The Promise of a Pencil (2017 - 2018)

About the book for 2017 – 2018

Adam Braun – “The Promise of a Pencil”

Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request led to a staggering series of events that took Braun backpacking through dozens of countries before eventually leaving a prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise, the award-winning organization he started with just $25 that has since built more than 250 schools across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The Promise of a Pencil chronicles Braun’s journey to find his calling, as each chapter explains one clear step that every person can take to turn their biggest ambitions into reality. If you feel restless and ready for transition, if you are seeking direction and purpose, this critically acclaimed bestseller is for you. Driven by inspiring stories and shareable insights, this is the book that will give you the tools to make your own life a story worth telling.

Adam Braun is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Pencils of Promise and has been a featured speaker at the White House, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations. For more information, please visit PencilsofPromise.org and AdamBraun.com.

“A compelling and singular story filled with universal truths every needs to hear.”
-US Senator Cory Booker

In Order to Live (2016 - 2017)

About the book for 2016 – 2017

In Order to Live Book CoverYeonmi Park – “In Order to Live”

Yeonmi Park has told the harrowing story of her escape from North Korea as a child many times, but never before has she revealed the most intimate and devastating details of the repressive society she was raised in and the enormous price she paid to escape.

Park’s family was loving and close-knit, but life in North Korea was brutal, practically medieval. Park would regularly go without food and was made to believe that, Kim Jong Il, the country’s dictator, could read her mind. After her father was imprisoned and tortured by the regime for trading on the black-market, a risk he took in order to provide for his wife and two young daughters, Yeonmi and her family were branded as criminals and forced to the cruel margins of North Korean society. With thirteen-year-old Park suffering from a botched appendectomy and weighing a mere sixty pounds, she and her mother were smuggled across the border into China.

I wasn’t dreaming of freedom when I escaped from North Korea. I didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All I knew was that if my family stayed behind, we would probably die—from starvation, from disease, from the inhuman conditions of a prison labor camp. The hunger had become unbearable; I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of rice. But there was more to our journey than our own survival. My mother and I were searching for my older sister, Eunmi, who had left for China a few days earlier and had not been heard from since.

Park knew the journey would be difficult, but could not have imagined the extent of the hardship to come. Those years in China cost Park her childhood, and nearly her life. By the time she and her mother made their way to South Korea two years later, her father was dead and her sister was still missing. Before now, only her mother knew what really happened between the time they crossed the Yalu river into China and when they followed the stars through the frigid Gobi Desert to freedom. As she writes, “I convinced myself that a lot of what I had experienced never happened. I taught myself to forget the rest.”

In In Order to Live, Park shines a light not just into the darkest corners of life in North Korea, describing the deprivation and deception she endured and which millions of North Korean people continue to endure to this day, but also onto her own most painful and difficult memories. She tells with bravery and dignity for the first time the story of how she and her mother were betrayed and sold into sexual slavery in China and forced to suffer terrible psychological and physical hardship before they finally made their way to Seoul, South Korea—and to freedom.

Still in her early twenties, Yeonmi Park has lived through experiences that few people of any age will ever know—and most people would never recover from. Park confronts her past with a startling resilience, refusing to be defeated or defined by the circumstances of her former life in North Korea and China. In spite of everything, she has never stopped being proud of where she is from, and never stopped striving for a better life. Indeed, today she is a human rights activist working determinedly to bring attention to the oppression taking place in her home country.

Park’s testimony is rare, edifying, and terribly important, and the story she tells in In Order to Live is heartbreaking and unimaginable, but never without hope. Her voice is riveting and dignified. This is the human spirit at its most indomitable.

Yeonmi Park FIU Visit – Part 1

Yeonmi Park FIU Visit – Part 2

Yeonmi Park FIU Visit – Part 3

The Prince of Los Cucuyos (2015 - 2016)

About the Book

Richard Blanco – “The Prince of Los Cucuyos”

A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.

Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.”

Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer—as an artist—prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him.

A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami, Richard Blanco’s personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American. His is a singular yet universal story that beautifully illuminates the experience of “becoming;” how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life.

About the Author

Image of Richard Blanco leaning on table with wine bottles in background.Richard Blanco’s mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born on February 15th, 1968. Forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more to New York City. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the concerns of place and belonging that would shape his life and work. Eventually, the family settled in Miami where he was raised and educated. Growing up among close-knit Cuban exiles instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he’d carry into his adult life as a writer.

Though possessed by a strong creative spirit since childhood, Blanco also excelled in math and the sciences. As such, his parents encouraged him to study engineering, believing it would ensure a more stable and rewarding career for him. He took their advice, earning a degree from Florida International University in 1991 and began working as a consulting civil engineer in Miami. In his mid-20s he was compelled to express his creative side through writing, prompted by questions of cultural identity and his personal history. He returned to Florida International University where he was mentored by poet Campbell McGrath, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1997.

Blanco’s first book of poetry City of a Hundred Fires was published in 1998 to critical acclaim, winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The collection explored his cultural yearnings and contradictions as a Cuban-American, and captured the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba, his figurative homeland. After the success of his first book, Blanco took a hiatus from his engineering career, and accepted a position at Central Connecticut State University as a professor of creative writing. While living in Connecticut, he met his current life-partner, Dr. Mark Neveu, a renowned research scientist.

Driven by a curiosity to examine the essence of place and belonging, Blanco became an extensive traveler; and eventually moved with Mark to Guatemala, then to Washington, DC in 2002. In DC, he taught at Georgetown and American universities, The Writers Center, and at the Arlington Country Detention Facility. Poems relating to his journeys through Spain, Italy, France, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and New England comprised his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (2005), receiving the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for his explorations of the ideal of home and connections sought through place, culture, family, and love.

But soon Blanco was on the move again, returning in 2004 to Miami, his home away from home, where he resumed his engineering career. Engineer by day, he designed several town revitalization projects; poet by night, he completed an electronic chapbook of poems, Place of Mind. He also began working on another collection before moving once again. This time to Bethel, Maine, a ski resort town on the foothills of the White Mountains, where he sought the peace and tranquility of nature, which he considers a universal home. While in Maine, he completed Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012; it related the author’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities.

After the re-election of President Barack Obama, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, following in the footsteps of such great writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Blanco wrote One Today, an original poem for the occasion, which he read at Obama’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on January 21, 2013. That day confirmed him as a historical figure: the first Latino, immigrant, and gay writer bestowed by such an honor, as well as the youngest ever, at the age of 44. In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American, and his life-changing role as a public voice.

Since the inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, and received an honorary doctorate from Macalester College. He continues connecting communities with poetry through the art of occasional poetry. To help heal the emotional wounds of the Boston Marathon bombings, Richard wrote Boston Strong, a poem he performed at the TD Boston Garden Benefit Concert and at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. He has also written and performed occasional poems for such organizations as Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Fragrance Awards at Lincoln Center.

Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?

For more information, you may visit his website at http://richard-blanco.com

Resources

No Turning Back (2014 - 2015)

Image of book cover of No Turning Back by Bryan Anderson, featuring Bryan Anderson in a striped shirtAbout the Book

Bryan Anderson – “No Turning Back”

Bryan relates the story of how he was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq, his subsequent rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center, and his determination to enjoy life and take advantage of the opportunities before him. He talks about his background, his life before his injury, and the steps he has taken to adapt to life after his injuries. Bryan relates his experiences of accepting the new realities of his life and reinventing himself around them. He talks about his experiences with Esquire Magazine and how he landed on the cover of this major publication, how he came to be the spokesperson for Quantum Rehab, and the latest updates in his budding acting career. Bryan emphasizes taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and challenges his audience to do the same in spite of the challenges they face.

