malden Reads committee to buy copies of the book selections for the library, the schools, and to distribute throughout the community.
Community donations also help pay for expenses related to programming and events.
If you’d like to make a donation to Malden Reads, please send a check in any amount made out to “Malden Public Library” with “Malden Reads” in the memo and mail it to Malden Reads, c/o Malden Public Library, 36 Salem Street, Malden, MA 02148.
Checks can also be dropped off at Malden Access Television (attention Anne). Donations received before Jan. 31 will be credited in our Calendar of Events brochure. All sponsors will be thanked on our website.
For more information about how to donate, please visit www.maldenreads.org and click on “Donate!” The Malden Reads committee wishes to thank all of its present and past supporters that have supported this vibrant community program!
By Ose Schwab
If you have ever felt like an outsider, you will find a clue to belonging in this year’s Malden Reads book choice, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Aside from highlighting social and economic concerns such as alcoholism, discrimination, cultural oppression, poverty, and societal hopelessness, Sherman Alexie proposes a way to connect with people who are different. It turns out that a new form of tribal membership – one that goes beyond the Native meaning of tribe – is the antidote to feeling foreign or odd.
I was an outcast in elementary school. In physical education (gym) classmates chose me last for team sports. Sports did not interest me. I was not competitive. That was a big problem in the small hockey-and-football town of Falmouth. It did not help that no one could pronounce my name, Ose, and that I spoke Swedish to my parents.
Though raised in the United States, I was born in Stockholm. Because of a good dose of European influence from my Swedish mother and German-born father, I never quite felt American. I joke about being a universal citizen and that I belong somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – midway between the Cape Cod and Norway.
I have made peace with my differences. I embrace them, thankful for the ability to speak at least one second language and happy to have somewhat of an outsiders perspective on things. Part of that peace has come by associating withpeople I relate to.
The book’s protagonist, Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, refers to such groups as tribes. According to Junior, individuals belong to more than one tribe. This he discovers after one year at an all-white high school.
Junior is a foreigner at Reardan High. He commutes 22 miles from the Spokane Reservation where he lives with his alcoholic parents. They either drive him to school or he walks. He worries that they will die in a drunken accident. No cool jeans or Nike sneakers for him. He wears thick eyeglasses and hand-me-down, reservation clothes.
No money for pancakes after a basketball game. And he is a bookworm – all cause for serious rejection.
Through it all Junior finds his way as he indicates in the following excerpt:
I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And to the tribe of cartoonists….It was a huge realization. And that’s when I knew that I was going to be okay.
More than ok, he actually wins friends at a once-forbidding place. He reframes his belonging with a new version of tribe – the kind of membership you establish when you step back and note an interest, cause, preference, need, or idiosyncrasy that bonds you with others.
We have many tribes here in Malden. If we don’t see them immediately we can make them. That is what this year’s Malden Reads will do for us. We will identify and join the tribes we want to belong to. We will find those people we relate to either because we want to solve the same problem, live happily on the same street, like the same books, have kids in the same school, face similar challenges, hope for similar community experiences, play the same music, eat the same food, or hate the same trash.
And we will rejoice together that we can identify with one another no matter what our backgrounds are.
As the Malden Reads events unfold, there will be something for everyone. In the meantime, visit http://maldenreads.org and share your story. Tell us about your tribes and the tribes you would like to be part of.
That is part of our work as a community. That we find the common threads, the threads that differ – and make one giant Malden cloth of many colors that will protect us from the cold of being an outsider.
Ose Schwab is member of the tribe of musicians, Schwabs, Malden Reads committee, Maplewood Square Neighborhood, coaches, nature lovers, book lovers, Middle Eastern Food lovers….
by Anne D’Urso Rose on 11/30/12
It started three years ago with an idea …what if all of Malden read the same book?
Based on a national model, Malden Reads: One City, One Book became a collaborative project led by local residents, community groups, nonprofit organizations, city leaders, and school-based representatives in collaboration with the Malden Public Library.
In its first year it became a vibrant, expansive program and we built on that success the following year. But the depth and breadth of the program comes not just from the slate of events offered up by the Malden Reads planning committee, but by the activities and offerings of community organizations that participated in its evolution.
