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Washtenaw Reads

The Washtenaw Reads program is a community initiative to promote reading and civic dialogue through the shared experience of reading and discussing a common book. Participating libraries include Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township, Saline, and Ypsilanti.

Paperback cover of Reading with Patrick.Reading with Patrick: the 2019 Washtenaw Read

The 2019 Washtenaw Read is the non-fiction memoir Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, A Student, and Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo. This title was chosen by a panel of distinguished judges from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township, Saline, and Ypsilanti.

In the final months of 2018, copies of Reading with Patrick will be plentifully available at libraries around the county. Pick up a copy, give it a read, and join us for a full slate of events in the new year, including an author event with Michelle Kuo. (Check back for details about upcoming events as we add them.)

About Reading with Patrick

Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.

Convinced she can make a difference in the lives of her teenaged students, Michelle Kuo puts her heart into her work, using quiet reading time and guided writing to foster a sense of self in students left behind by a broken school system. Though Michelle loses some students to truancy and even gun violence, she is inspired by some such as Patrick. Fifteen and in the eighth grade, Patrick begins to thrive under Michelle’s exacting attention. However, after two years of teaching, Michelle feels pressure from her parents and the draw of opportunities outside the Delta and leaves Arkansas to attend law school.

Then, on the eve of her law-school graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been jailed for murder. Feeling that she left the Delta prematurely and determined to fix her mistake, Michelle returns to Helena and resumes Patrick’s education—even as he sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. Every day for the next seven months they pore over classic novels, poems, and works of history. Little by little, Patrick grows into a confident, expressive writer and a dedicated reader galvanized by the works of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, and others. In her time reading with Patrick, Michelle is herself transformed, contending with the legacy of racism and the questions of what constitutes a “good” life and what the privileged owe to those with bleaker prospects.

History of Washtenaw Reads

Launched in 2003 by the University of Michigan Life Sciences, Values and Society Program, the Reads project was fashioned after a civic reads program designed by the Seattle Public Library. The book chosen for the inaugural Reads was “Lincoln’s DNA,” by Phillip R. Reilly. The Ann Arbor District Library was a major partner in this effort along with other area organizations.

The following year, the Reads program became known as Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads and expanded to include Ypsilanti and was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti District Libraries and supported by interested civic groups, the University of Michigan School of LS&A, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Public Schools, local bookstores, Eastern Michigan University Libraries and Washtenaw Community College.

In 2016, the program was renamed Washtenaw Reads and expanded to include the communities and libraries of Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township and Saline.

Prior to 2014, each year's read had a theme, which can be viewed on the Past Reads page. Previous themes have included such subjects as: civil rights, science, citizenship and evolution.

Book Selection

Books chosen for the Reads should meet the following criteria:

  • The writing should be engaging and thought-provoking.
  • The subjects discussed should be accessible to readers throughout the community, high-school age and above.
  • The length, price, and availability of the book should be suited to involvement by the general public.
  • The book should be by a living author.
  • Its treatment of issues should encourage readers to discuss the issues further with others, at home, work, reading clubs, and community events.
  • Ideally, the subject should lead to constructive dialogues across our diverse communities.

Process:
During the summer the Book Screening Committee made up of individuals selected as representative of various civic constituencies read many titles reflecting the year’s theme. In the fall, a panel of distinguished judges review the two titles suggested by the Screening Committee and made a final recommendation of the Reads book for the coming year.

Washtenaw Reads is scheduled to occur January through February 2019. Please watch this site for more information.