About the Author

Bryan Anderson

Bryan currently resides in the Chicago area nearby his parents, Jim and Janet, identical twin brother Bob, and teenage sister Briana. In addition to academic excellence, Bryan excelled in sports during his high school years and competed as an accomplished gymnast in state level competitions. Following graduation, he worked for American Airlines as a Ground Crew Chief at O’Hare airport.

Bryan enlisted in the Army in April 2001 and had a ‘ship out’ date of September 11, 2001. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and was stationed in the Baghdad area. He attained the rank of Sergeant in the Military Police (MP), conducted police training courses in Iraq and gained additional law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary as a prison guard.

In October 2005, Bryan was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in the loss of both legs and his left hand. As a result of his injuries, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Bryan received rehabilitation for a period of 13 months at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He is one of the few triple amputees to have survived his injuries in Iraq.

Bryan’s story has received extensive media coverage including a cover story in USA Today, two feature articles in Esquire Magazine (one a cover shot in January 2007), as well as numerous articles in major newspapers and publications, from his hometown Chicago Sun Times to the LA Times and NY Times. He recently appeared in a 60 Minutes segment profiling Gary Sinese.

Bryan has appeared in the HBO Documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, and in a CSI: NY episode titled DOA for a DAY as a murder suspect. He appeared in the Golden Globe Award winning film The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, which was released in December 2008. Bryan was interviewed by MTV News ‘Choose or Lose Street Team’ and has appeared on the daytime drama ‘All My Children.’ He was the subject of the Captain America comic, ‘Theater of War – to soldier on,’ released in August 2009. Bryan has finished work on a book titled No Turning Back, released November 1, 2011, and most recently hosted a new PBS show in the Chicago area, Reporting for Service with Bryan Anderson, which received an Emmy Award. He also received a Telly Award for his work on a Quantum Rehab product video titled ‘Life Beyond Limits’ and is scheduled to appear in an episode of ‘Hawaii 5-0’ this season (2014).

Bryan is the national spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corporation, and travels the country making numerous personal appearances while delivering his message of perseverance and determination in major rehab facilities. In addition, he is an Ambassador for the Gary Sinise Foundation and is a spokesman for USA Cares, a national non-profit organization based in Radcliff, Ky., that is focused on assisting post 911 veterans in times of need.

Bryan is an energetic and enthusiastic individual who enjoys challenging his limits. He snowboards, wake boards, white water rafts and rock climbs. He loves to travel and enjoys meeting new people.

For additional background information, you may visit his website at www.andersonactive.com

Contact:

Dick McLane
182 Susquehanna Ave.
Exeter, PA 18643
800-800-8586 x1099 Ext.1099
dmclane@pridemobility.com

Wine to Water (2013 - 2014)

Image of book cover of Wine to Water by Doc Hendley featuring a dry field in Africa with childrenAbout the Book

Wine to Water

In 2003, Dickson “Doc” Hendley was like most American college students and just having fun. Yet, he remembers “a sinking feeling in my stomach, like I should be doing something better with my life” (p. 27). Within months, the college senior and popular bartender launched an organization that has already improved—and saved—thousands of lives in more than nine countries around the globe.

Despite being the son of a preacher, Doc doesn’t fit the Good Samaritan stereotype. Self-described as “rough around the edges” and tattooed, Doc took an early dislike to rules and developed a taste for whiskey and Harleys while still a teen. As his college graduation neared, Doc began to dread the prospect of life “in a cubicle” (p. 27).

By chance, Doc learned about an international aid organization named Samaritan’s Purse and began brainstorming ways that he could help the world’s needy. That night he woke up from his sleep with the words “wine to water” spinning around in his head.

Doc hit the Internet and learned that “unclean water kills a child every twenty seconds—it’s more lethal than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined” (p. 30). He immediately began drawing on his connections to host a party benefiting clean water initiatives. Within a month, he’d raised twelve thousand dollars.