For example, the Oak Grove Improvement Association (OGIA), a local community group, runs the now annual Stone Soup event in collaboration with Malden Reads. Reading the Stone Soup folk tale and engaging young and old to make soup together for those in need of a hot meal has become emblematic of the spirit of the program—bringing the community together over the shared experience of a good story.
The Partnership for Community Schools created activities to accompany the companion books in their afterschool program. Artwork, dramatic skits, poetry, essay-writing, and even a rap song were inspired by the Malden Reads themes.
First Parish of Malden offered a worship service based on the The Soloist, which was the featured selection the first year. The pastor at the First Baptist Church in Malden likewise offered a homily based on The Soloist and incorporated the book’s theme of homelessness into its religious education curriculum. Both years, the YWCA ran a program for teens that explored the books’ themes through drama, mural-making, and community service.
Seedfolks of Malden was an original play created by the theater group at the Immigrant Learning Center and based on the Malden Reads companion book selection Seedfolks. It was performed at the Malden Senior Community Center for more than 200 people.
Friends of Oak Grove Inc. (FOOGI) offered up a Column Contest through the K-8 schools based on the journalistic style of The Soloist. Young people were encouraged to write about someone they admire from a reporter’s point of view. Winning entries were published in the local press and these beautiful stories were shared with the community.
Malden Access Television (MATV) has been a lead collaborator in Malden Reads since its inception. Besides helping to plan and develop the program, MATV offers its resources for promotion and publicity. Its staff and members took part in producing creative videos that encourage the community to read the book. Talk show hosts invite Malden Reads committee members on as guests to discuss the books and the overall program.
MATV also hosted the very special Skype event with author Warren St. John of last year’s program, a chance for the public to engage with the author from his home in New York City.
The Chinese Culture Connection co-hosted a film screening during last year’s program as part of its “East Meets West” initiative.
Malden Arts held a Malden Reads edition of its quarterly salon and Malden Arts member Susan Burke curated a Malden Reads-themed art exhibit exploring the city’s diverse cultures at the MATV Gallery.
Malden Youth Soccer took a leading role in last year’s culminating event A Soccer Extravaganza, which embodied the spirit of Outcasts United by bringing a diverse community together through a popular sport and related activities.
Other local groups took part by contributing time or resources, hosting book discussions or film screenings, or taking part in panel discussions exploring themes of the books.
It is this active engagement of so many interlocking community entities that creates the fabric of this project—making it more than just a community read. Malden’s One City, One Book program is a tapestry of interwoven threads representing Malden’s diverse community.
Why "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian"?
by Karen Stern on 11/24/12
The featured selection for Malden Reads 2013 is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.
It’s the story of a teenage Native American who finds the courage to aim high and pursue his dreams, even if that means becoming an outsider at home and at his new school.
So why did Malden Reads choose a book about a teenage Native American struggling to find his identity as this year’s community read? It turns out there are lots of great reasons to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.
To start with, it’s funny and insightful, very readable and illustrated with great cartoons. It even has some fantastic scenes on the basketball court. We think it will be an engaging read for anyone, ages 14 and up.
It’s a National Book Award winner and the author, Sherman Alexie, has written many critically acclaimed works. He is currently a very hot commodity on the book circuit, promoting his new collection of short stories called Blasphemy.
Maybe it would help if we compare it to some other things you might know. Think S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, but funnier, or maybe Stand By Me, the film by Rob Reiner, with more relevance to issues we all face today.
The book spotlights the issues of Native American life in modern America - unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and the future of the tribal way of life – but the reason it has been so popular and the choice for many other community reads programs is that its themes touch all of us. Junior, the main character, is a shining example of a young man learning to be resilient and true to himself when the odds are stacked against him.
The book also chronicles what happens at the point where two very different cultures come together, the place where tolerance is learned. We think this, in particular, is a theme that all Maldonians can relate to.
The critics have been universal in their praise of Alexie and Part-time Indian. Kirkus Reviews says that Alexie deftly mingles raw feelings with funny, sardonic insight, and VOYA, a respected young adult librarian’s organization, calls the book, Realistic and fantastical and funny and tragic-all at the same time.
The Malden Reads committee adds their praise to these voices, and believes that this poignant, thoughtful coming-of-age story will appeal to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or struggled to find yourself - in short, to anyone who has ever come through the rites of passage that take us into adulthood.
Karen Stern, a member of the Malden Reads Core Committee