by Tigerlily Hopson
Lauren Markham signing a student’s book. Picture taken by Andy Xie.
More than seventy students (including teenagers from three other consortium schools) crowded into the East Side Library on February 3rd, where a woman stood in the front of the room dressed in wide legged slacks and a loose black button-up shirt. “Speaking to young people is one of my favorite things,” Lauren Markham, the author of The Far Away Brothers, began.
Markham is a writer (both fictional and journalistic), and a teacher at Oakland International High School. Her work as a journalist touches upon issues of justice and injustice, with a central focus on migration and young people’s stories. Talking about these issues, she says, is “central to life in a democracy.” The Far Away Brothers is a heart wrenching journalistic piece following two identical twins, students at Oakland International, who fled from El Salvador to the United States.
After quickly introducing herself, Markham dove into a reading of her book’s prologue. “I want to read the book now!” Isabella, an eleventh grader exclaimed after Markham had finished. Another eleventh grader, Andy, added on by saying how important this book and the topic of immigration is, “especially with the new travel ban.”
Markham continued to captivate her audience while giving an interactive presentation on how the media portrays immigration in the U.S. “How we write the article, and what the headline says, will change the central message of the article,” she explained. Her goal as a journalist is to allow her readers to connect and to feel alongside the young people and immigrants in her writing.
When it was time for questions, students' hands shot up from every direction. Questions varied from students asking about the book-writing process to if there was going to be a movie, to “Did you cry a lot?” Markham answered each question graciously. The process of writing the book she said was a long one, and one with some “really sad moments.” Markham said her visits to detention centers were especially overwhelming, and sometimes made her feel “powerless in the system.”
Her work as a journalist is not going to stop with the publication of The Far Away Brothers. She will continue to cover issues around immigartion and criminal justice. And, what can we, high school students do? “It is important to talk about these issues,” she says. One of the most important things young people can do, according to Markham, is to unpack myths and become informed. And, of course, when the time comes, vote!