Suddenly, Doc had to decide where it should go. “I never wanted Wine to Water to be like one of those bullshit nonprofits that used the majority of the donations to pay staff” (p. 37). After talking to a Samaritan’s Purse director, he unexpectedly walked out with a twelve-month job assignment in Darfur—and the authority to distribute the money where he felt it was needed most.

Nothing could prepare Doc for what awaited him. He had flown from verdant North Carolina into a barren desert landscape where average daytime temperatures hit 120-degrees and government-sponsored Janjaweed soldiers had already killed a hundred thousand civilians and displaced more than a million more.

While Doc had fantasized about “instantly morphing into some superhero water savior” (p. 55), the reality was infinitely more complex. But as inexperienced as he was in some ways, Doc knew a lot about human nature: “It’s not so much about how good and fast you are at making a Fuzzy Navel; it’s about developing a good relationship with the people sitting in front of you at the bar” (p. 111).

So whether he was hiring staff, placating soldiers, or declining proffered brides, Doc tactfully negotiated an unfamiliar culture to do his real work. Slowly, Doc began repairing wells, installing water bladders, and teaching the locals how to maintain them—sometimes while the bullets were being aimed at him.

In plainspoken and impassioned prose, Wine to Water shares the story of Doc’s unlikely transformation from a rough-and-tumble bartender to CNN Hero. As informative as it is harrowing and inspiring, Doc’s account of our global water crisis and his continuing quest to provide stricken peoples with clean water resoundingly proves that one man is capable of changing the world.
-Penguin.com

Dickson “Doc” Hendley at FIU

Reviews

“Whether he is describing being shot at by the Janjaweed militia; the dedication of his who co-workers who pray five times a day; how to dig a grave in the desert; or children’s excitement when a well starts pumping out water, he illuminates the facts of the crises in a very human way. Hendley’s humanitarian work in Africa (and Haiti, where he headed after the 2010 earthquake) is inspiring, especially considering how many lives he has influenced despite how little he knew about water problems before he started. At the core, however, is the story of Hendley himself: a coming-of-age tale about a young man who as a teen rebelled against his “preacher man” dad to become “the life of the party” only to figure out that he “didn’t have to be a perfect do-gooder to actually do some good in this world.” – Publishers Weekly

About the Author

In 2003 Doc Hendley dreamed up the concept of Wine To Water while bartending and playing music in nightclubs around Raleigh, North Carolina. In January of 2004 he held his first fundraiser and by August was living in Darfur, Sudan installing water systems for victims of the government-supported genocide.
When Doc returned home in 2005, the haunting memories of what he had seen in Darfur drove him to continue growing the organization he had started only two years earlier. And in 2007, after working two jobs and volunteering his time for over three years, Wine To Water became an official 501 (c)(3) and Doc’s dream finally became a reality.

Hendley’s work aims to help the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean water, a figure estimated by the World Health Organization. Nearly two-thirds of that group lives in Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, 42 percent of the population lives without yard taps, household connections or other improvements to sanitize water. Unclean water is the number one killer of children in the world. Water borne illnesses kill far more children the HIV/AIDS and Malaria combined. Every 15 seconds a child dies from unclean water.

Doc Hendley was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes for 2009 (chosen by a panel of judges including Gen. Colin Powell, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Turner and Sir Elton John).

Interviews/Media

I'm Down (2012-2013)

About the Book

I’m Down is a humorous memoir about growing up white in a black community and trying to fit into a family that is literally splitting down class and racial lines.

