Sara Mortensen, Communications Manager, Words Alive!
Mark Oshiro stands onstage at the Neil Morgan Auditorium at the City of San Diego Central Library. There’s a drop down screen that projects a presentation introducing him to students in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group program. It reads, “I am a queer, Latinx author (of Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoreño descent) and I write books for kids!”
As Mark continues to talk to the students about what he was like as a teenager, his career path and life as an author, he exudes enthusiasm, passion and sincerity. Although this is undoubtedly a special opportunity for these students, it seems at the same time this is just as special for Mark.
Words Alive's Adolescent Book Group brings books alive for teenagers facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, violence, teen pregnancy and involvement in the justice system. Through engaging projects, writing workshops and discussion sessions, Adolescent Book Group participants enhance their critical thinking skills, self-esteem and ability to express themselves.
This semester, two classrooms, one at Monarch School and one at Lindsay Community School, read Mark Oshiro's debut novel, Anger is a Gift. The story follows Moss Jeffries, a sophomore in high school, as he and his classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their school administration. As readers, we follow as Moss and his classmates organize and push back against the administration.
Currently, the Adolescent Book Group solely serves Juvenile Court and Community Schools from the border to North County and this year one of the themes the district wanted to focus on was youth activism. Anger is a Gift perfectly tackles themes such as identifying the change you want in your community, organizing, intersectionality, non-violent demonstration and power structures.
As students started reading the novel in class and discussing the book with Words Alive volunteers, it was obvious how relevant the story and the themes were to the students. At one point in the novel, the students stage a walkout and our students at Monarch School had a rare opportunity to have an honest discussion with their principal about what he would do if they walked out. This example serves to demonstrate the magic that happens when students can both relate to a book and experience an enthusiasm for reading.
At the Teen Author Talk with Mark Oshiro, students were able to see an example of how reading can change the story of someone’s life. Mark’s journey was not necessarily conventional. He left home at 16, still graduated with a 4.4 GPA and went to college but never received his degree. And yet, through it all he was an avid reader and writer and has found immense success and accomplishment through those passions.
Words Alive was proud to provide this experience to the students and hopes to put on more special events like this one in the future.