A complex memoir of friendship, a coming-of-age story for both a young teacher and a teenage student, and an expansive meditation on education, race, and justice in the rural South
In this deeply moving book, Kuo stewards the hard-won literary awakening of one student, Patrick.
Michelle Kuo, at age twenty two, arrives in the Mississippi Delta town of Helena, Arkansas in 2004. Kuo quickly realizes that her new home, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, is still poor, still segregated and still in need of dramatic change.
Helena is where she meets Patrick, inquisitive and quiet, with a poor attendance record. With Kuo’s attention, Patrick’s reading and writing flourish and he wins a school-wide award for “Most Improved.” When Kuo leaves Helena to pursue a law degree, she suspects herself of having taken the easier route.
Three years later, Kuo’s attention receives the news that Patrick is in prison for murder. Kuo puts her life on hold and moves back to the Delta.
In the visiting room of the Phillips County Jail, she and Patrick spend seven months poring over classic novels, poems, and historical narrative by Frederick Douglass, C.S. Lewis, Marilynne Robinson, James Baldwin, W.S. Merwin and more. Patrick learns how to be a serious reader and a fluent writer, and in doing so, discovers new worlds both inside and outside of himself.
In her time reading with Patrick, Kuo is herself transformed as she contends with the questions of what it is we owe each other and how starkly economic and racial inequality determine our life outcomes. What social transformation is necessary to change a life? And what kind of connection can two people make when there exists such dramatic inequality between them?
At its heart Reading with Patrick is a meditation on how education changes the experience of incarceration and the limits of that change. It is a story also of the miraculous effect of the written word and the consolation it provides.
As James Wood writes in The New Yorker, “Anyone interested in questions of pedagogy, racism, and incarceration in America, not to mention literary criticism, will be enthralled by this book ... It is hard to read this challenging book ... and not think, You must change your life."
Order in paperback or ebook now (US)
Order the Taiwanese translation (陪你讀下去)
READING WITH PATRICK has been released in the US (Penguin Random House), UK (Pan MacMillan), and Taiwan (Locus). It will be released in China (Citic).
A portion of the book's royalties have been set aside for several funds, including a personal fund for Patrick, a college fund for his daughter, and donations to the Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County, an organization I have worked with, in Patrick's honor. If you are interested in exploring avenues to contribute to the Delta, in particular programs related to felon re-entry and adult literacy, please get in touch.