I’m Down is a memoir by the American author Mishna Wolff, originally published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. In the book she relates her experience of being white while growing up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and having a different financial situation and culture than the other white children than the ones at her upper class, private school filled with mostly white kids. She fights for acceptance in her neighborhood as she is perceived as “too white” while she struggles with acceptance (and accepting others) in her prestigious school. Mishna has trouble dealing with bullying from her peers, meeting the expectations her father sets for her (no matter how unusual they seem), the pressure she puts on herself, and learning who she is while society is pushing and pulling her into what they want her to be. She competes with the children in her neighborhood to be the funniest, the meanest, and the toughest while she strives to be rich, successful, and seemingly carefree like her school friends. When she returns home to her father and his any girlfriends and potential wives, she suppresses her school side to impress her father, while at her mom’s house and at school she suppresses her neighborhood life to appeal to her mother. The theme of the book is the conflict she faces as she discovers two very different cultures and how they clash in her own life while she is stressed to discover herself as well. She spends the book (her life) trying to figure out which culture, which household, which side of the family she belonged to [Source: Wikipedia].

Reviews

Mishna Wolff at FIU

About the Author

Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. “He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosbyesque sweater, gold chains, and a Kangrol – telling jokes like Redd Foxx, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn’t tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried.” And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter down.

Unfortunately, Mishna didn’t quite fit in with the neighborhood kids; she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing, she couldn’t double Dutch, and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team. She was shy, uncool, and painfully white. And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich white school, she found she was too “black” to fit in with her white classm ates.

Interviews/Media

The Red Umbrella (2011 - 2012)

About the Book

Cuba, 1961: Two years after the communist revolution, Lucia still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her small town, everything begins to change. Suddenly, the revolution hits home. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution’s impact becomes more oppressive, Lucia’s parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States…alone!

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucia struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language; a new way of life. Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she be the same girl?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez based this novel on the experiences of her parents, and of the over 14,000 other unaccompanied minors who came to the United States to escape Castro’s regime in a program known as Operation Pedro Pan.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez at FIU

About the Author

Christina Diaz Gonzalez practiced law for several years before returning to her childhood passion for stories and writing. The Red Umbrella is her first novel. Christina lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband and two sons. You can visit her on the Web at www.christinagonzalez.com.

A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants (2010 - 2011)

About the Book

Six years ago at the age of twenty-one, Jaed Muncharoen Coffin, a half-Thai American man, left New England’s privileged Middlebury College to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in his mother’s native village of Panomsarakram-thus fulfilling a familial obligation. While addressing the notions of displacement, ethnic identity and cultural belonging, A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants chronicles his time at the temple that rain season-receiving alms in the streets in saffron robes; bathing in the canals; learning to meditate in a mountaintop hut, and falling in love with Lek, a beautiful Thai woman who comes to represent the life he can have if he stays.

Part armchair travel, part coming-of-age story, this debut work transcends the memoir genre and ushers in a brave new voice in American nonfiction. “Jaed Coffin takes us on the eternal quest which Joseph Campbell described as the journey of the hero in search of enlightenment. But A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants is also a touching memoir of growing up in dual cultures with a foot in both First and Third Worlds. Coffin takes us inside those worlds and on that quest with such honesty, skill, humor and intimacy that we can’t help but follow. A rare look into a culture from an insider/outsider’s point of view.” –Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

“A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants has the kind of hard, shimmering, simple prose that set Hemingway apart as a writer to watch in his first book of stories. Jaed Coffin is not only a writer to watch, however. As he demonstrates in this lively memoir, he’s a writer who has already achieved that rare thing: a singular voice, and one that satisfies the ear with its quiet music, that feeds the eye with image after image of life.”-Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life

Jaed Coffin at FIU

About the Author

Jaed Coffin has worked as a boxer, sea-kayak guide, and lobsterman. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Middlebury College and a MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Writing Program. He lives in Brunswick, Maine.

Funny in Farsi (2009 - 2010)

About the Book

In 1972, when she was seven, the Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond Firoozeh’s father’s glowing memories of his graduate school years here. In a series of deftly drawn scenes, Funny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumas’s wonderfully engaging family; her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (or cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an array of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets, and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot. An unforgettable story of identity, discovery and the power of family love,Funny in Farsi will leave us all laughing…without an accent.

Firoozeh Dumas at FIU